Monday, October 18, 2010 Rain and clouds early; then clouds and sun mix, 55 degrees
About 1200 the Pueblonans moved from mesa tops to cliff alcoves. These structures, built of sandstone blocks and mortar, served as homes, public and religious spaces. The existence of these cliff dwellings was unknown until a rancher, moving his cattle into the valley for the winter grazing, discovered them about 1880. Now over 600 of these dwellings are protected within the park.
Today we were toured two of them: Cliff Palace, the largest, and Spruce Tree House, the best preserved. To get to Cliff Palace we walked down a steep, narrow set of stairs to the alcove level and then used five ladders to ascend 100 feet back to the top. Spruce Tree House was reached by walking a steep paved trail.
We walked across the plazas to gaze into some of the houses which were usually 7' by 12'. Kivas, a ceremonial chamber, were built beneath the plaza floor, and walls, reaching to the top of the alcove, decreased in height as they progress toward the rear. The courses of blocks are amazingly smooth and straight and constructed so well that they remain true even today.
All that is known about the Puebloans is deduced from the artifacts that have been recovered from within the cliff dwellings and from their trash piles. The men were about 5' 4" tall and lived to be 40 years old while the women were about 5' tall and lived to be 25 years old. Their diet consisted of corn, beans, and squash. They were skilled basket weavers and potters, and they traded with other tribes as far away as Mexico and the Pacific coast. By 1300 they abandoned their cliff homes, but no one knows why.
We also drove to the numerous overlooks where we could see more of their buildings including towers, reservoirs, and villages. These are some of the oldest man-made structures in the U.S. Even though we were here just three years ago, we enjoyed visiting the park again.
We saw one more type of tourist today: the "run and gun." One person runs from the car to snap a picture while the other guns the engine to make a get-away to the next spot.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Durango, CO, US 550S to US 160W; then US 160E to US 550N back to Durango