Our car chugs up the long and winding road and we open the windows to let in the cooler air. We had just been to the visitor center and bought our tour tickets to Cliff Place, one of the the cliff dwellings which can be visited with a ranger. I had forgotten what it looked like on the Mesa, my last visit being some 30 years ago. It didn’t surprise me in the least that the dwellings weren’t “discovered” by Europeans until the late 1850s. It is a maze of densely vegetated canyons, hence the name “Green Plateau”. The area has been a national park since 1906, and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1978, becoming one of the first World Heritage locations in the United States.
But long before that, the Ancestral Pueblo people made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE.
Our tour was lead by our very knowledgeable and friendly ranger Kayla. Cliff Palace, probably the most well known of the cliff dwellings, contained 150 room, 23 kivas and had a population of approx. 100 people. Most of the cliff dwellings within the park, and there are almost 600, only have 1-5 rooms. This means that Cliff Palace is not only an especially large dwelling, but it most likely had a certain significance, probably by being a social and administrative site as well as a special place for ceremonies.
As I sat there listening to our ranger talk about the dwelling, I had flash-backs. Was this the place I visited where were we still allowed to walk around the ruins? While we walked past the dwellings and to the one area where visitors are still allowed to walk and peer into a window, I asked. Yes, up until about 10 years ago, visitors were still allowed to walk around. Due to various reasons, one being hands which touched the adobe bricks, visitors are no longer allowed near the ruins. The one window where we were allowed to lean through quite visibly showed the reason why: it was stained dark and smudged. If you look closely at the photos above, you will be able to find said window in two of the photos.
It would be a shame not to mention the other mesa top sites which dot the area on the mesa. These too belong to the rich history of the Ancestral Pueblo people. I highly recommend spending much more time in the area than an afternoon, hiking the trails, seeking out the many sites and perhaps even spending the night. There is an aura about the place, once that can only be felt once the park empties in the late afternoon, something we were able to enjoy.
I certainly attribute this place to my interest in, fascination and reverence for the native people and have since written papers and bought many books about them.
One of the latest fires left eerie but very photogenic trees we had to stop and capture.