Cliff Palace

Mesa Verde Na­tional Park, Colorado

Backpacker - - Public Lands | See It -

stone dwellings in cave-like al­coves cre­ated by ero­sion. But those same ero­sive forces may lead to the ru­ins’ de­struc­tion in Mesa Verde and other ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites across the South­west. Ir­reg­u­lar weather pat­terns due to cli­mate change have in­creased the fre­quency of the freeze-thaw cy­cles that cause cliffs to shed pieces of rock: Melt­wa­ter trick­les into the cracks, ex­pands as it freezes, and wedges off the out­ly­ing stone. The threat even prompted Mesa Verde of­fi­cials to close ac­cess to Spruce Tree House in 2015.

Cliff Palace could fol­low. This past sum­mer, the park dis­patched climbers up the ruin’s sur­round­ing walls and ceil­ing, where they tapped the rock with ham­mers to de­ter­mine its sta­bil­ity. One rock-scal­ing mis­sion ended up dis­lodg­ing an 800-pound slab that splin­tered climbers’ scaf­fold­ing as it hur­tled to the floor. Bet­ter make the .3-mile jour­ney to North Amer­ica’s largest cliff dwelling sooner rather than later. TRAILHEAD Cliff Palace Over­look (37.1678, -108.4731) SEA­SON April to Oc­to­ber PER­MIT Re­quired ($5); ob­tain at the vis­i­tor cen­ter. CON­TACT

Visit Cliff Palace on a guided tour. The dwelling con­tains 23 ki­vas and more than 150 rooms.

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