Geology of Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park was named by the 18th century Spanish explorers, Mesa Verde, or “Green Table”. The whole Mesa Verde area spans a vast 520 square miles of the Colorado Plateau in the southwestern area of Colorado, 520 square miles of tableland. The Mesa Verde National Park covers around 81 square miles of this unique and fascinating landscape, created as a national park in 1906 in order to fully preserve the treasures which are found there.

If you stand at the top of Point Lookout you’ll be around 1,400 foot above expansive valley, an extremely impressive greeting awaiting visitors to the park. The mesa does appear to be flat (like a table) although it is actually tilted a couple of degrees southwards. The south side of Mesa Verde is drained by numerous streams which have systemically eroded their way through the canyons until some of them virtually reach the North rim. The horizontal mesas are separated by parallel, steep canyons and sheer cliffs which are executed throughout this spectacular landscape.

Mesa Verde National Park is actually a part of something much larger known as the Colorado Plateau Province, which stretches over parts of southwestern Colorado, Arizona, Utah and even New Mexico. This is a land distinguished by the elevated plateaus and extensive curved uplands dissected by colossal rangelands, and enormous, ovoid basins which can be clearly determined through the process of seismic profiling. Towards the north and east of the Colorado Plateau Province rise the majestic Rocky Mountains, and to the southeast the mighty Rio Grande rift.

The imposing cliffs in Mesa Verde National Park rise steeply for almost 2000 ft over the outlying plain, made of sandstone, resistant to erosion. This is also the base of the bedrock found in the mesa. Below the cliffs the slopes are made up of mudstone, siltstone and shale.

Of course, while the geology of anywhere is always an interesting insight into its history, at Mesa Verde National Park it really is the archeology of the wondrous cliff dwellings which really capture the imagination.