Friday, May 14, 2010

A Home in a Cliff

We have been very fortunate when it comes to avoiding bad weather when planning our daily activities. But New Mexico has presented a unique weather challenge.

The month of May seems to be the Season of Wind (which occurs between spring and summer) and is marked by continuous winds of 30-40 mph with gusts as high as 60 mph during the course of some days. So, we follow weather.com to check the wind forecast rather than the outlook for rain. And the first non-windy day found us traveling to Bandelier National Monument about 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe.

The trail to the cliff dwellings began with the crossing of Frijoles Creek (or more accurately "El Rito de los Frijoles," Spanish for "the little river of beans").

The Creek runs through Frijoles Canyon, which was formed by two eruptions of the Jemez Volcano more than one million years ago. The pink rock of the canyon wall may look like sandstone, but it is actually volcanic ash that compacted over time into a soft, crumbly rock called tuff.

The volcano ejected enough material to cover a four-hundred-square-mile area with a layer of volcanic ash up to one thousand feet thick. Tuff is very easily eroded--some components more easily than others. Over time the exposed rock takes on a "Swiss cheese" appearance.

Ancestral Pueblo people then used tools to enlarge some of the small natural openings in the cliff face.

The 1-1/4 mile paved trail takes visitors up steep, narrow stairs to the cliff dwellings.

It was hard to imagine living in rooms carved from the cliffs. (Tiny, tiny figures are barely visible on the trail in front of the whiter section of the rock, left.)

There were several pueblos located within Bandelier. Looking down from the trail along the cliff dwellings, we had a good view (photo below) of the village of Tyuonyi (QU-weh-nee). One or two stories high, Tyuonyi contained about four hundred rooms and housed approximately 100 people. The circle in the village marks the location of the kiva. Men would enter the kiva using a ladder through an opening in the roof. The kiva was the center of the community's culture; it was the center for religious ceremonies, education, and decision-making.

Both the village and the cliff dwellings are estimated to be more than 600 years old.

Tyuonyi is unusual in that it has been excavated. The Peublo people of today prefer not to disturb the homes of their ancestors.

The next two photos of the same rooms show the use of a ladder to enter living or storage areas.

At their peak in the late 1400s, the settlements in Frijoles Canyon probably had a population of 500.



The house in the lower left was reconstructed in 1920 to give visitors an idea fo how some cliff hoes may have looked, although the reconstruction may not be completely accurate. Entry to the building was probably through a door in the roof.

There were several petroglyphs along the cliff. This one of a macaw was one of the larger ones.

In this space, the ceiling has been smoke-blackened which hardened the volcanic tuff and made it less crumbly. It may also have been a kiva.

This is a segment of the Long House, an 800-foot stretch of adjoining, multi-storied stone homes with hand-carved caves as back rooms.

The horizontal rows of holes indicate the level of the roofs of the structure built in front of the cave rooms. In this area there existed a three-story living/storage/turkey shelter structure. Turkeys were raised mostly for their feathers--worn for decorative wear or, when twisted with yucca fiber and woven together, for blankets or warm clothing.

At several points along the trail, we commented on the challenge of living in these hollowed out spaces in the wall of the cliff. We decided that age would be our determing factor in deciding where to live--the cliff wall or the village on the canyon floor. (The average life expectancy was 35 years, but arthritis was a common ailment.)

Several travelers have not only hugged the trees but have smelled them. I decided to see if I could smell either vanilla or (for some) butterscotch on the bark of the ponderosa pine. In this brief test, I could smell the faint scent of vanilla.

A beautiful day for a hike.

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