October 25, 2017

by Steve

One thing we've learned by spending extended time in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico is that the southwest has lots and lots of cliff dwellings. Pretty much everyone knows about the ones at Mesa Verde, but in our travels we've visited many other sites, including Walnut Canyon near Flagstaff, Chimney Rock near Pagosa Springs, and others like the ones near Manitou Springs, Colorado.

In New Mexico, we recently visited Bandelier National Monument. This monument, in a narrow canyon north of Santa Fe and near Los Alamos, was the site of human habitation for over 11,000 years.  You might say "it all started here." The cliff dwellings, however, are not that old. Like many others throughout the area they are around 1000 years old.

These cliff dwellings are a little different from the others that we have visited. Instead of being built under an overhang, these are more cave-like, taking advantage of natural soft areas in the stone cliffs that have been eroded into caves. The cool thing at this site is that you can tour it and go into many of the dwellings. The rule is that if there is a ladder, you're free to enter.

So, enter we did.  Here's Jane going into one of the cave-like dwellings. And below you can see how it looks from the inside.

Multiple rooms are joined, although none are large or tall. These must have been short people.

Steve climbing up and in. This one looks to be somewhat reconstructed.

A room with a view.

One of the larger dwellings was located pretty high up.  This one required climbing four ladders--some of them fairly long.

This largest dwelling was the only one built under an overhang. There's actually quite a lot of room up there.

As with most of the other cliff dwellings, no one really knows why the people decided to build on the cliffs when they had been living on the flat areas for hundreds of years. Nor do we know why they left, other than that "it was time to go." Speculation is that there were hostile enemies that made easily defended cliff dwellings desirable, although there's no indications of fighting. And possibly an extended drought caused them to move on. There's a similar story at many other sites across the southwest. It's a mystery that we'll probably never solve, and it's pretty amazing that an entire civilization could live in an area for thousands of years, and then just vanish.

If you go, you should know that you can't drive your car to the monument. You need to park at the visitor center in the nearby town of White Rock and take a free bus from there. It's about 9 miles away, but as the canyon where Bandelier is located is narrow and subject to flash flooding, they don't have room for or want a lot of cars in it. At least not during the monsoon months. Expect to spend about 4 hours or so, depending on your level of interest.

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