Now available in paperback!

The series continues with an award-winning mother-daughter team writing the third National Parks Mystery!


Published by The National Geographic Society

When a cougar attacks a biker at Mesa Verde National Park, the Landons have another mystery on their hands.

Twelve-year-old Jack and his younger sister, Ashley, are used to visiting parks with their wildlife veterinarian mother and photographer father. But this time they have their hands full with a foster child who calls herself Lucky Deal. Jack isn't sure if he can believe this mysterious girl, but he wants to trust her.

As Lucky and Jack become friends, tension grows with Ashley. She's suspicious: What exactly does Lucky know about a missing artifact? With the cougar still on the prowl and a terrifying cliff-side fall, Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson will have you hanging on every word of Cliff-Hanger.


"The third entry in the National Parks Mystery series features the Landon family (veterinarian mother, photographer father, 12-year-old Jack and 10-year-old Ashley) which finds itself in Mesa Verde National Park, where Mrs. Landon is on the trail of a human-attacking cougar. But the Landons are not alone. With them is 13-year-old Lucky, whom they have taken into foster care on an emergency basis. Lucky immediately arouses suspicion, making mysterious calls in the middle of the night and taking things that aren't hers. But Jack is her friend (and thinks she's cute) so he protects her from questions. In a spine-chilling conclusion, Jack must try to save Lucky from both the cougar and her return to a life that Jack knows will cause her pain. The authors do a fine job of integrating lots of material into an exciting story. They neatly balance information about Mesa Verde National park with details of Lucky's life, and they keep the threat of the deadly cougar hanging over everything. Readers will look forward to the next in this series."

Mysteries in Our National Parks Series
A Lesson Plan to Extend Learning


This book takes place in Mesa Verde National Park, where Dr. Landon tracks a cougar that attacked a hiker, and Jack and Ashley solve a mystery of their own involving a suspicious young girl named Lucky. The setting for this action-packed story gives students a taste of archaeology and the Hopi culture.

In this lesson to extend the learning, students are asked to solve their own mystery. What caused the disappearance of the Ancestral Puebloans, creators of the beautiful cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde? In addition there are a variety of options for hands-on projects, classroom displays, and questions for discussion.

Connection With the Curriculum: Geography and Social Studies

Teaching Level: Grades 4-8

Time Frame: Approximately; 5 class periods of discussion and research. Projects can be given as homework or done in an additional 5 class periods.

Materials: Copies of Cliff-Hanger, spiral notebooks, pencils, clay, paint, poster board, glue, markers, colored pencils, etc.

Geography Standards:
Standard 4: Physical and human characteristics of places
Standard 12: Processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement
Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems
Standard 17: How to apply geography to interpret the past

Social Studies Standards:
Standard 1: Culture and Cultural Diversity
Standard 3: People, places, and environment
Standard 8: Relationships among science, technology, and society


1. If students have read Cliff-Hanger, ask them to list what they have learned about Mesa Verde from reading the book. Otherwise, have students make a list based on what they learned by reading chapter 6 on their own or aloud.
2. Record their findings on the board. Then ask students to organize these ideas into categories (architecture, agriculture, tool making, etc.) and write them in their notebooks.
3. Choose a project from the list below for the students to prepare either in groups or individually. To research their projects have the students use resource materials such as Web sites, articles, and additional printed materials.
  Make a piece of pottery with traditional Pueblo designs
  Build a 3-D model of a building at Mesa Verde (material can be anything from cardboard to modeling clay)
  Draw diagrams showing the development over time of the architecture found at Mesa Verde
  Create diagrams showing effective use of solar energy in cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde
  Make a map of historic sites at Mesa Verde, showing the agriculture, living, religious, work/community, and water resource areas
  Illustrate drawings of wildlife common in the area
  Create drawings of plants and add text to say what they were used for
  Combine drawings of the tools or pottery archaeologists have found with explanations about what they were used for
  Illustrate a poster with foods gathered and grown by the early inhabitants of Mesa Verde
  Create written reports on agriculture, wildlife, or park history
  Make an illustrated timeline of the development and disappearance of the cliff dwellers
  Make and share some traditional Puebloan foods
4. Ask students to present their projects and ideas orally.
5. Use their projects as a starting point for the following discussion questions:
  Where and when did the Ancestral Puebloans live?
  What made this area desirable? Think in terms of climate (temperature, precipitation in the form of snow or rain) and resources (animals, plants, soil). How do archaeologists know what it was like 700 years ago?
  Think about the geography of Mesa Verde. How was the land formed?
  Who were the first inhabitants of the area, and when did they live there? What do archaeologists know about their shelters, tools, weapons, art, clothing, and food?
  What is the name that is given to the next people to live here? What new technologies made living there easier for them? How did their shelters, tools, weapons, art, and clothing differ from those of earlier times? What kinds of foods did they grow, gather, or hunt?
  Find out about the Developmental Pueblo Period. Why did the skulls of these people suddenly change shape? What major changes occurred in their living patterns (shelters, tools, weapons, clothing)? How did an increase in population make living both easier and more difficult?
  Describe the residents of Mesa Verde during the Classic or Great Pueblo Period. How did their architecture change and why? How well did they make use of the natural resources of the area? What, in your opinion, is the most fascinating aspect of this time period?
  Now that you know more about the Ancestral Puebloans, why do you think they left? Provide evidence from your research to back up your theories.
6. Ask students what questions they still have. Have they solved the great mystery of the Ancestral Puebloans?

Extending the Lesson

1. What do you think it would be like to be an archaeologist looking for clues at Mesa Verde? Find out more about archaeology as a career.
2. Find out more about the National Park Service. How long has it been in existence? What is its main purpose? What do you think it would be like to be a park ranger?
3. Research the history and physical layout of Mesa Verde National Park. Draw a map of the park and label the mesas, dwelling sites and Park Headquarters, or make an illustrated time line of the park's history.
4. Learn more about the Pueblo people, the descendants of the cliff dwellers at Mesa Verde. Where do they now live? In what ways is their current lifestyle similar to their ancestors'? How is it different?
5. Imagine your own city (town, village) a thousand years from now. What clues might archaeologists find to your present way of life (think about what has been found at Mesa Verde: buildings, tools, weapons, pottery, art, foods)? How close could those future archeologists come to understanding how you now live?

Related Web Sites

National Geographic Society
Includes a list of publications relating to Mesa Verde, for example: "Mystery of the Cliff Dwellers", World magazine, Feb 1998; "Old Ones of the Southwest," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine, April 1996; "Pueblo People", NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine, April 1996; and National Geographic book Ancient Pioneers: The First Americans, George E. Stuart, 2001.

National Park Service
Includes the electronic book "The Story of Mesa Verde" and a list of bibliographical resources.

National Geography Standards:

I. The World in Spatial Terms
  1. Maps and other geographic tools for information in a spatial perspective
  2. Mental maps in a spatial context
  3. Spatial organizations of people, places, and environments
II. Places and Regions
  4. Physical and human characteristics of a place
  5. Regions interpret Earth's complexity
  6. Cultures and experience influence perceptions of places and regions
III. Physical Systems
  7. Physical processes shape Earth's surface
  8. Characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth
IV. Human Systems
  9. Characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations
  10. Characteristics, distribution, and complexity of cultural mosaics
  11. Patterns and systems of economic interdependence
  12. Processed, patterns, and functions of human settlement
  13. How cooperation and conflict influence the division and control of Earth
V. Environment and Society
  14. How human actions modify the physical environments
  15. How physical systems affect human systems
  16. Changes in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources
VI. The Uses of Geography
  17. How to apply geography to interpret the past
  18. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future


Curriculum Standard for Social Studies

I. Culture: The study of culture and cultural diversity
II. Time, Continuity and Change: The study of the ways people view themselves in and over time
III. People, Places, and Environments: The study of people, places, and environments
IV. Individuals Development and Identity: The study of individual development and identity
V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions: The study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions
VI. Power, Authority, and Governance: The study of how people create, and change structure of power, authority, and governance
VII. Production, Distribution, and Consumption: The study of how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services
VIII. Science, Technology, and Society: The study of relationships among science, technology and society
IX. Global Connections: The study of global connections and interdependence.
X. Civic Ideals and Practices: The ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic


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