One of the most accessible Puebloan ruins at Mesa Verde National Park is the Spruce Tree House. This ruin was explored by Gustaf Nordenskiold, who was one of the first archeologists to excavate at Mesa Verde. Nordenskiold named it after the Douglas fir tree he found growing through the roof opening of a kiva at the site, which he mistook for the spruce of his native Sweden. The complex was built between 1211 and 1278 by the ancestral Puebloan people and, with over 130 rooms and eight kivas (generally circular ceremonial chambers), it is the third-largest site at Mesa Verde. Is thought to have housed about 60 to 80 people.
Spruce Tree House is open to self-guided exploration during limited hours from spring to fall (rangers are on duty to answer questions and protect the site) and by ranger-led tour only in the winter. The trail begins next to the Chapin Mesa Archealogical Museum and winds down a paved path for about a quarter of a mile. This is also the starting point for the Petroglyph Point Trail. Expect both the trail and the site to be quite crowded.
The site itself is considered one of the best preserved ruins at Mesa Verde, and it is quite beautiful. One unique and very popular feature, especially with children, is the enclosed kiva that can be entered by climbing down a long ladder into the darkness. As with the other sites at Mesa Verde, much of the wood that is exposed in the rooms is the original 900-year-old wood. It is through tree-ring dating, or dendrochronology, that the ruins of Mesa Verde can be dated with such precision.