I first visited Mesa Verde in September of 1996. What I did not realize is that the tourist season comes to an end at that time. I drove out to the campground only to find that they were closed. I got to the top of the park and had missed the last tours for the day - they end early because of sunset.
I had to drive back to Durango and get a cheap room ($18!) at Motel 6, or a Super 8 - I get them confused. At least the room was heated and I was able to plan my next day by the light of a lamp rather than freezing in my tent with a flashlight to illuminate the brochures.
Since it was the end of the season, the tour for the Balcony House was no longer available - its last day was the day before my visit! There was still one tour available for the Cliff Palace. I bought a ticket for the tour at the visitors center, which was a long way up the park road.
The tour began by descending down a 100 foot staircase to a waiting area. Once everyone was down, the tour guide gave an interesting talk about the life of the Anasazi, and then he lead us to the dwellings.
We learned about the round structure (kiva) and what it was used for, and we learned how the park has worked to preserve the cliff houses. It is interesting that the mortar that the park staff created is not as good as the original. There are many things we still need to learn about the people who lived in these homes.
After the park ranger told us about the houses, we were allowed to look around on our own and ask additional questions.
If you decide to visit Mesa Verde, you should call in advance to see what tours will be available during your visit. If you wish to camp, make sure the campground will be open at that time.