Mesa Verde National Park

Story and Photography by Jerry Ginsberg


Spectacular Cliff Palace, largest of all ancient dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, CO. Cliff Palace was home to an advanced civilization until about the 13th century. Even now, no one is certain as to why they left. © Jerry Ginsberg


Nestled in the southwestern corner of Colorado sits the first and (almost) the only national park established to protect the works of man, rather than Nature, the fascinating Mesa Verde.

Hidden for centuries and unknown to Europeans until a couple of cowboys looking for strays stumbled upon it in 1888, this treasure trove of Native American history includes several thousand structures, both simple and complex, that were built here spanning a period that is estimated to have lasted from perhaps 600 to about 1300 C.E.

The Anasazi, more recently dubbed Ancestral Puebloans, the people who lived here, managed to create a society that was quite complex and advanced for its time.

The majority of the structures and their remains are on the mesa tops, but the most fascinating and certainly photogenic are the 500-600 cliff dwellings carved into the bare rock in many natural alcoves just below the surface. Even after a good deal of scholarly investigation, no one today can be certain why these people left or where they went.

Mesa Verde is located right along Rt. 160 between Cortez and the wonderfully preserved town of Durango, CO. Just inside the park entrance is the new visitor center where you will need to get your tour tickets for several of the best cliff dwellings. The sites you will want to visit are in two distinct areas: Chapin Mesa and the less visited Wetherill Mesa. The road to the latter is open only from May thru September.


Spruce Tree House is perhaps the most accessible of all the ancient dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, CO. Visit in the afternoon for the best light. Try descending the ladder in the kiva. © Jerry Ginsberg


For a good introduction, start with easily accessed Spruce Tree Ruin, located just below the Chapin Mesa Museum. Walk the short self-guiding trail, talk to a ranger, descend the ladder into the subterranean kiva.

On the Chapin Mesa tabletop, drive the Cliff Palace Loop and the rim drive for long distance views of many cliff dwellings built just below the mesa top. In this area, the major “do not miss” sites include Cliff Palace and Balcony House tours (advance tickets required) and external views of these two as well as Square Tower House and Sun Point.


Historic Balcony House, a dwelling of the ancient and long vanished Anasazi people, is well-preserved and somewhat stabilized in Mesa Verde NP, CO.  It is accessible only via open-rung ladder. © Jerry Ginsberg


Balcony House and Sun Point are best at first light, while Cliff Palace will look its best in late light and Square Tower House Overlook around sunset. Limited access into Square Tower House may be offered as well. Inquire at the visitor center.  If time permits, also walk the Petroglyph Point trail.

A special word about famed Cliff Palace. This was the very first and certainly the grandest structure sighted and explored by the Wetherill brothers back in 1888. It remains so and is by far the pre-eminent feature of Mesa Verde National Park. It is well worth setting aside a little extra time to explore Cliff Palace.

If you visit Mesa Verde during the busy summer season, drive the short road out to Wetherill Mesa. This special area has a somewhat different feel to it and offers several photo opportunities. Take the self-guided trail through Step House and the ranger-guided tour through Long House (advance ticket required).  The tram tour of Wetherill Mesa is not for serious photography, but can be fun.
A somewhat rough trail to the Nordenskiold Site may be open to visitors. Ask at the visitor center. While at Mesa Verde, just a short drive away you will find Hovenweep National Monument with its many varied Puebloan towers. A very worthwhile stop.

While Durango has a small commuter airport, the closest major airport is Denver.  Durango is a fun
and very charming town with ample lodging. Its nineteenth century train station is the departure point for the great Durango-Silverton train ride through the Animas River Gorge. Take this train ride if you can spare the time. Cortez, CO is a little closer to both Mesa Verde and Hovenweep and offers a wider choice of motels, but without the Old West ambiance.

Wherever you roam in this special area of the great Southwest, almost all roads are well paved and smooth, so renting a standard passenger car will be just fine.

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras and has been awarded Artist Residencies in several national parks. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.

More of Jerry’s images are on display at 
Or email him at 


Good Images In Bad Weather

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney


Blizzard conditions by reservoir in Central Park.  New York, NY © F.M. Kearney


Blizzards – a time to cuddle up by the fire (or a good heater) with a nice hot bowl of soup and watch the wonders of nature unfold from within the confines of your warm home. This may be the ideal way to ride out “bad” weather to some people, but to nature photographers, it’s a golden opportunity to capture some unique images under very unique conditions.

Continue reading

Wildspeak Symposium: Key Conservation Topics of our Time

Story from the International League of Conservation Photographers


With the many emerging news stories on environmental issues of our day, now is a crucial time to come together and encourage one another towards a sustainable future. In just a couple of weeks some of the world’s leading nature and wildlife photographers, filmmakers, scientists, and conservation organizations will gather together in our nation’s capital at an event called WildSpeak. This environmental communications symposium, hosted by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), will create a space for all nature enthusiasts to explore how visual media can best contribute to influential science communications and positive conservation outcomes all around the globe. The event is open to all who desire to be informed about conservation topics and to learn how to get involved to make a difference. If this is you, you can register today at


Continue reading

NANPA Regional Event Preview – Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Story and Photographs by Donald Brown


Chincoteague Ponies at Tom’s Cove © Donald Brown


NANPA Members Colin Hocking and Don Brown will be leading a NANPA Regional Event at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia from November 16-19, 2017.  All the details about the event, including cost, registration, and other information can be found on the NANPA website at–va/   Here, Don offers a preview of the beauty of Chincoteague, and shares some great images from his previous visits there. Continue reading

CONSERVATION: Sockeye Salmon Spawning

Story and Photographs by Andrew Snyder


Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) making the jump up a small falls en route to spawning – Katmai, Alaska. © Andrew Snyder


Andrew Snyder is a new NANPA board member, a professional biologist and photographer, and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Mississippi.  He recently posted a piece on, a website devoted to stories and photography of the natural world, about the annual spawning of sockeye salmon, which return to freshwater rivers from the Pacific Ocean each year to lay their eggs.

When sockeye salmon are born, they spend between one and two years in freshwater lakes or streams.  Then, they migrate to the ocean and spend two or three years there.  Once they’re ready to spawn, they head back to the river where they were born. Continue reading

Documenting the Anacostia

Story and Photography by Krista Schlyer


Great blue heron on the Anacostia River, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens National Park, Washington, D.C. © Krista Schlyer


As the 2016 recipient of the Philip Hyde Grant, I encourage all NANPA members engaged in a conservation photography project to apply. I was awarded the grant from the NANPA Foundation in support of my Anacostia Project, which aims to help residents of Washington, D.C. better understand and get engaged in restoration of the beleaguered Anacostia River watershed.

The Anacostia River, long known as the forgotten river, has, like so many of our urban rivers, suffered centuries of abuse and ecological insult–from deforestation for tobacco production in the 1700s, to toxins and sewage that accompanied a rapidly growing population ever since. Continue reading

Channel Islands National Park – America’s Galapagos

Story and Photography by Jerry Ginsberg


Camping on Anacapa will allow you to capture a great sunrise from spectacular Inspiration Point at the island’s east end.  © Jerry Ginsberg

We are accustomed to driving to our national parks. This is definitely not the case with Channel Islands National Park. This little archipelago of a half-dozen rocks jutting out of the Pacific Ocean a few miles off the coast of central California is reachable only by a short boat ride. This rather contradictory blend of remoteness and accessibility offers some unique opportunities for us photographers.

The Channel Islands are called America’s Galapagos – and for good reason. A wide variety of birds and pinnipeds are in plentiful supply. Western gulls find safety here. Continue reading

Reflections from a Janie Moore Greene Grant Recipient

Story and photographs by Jiayu Su


Jiayu Su

It has been such a great opportunity for me to study in the United States during the past year and a great chance to learn about the geographical environment of western America, especially the Yellowstone area. It’s a huge difference compared to where I am from back in China. Nature and wildlife are an important part of our daily lives and they draw my attention to how those things affect us and how human activities influence them. Continue reading

Janie Moore Greene Scholarship Grant

Grant supports a student’s study of photography at the university level


© Jiayu Su

Applications are now being accepted for the Janie Moore Greene Scholarship Grant, awarded annually to a student studying photography at a two-year or four-year college, university, art/design or photography school.   The deadline for applications is 11:59 p.m. EDT on October 31, 2017.

“For many years, Janie Moore Greene has supported higher education in photography with her gift to the NANPA Foundation, and we are very grateful to her,” said John Nuhn, president of NANPA Foundation. “Her scholarship grant enables us to assist emerging photographers in their career path and uphold the Foundation’s mission of awareness and appreciation of nature through photography.” Continue reading

Phillip Hyde Environmental Grant Applications Accepted Through October 31st

What difference do your photographs make?


Leopard frog in the Anacostia River watershed, Washington DC metro area.

Applications are now being accepted for NANPA Foundation’s Philip Hyde Grant, a $2,500 award given annually to an individual NANPA member actively pursuing completion of a peer-reviewed environmental project featuring natural photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation and environmental protection. Application deadline is October 31, 2017 at 11:59pm EDT. Continue reading