This morning I went on two tours of the cliff dwellings that Ancestral Puebloans lived in. Balcony House is best for the more active visitor. After climbing up a steep ladder…
and sliding through a small opening…
you enter the first room in the house.
The detail to attention is amazing. Corners are square. Walls are nearly flawless.
The viva is an underground room with a small fire. It was used for religious ceremonies.
Since the walls are hundreds of years old, some have collapsed.
If the climb up the ladder at the beginning wasn’t bad, the exit might be. The opening is so small that you have to crawl though the tunnel on your hands and knees. This was one of the defenses. Any enemy would have to crawl on their hands and knees to enter the house. Which meant the enemy couldn’t hold a weapon to attack, and would be in a vulnerable position if they made it.
Up another ladder.
These ladders weren’t here hundreds of years ago. They used small footholds in the side of the cliff to climb up and down (scroll down for a picture at Cliff Palace). Yikes!
My second tour was at Cliff Palace.
Yes, there is a reason it is called a Palace. This place is huge!
There are 150 rooms and 20 kivas.
Archeologists have been able to determine the age of these dwellings by taking a sample of the wood cores and examining how old the wood is.
A round tower.
Just breathtaking to look at all the workmanship that went into creating this place.
However, this kiva is showing signs of distress. The Ranger said that a failure at the bottom could cause a domino effect up to the top of the Palace. They may have to close the Cliff Palace to make repairs. They have already reduced the number of visitors on each tour to help mitigate the effects.
Next to steps leading out of the Palace, you can see the footholds that they used to use to get in and out. It is believed that the younger Puebloans would leave and elderly Puebloans would have remained in the Cliff Palace. Definitely not an easy entrance for the faint of heart.
Both tours were well worth it. I was really impressed with the architecture and the skills humans had back then. Today, we kind of take it for granted.
Continuing around the Cliff Palace Loop, I stopped at a overlook of Balcony House.
The nearby Ruins Road Mesa Top Loop is also a fascinating drive. Each stop shows the footprint of pithouses that the Ancestral Publeoans used.
The Antechamber was a small room that might have been used for storage of the annual harvest.
Fire-hardened bits of adobe and charcoal rubble are clues that the dwelling burned. Archeologists can precisely date the pithouse by analyzing tree rings of the original roof timbers preserved as charcoal. This pithouse existed about 600 A.D.
The Square Tower House, 1200-1300 A.D., features eight kivas and at least 60 rooms. I learned that the cliff dwellings, built on often unstable foundations of native stone and earth, were vulnerable to weathering, soil erosion and rock fall from the alcove ceiling. Ancestral Pueblo people had to work constantly maintain their homes. The Park Service also actively maintains and preserves these dwellings. Through preservation, an estimated ninety percent of what exists today is original.
Oak Tree House, 1250 A.D., contains about 50 rooms, 6 kivas, and has some apartments rising four stories to the roof of the inner alcove.
The Fire Temple’s size and carefully crafted, symmetrical features suggest it was used for community-wide ceremonial gatherings.
I walked down to Spruce Tree House, which is a self-guided tour.
It has two kivas that are covered over. The kiva is roomy, but still small enough to be intimate.