Mesa Verde National Park
Why: It’s easy to imagine that a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Mesa Verde would be around forever if it’s lasted since 600 AD. But Mesa Verde National Park and its 5,000 archeological sites — the biggest collection in one preserve in the United States — are facing a conflagrant future due to climate change. “Fire seasons in the west are two months longer than they used to be before the 1970s, and the reduction in snowpack combined with droughts make it not just warmer, but drier for longer periods,” says Adam Markham, Deputy Director of Climate and Energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Not only does fire peel away cliff dwellings and destroy ancient petroglyphs, as it did in a massive 1996 blaze, but the methods which firefighters must use to combat the inferno, such as aerial water drops and fire retardant, are destructive and leave red stains on the sandstone. “I do think the landscape is likely to change in a way that historians and archaeologists weren’t expecting,” says Markham, adding his concerns for other big scale changes like the loss of pinyon pine trees.
What to do: Located near mile marker 15 on the main road inside Mesa Verde National Park, The Far View Lodge offers the most convenient basecamp for hiking through backcountry and taking ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings. Explore the 2.4-mile Petroglyph Point Trail near the ancient ruins of Spruce Tree Canyon as well as climbs up to the rim of Chapin Mesa. For a cave dwelling experience, consider Kokopelli’s Cave B&B a little over an hour away in New Mexico.
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