Center gives visitors a preview

The exhibits at the new Mesa Verde National Park Research and Visitor Center are life-like and informative. Enlargephoto

Jeanne Archambeault/Times

The exhibits at the new Mesa Verde National Park Research and Visitor Center are life-like and informative.

The official grand opening for the new Mesa Verde National Park Research and Visitor Center isn't until May of this year, but the building is open now to visitors, locals, curiosity-seekers, researchers and anyone else who might be interested. The ground-breaking for the LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standard) certified building was in October 2010. The design itself has been in the planning stages for 12 years, and is a collaborative effort between 24 Native American Tribes that are associated with Mesa Verde, Mesa Verde park staff, experts from a variety of disciplines, The Mesa Verde Foundation and staff from the Mesa Verde Museum Association.

They all wanted a visitors center that would be more accessible to people coming from all over the world, right at the park boundary. Having the visitors center at the beginning of the entrance enables people from all over the world to take a look at what the park has to offer and then decide how much time they can devote to their visit.

"It's really meant to replace the Far View Visitor Center," said Carol Sperling, chief of interpretation and visitor services. That building, which is at the top of the mesa, will be closed until the funding allows them to renovate it and make it useful.

Another goal of the designers in building the new facility was to make a good storage space for the research collection and bring it up to more modern standards. The collection is currently located at Chapin Mesa, which is vulnerable to wildfires in the park. This new space will keep all the artifacts and collections safer, said Sperling.

"About one-third of the collection has already been moved," she said, "and the other two-thirds will be moved over the next couple of months. It's a gargantuan task!"

The third reason for the new building was to make the research collection more available to the scientific community. "There are spaces, which are not open to visitors, for researchers to use and spend time going through our collections. They can use the collection now, but it's not very convenient, especially during the winter," she said.

The new visitors center will have changing exhibits behind the three tall windows that are located to a visitor's right when they walk in the door. "These will give the visitor a glimpse of different artifacts," said Sperling. "The curator, Dr. Tara Travis, is the one responsible for the whole collection. She and her staff will decide what artifacts will be on display. It's all interesting, but there's just a lot of it," said Sperling.

For the hearing impaired there will be assisted-listening systems, either for people who have a hearing aid, or who don't hear well, she said. "One is a hand-held device that they will get from the ranger and is carried around the visitors center. When you get within range of a sensor, a voice will talk to you and explain the exhibit." The other system, for those who already have a hearing aid, will broadcast on a radio wave for them to pick up on their aid.

These systems have not been installed yet, and will be in use later in the year, Sperling said.

"I think most people are pleased with what they've seen so far," she said. The exhibits that show visitors of the story of the Ancient Puebloans give a more real-life depiction of their time here. There is a three-dimensional map of the whole park as it relates to the rest of the landscape, life-size models of the Ancients and lots of information about them. The Mesa Verde Foundation book store is also in the new facility.

The views from the new building are beautiful - one can see the La Plata Mountains in one direction and Lookout Point in the other direction - as well as the architecture, the design and the exhibits. The input from the Native American tribes, and the efforts to keep the building ecologically sound, has kept the initial visit to the park an exceptional one.

Find more information about the new building, and Mesa Verde National Park, at www.nps.gov/meve or www.visitmesaverde.com.

In front of the new building at Mesa Verde is a sculpture depicting the Ancient Puebloans. Enlargephoto

Jeanne Archambeault/Times

In front of the new building at Mesa Verde is a sculpture depicting the Ancient Puebloans.

This sign, outside the new Mesa Verde National Park Research and Visitor Center, gives recognition to the 24 tribes who were involved in the design and conception of the building. Enlargephoto

Jeanne Archambeault/Times

This sign, outside the new Mesa Verde National Park Research and Visitor Center, gives recognition to the 24 tribes who were involved in the design and conception of the building.