Scientific Investigations Map 3224
Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado was established in 1906 to preserve and protect the artifacts and dwelling sites, including the famous cliff dwellings, of the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived in the area from about A.D. 550 to A.D. 1300. In 1978, the United Nations designated the park as a World Heritage Site. The geology of the park played a key role in the lives of these ancient people. For example, the numerous (approximately 600) cliff dwellings are closely associated with the Cliff House Sandstone of Late Cretaceous age, which weathers to form deep alcoves. In addition, the ancient people farmed the thick, red loess (wind-blown dust) deposits on the mesa tops, which because of its particle size distribution has good moisture retention properties. The soil in this loess cover and the seasonal rains allowed these people to grow their crops (corn, beans, and squash) on the broad mesa tops.
Today, geology is still an important concern in the Mesa Verde area because the landscape is susceptible to various forms of mass movement (landslides, debris flows, rockfalls), swelling soils, and flash floods that affect the park's archeological sites and its infrastructure (roads, septic systems, utilities, and building sites).
The map, which encompasses an area of about 100 mi2 (260 km2), includes all of Mesa Verde National Park, a small part of the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation that borders the park on its southern and western sides, and some Bureau of Land Management and privately owned land to the north and east. Surficial deposits depicted on the map include: artificial fills, alluvium of small ephemeral streams, alluvium deposited by the Mancos River, residual gravel on high mesas, a combination of alluvial and colluvial deposits, fan deposits, colluvial deposits derived from the Menefee Formation, colluvial deposits derived from the Mancos Shale, rockfall deposits, debris flow deposits, earthflow deposits, translational and rotational landslide deposits, rock rubble deposits, and loess. Bedrock units depicted on the map include the Cliff House Sandstone, Menefee Formation, Point Lookout Sandstone, and Mancos Shale all of Late Cretaceous age. In addition, minette dikes, of Oligocene age, found at several locations in the park are depicted on the map. Descriptions, including associated hazards and resources as used by the Ancestral Puebloans, are given for all map units.
First posted October 16, 2012
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Carrara, P.E., 2012, Surficial geologic map of Mesa Verde National Park, Montezuma County, Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3224, 22 p. pamphlet, 1 sheet, scale 1:24,000.
Geology of Mesa Verde National Park
Major Surficial Deposits in Mesa Verde National Park
Description of Map Units