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Burnt trees on a mesa above the Hemenway House site in Mesa Verde National Park serve as a reminder of how widespread and close fires have been to many of the precious archeological sites at the park in Southwestern Colorado. As much as 80 percent of the park has been impacted by one of any number of fires that have roared through the park in the past few years. The park has as many as 4,800 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings and may have supported as many as 5,000 inhabitants at one time. The archeological sites found in Mesa Verde National Park, near Cortez, Co., are some of the most notable and best preserved sites in the United States. Mesa Verde offers visitors a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people. The culture represented at Mesa Verde reflects more than 700 years of history. From approximately A.D. 600 through A.D. 1300 people lived and flourished in communities throughout the area, eventually building elaborate cliff dwellings in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. It is widely believed that drought may have caused the inhabitants to leave the cliff dwellings in search of more dependable water sources. (MARC PISCOTTY/ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS)

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