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Three of the park's spectacular cliff dwellings -- Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House -- can be visited only during ranger-guided tours. Tickets ($3) can be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center. Visitors may tour Long House and either Cliff Palace or Balcony House on the same day, but may not tour both Cliff Palace and Balcony House in a day. First-time visitors with only 1 day to spend here should tour Cliff Palace, the largest site in the park.

Departing every half-hour between 9am and 6pm in summer (shorter hours in spring and fall, and hourly until early May and after mid-Oct), the 1/4-mile, 1-hour Cliff Palace tour involves a 100-vertical-foot descent to the dwelling and a climb to the same height to exit. In between, you'll have to scale four 10-foot-high ladders. The effort is well worth it. With 151 rooms and 23 kivas, Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in the Southwest and one of the largest in the world. Especially striking is the original red-and-white wall painting that remains inside a four-story tower.

Merely reaching the 45-room Balcony House, the most fortresslike of the Mesa Verde dwellings, will make you appreciate the agility of the ancestral Puebloans, who used hand- and footholds and log ladders to scale the cliffs. During the 1-hour tour, you'll descend 90 vertical feet of stairs, climb 32- and 20-foot-long ladders, and slip through a narrow 12-foot-long crawl space. When you do reach the dwelling, you'll be standing on a level stone floor 700 feet above the floor of Soda Canyon. The Puebloans dumped tons of fill inside 15-foot-high stone retaining walls below this floor, creating a level surface on which to build. The tours of this site run every half-hour from 9am to 5pm in summer, every hour at the beginning and end of the season.

Some people remember the Long House tour for its 3/4-mile walk, the flight of 52 stairs, and the two 15-foot-high ladders they have to negotiate. Others recall the dwelling itself, with its 21 kivas and 150 rooms stretching across a long alcove in Rock Canyon. At its center is a large plaza where the community gathered and danced. Granaries are tucked like mud dauber nests into two smaller alcoves (one above the other) to the rear of the large one. The 90-minute tours meet at the Wetherill Mesa Kiosk and run regularly from 10am to 4pm.

Cliff Palace tours run from early April to early November, a few weeks longer than the season for Balcony House. Wetherill Mesa, site of Long House, is open only from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. To replace these attractions during the off season, the park offers free ranger-guided tours of Spruce Tree House, a self-guided area in summer. Call the park to find out the exact dates of the tour season.

In summer, rangers also lead 90-minute twilight tours of Cliff Palace. The 7pm tours are limited to 20 people and cost $10 per person. Tickets are available at the Far View Visitor Center.

From late spring through early fall, rangers lead bus tours that include a few short hikes to archaeological sites along Mesa Top Loop Road and a hiking tour of Cliff Palace. The 4-hour 700 Years Tour is a morning trip that costs $45 for adults and $34 for children under 12. The Classic Pueblo Tour is a 3 1/2-hour afternoon tour that costs $35 for adults and $17.50 for children under 12. Tour tickets are available at Far View Lodge, Far View Terrace, Morefield Campground Store, and online at www.visitmesaverde.com.

Also in summer, rangers lead free walks daily (sometimes including birding hikes), and present evening programs at Morefield Campground and Far View lodge (bring a flashlight). Schedules are available at the Far View Visitor Center and Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.

Modern pueblo people, from Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, Taos, and other New Mexico pueblos, are descendents of the ancestral Puebloans who built Mesa Verde, and pueblo artists and dancers periodically have events in the park. Recent events have included an Indian Art Market in late May, Hopi dancers in early July, and arts and crafts demonstrations on several dates in September. Check with the visitor center for the current schedule.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.