On December 18th, 1888, Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason, were riding across the mesa top looking for stray cattle and they found a whole lot more! They discovered one of the most well preserved clusters of cliff dwellings in North America.
We got the the park late morning and set off to see the whole park in a day. I know, that sounds crazy, but due to the fact that none of the tours of the actual cliff dwellings were running, we figured it was a reasonable goal.
Our first stop was the visitor’s center. We went in, got the low down on what roads were open and what was allowed for us to see. We then jumped back in the RV and drove the 45 minutes up to the mesa itself. The next destination was Spruce Tree House.
This was the first dwelling we saw. I was pretty shocked. I have had this place on my list since I was in the 5th grade and learned about it in social studies. But for some reason, the first time I saw it in real life, all I could say was “oh wow!” It makes a real impression in real life, that is for sure. Perhaps seeing it with your own eyes, you are able to better put yourself in the lives of the cliff dwellers. I could really imagine all of the daily going-ons in this cliff-side village! It truly is spectacular.
There is a small museum near the Spruce Tree House that we went inside and watched the park film. We also read up on the progression of architecture there as well. I will do my best to pass on the information:
Humans came to North America via the Bering Land Bridge and hunted and gathered in the area. One of the main sources of food was the Massive Bison (the bigger cousin of our modern day bison).
Early inhabitants built primitive dug-out shelters (similar to the ones we saw in Alaska in Katmai NP… probably because that is near where their ancestors crossed! Its all making sense!)
More permanent villages were created and they built stone structures above ground. These buildings all surrounded the local ‘kiva’ which was a central gathering place for the village. They were able to grow crops on the mesa top.
Then, perhaps to gain shelter from the elements (we don’t know the reason for sure), early inhabitants moved their villages to the cliffs. They built massive centers and structures beneath large overhangs on the side of the walls. And then, in the space of 30-50 years, they all up and left. Why? Another mystery.
What I found really interesting about the park is, you are able to see each time period just described in real life! Here you can see excavated kivas. You can imagine ceremonies and local gatherings taking place in the primitive structures.
As you drive further down the road you can see the structures get more developed. You can see structures that were built above the ground and picture little villages.
Then as you keep driving, you can stop and look at other cliff dwellings! This one below is called Square Tower House. It is the tallest of the cliff structures in the park – around 85 feet!
This picture is my favorite. You can see an ancient square house on a cliff, and a newer square house on wheels!
Further Down the road we caught our first glimpse of the famous Cliff Palace. This is the crown jewel of the park and the biggest cliff dwelling.
Can’t you just imagine people just climbing around and living their lives? A hard working people always building and maintaining their beautiful homes? It was fun for us to develop plot lines of lives on the cliff.
We let the kitty run around a little at the end of the day. He hadn’t been outside for a while, so he jumped up every tree he saw.
We learned a lot in this park (and to think only in one day!) so it was nice to rest and just take in the colors of the setting sun. We followed Vladimir’s example and hung out in the tree as we watched the day come to a close.
This park has a lot to offer as far as preserving our nation’s history. But there is a very real beauty to they place as well. That is probably a big factor of why people settled here in the first place! Something pulls at you when the angle of the light gets like this.
We will be back to visit in the summer some day for sure. Being able to only see from afar was torturous. It was a perfect way to entice us back!
Here’s the vlog!