Thursday, August 30, 2012

Puye Cliff Dwellings

Near Española, New Mexico, about a hour northwest of Santa Fe, are the Puye ("poo-jay") Cliff Dwellings. These ruins of an abandoned pueblo are located in Santa Clara Canyon on Santa Clara Pueblo land.

From the Visitor Center parking lot, the cliffs appeared imposing.
Some 1,500 Pueblo Indians lived, farmed, and hunted game there from the 900s to 1580 A.D.

"Puye Cliffs comprises two levels of cliff and cave dwellings cut into the cliff face, as well as dwellings on the mesa top. Over one mile long, the first level runs the length of the base of the mesa.

The second level is about 2,100 feet long. Paths and stairways were cut in the face of the rock to connect the two levels and allow people to climb to the top of the mesa" (

The paved trail from the Visitor Center to the dwellings was a fairly steep climb. I was grateful for the "Granny stops" that our tour guide Judith made. At an elevation of about 7000+ feet, the dwellings provided a challenge for those of us more comfortable at sea level.

From the trail in front of the dwellings, we had stunning views of the Jemez mountains to the west,

the valley, which had been the site of the farmlands for the cliff dwellers, and

to the east, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains.

When we completed the initial climb, we were able to follow a relatively level trail along the living areas.

We had about a dozen people in our group. On more than one occasion, I heard, "Mr. Green (the color of my shirt), you're taking a lot of photos" (read: "You're slowing the group down.")

Among the handful of reasons for my tendency to fall behind the group was the opportunity to photograph the petroglyphs shown in these photos.

'The dwellings are part of natural volcanic caves high on the cliff walls. The row of circular holes in the side of the cliff served to anchor logs that served as the roof over the first level and the pathway for the second level.

"This hour long trek takes visitors along paved and non-paved paths, moving along the cliff face to see the dwellings carved within.

"These cliffs are comprised of rock that, while hard, has a layer on the surface that is easily broken. The inner tuff is “soft and crumbly,” making it ideal to work with simple stone tools" (

The ancestral puebloans used ladders to reach the homes and rooms. A trail was cut into the rocky cliffs for carrying water to the dwellings.

Each room was created by a bubble in the volcanic basalt.

"It’s an amazing contrast from the precisely built, squared off buildings we know in our culture, to then move on to rounded, organic, hand-carved homes in a cave style.

Most of them are small, but feel rather comfortable as far as holes in the wall go.

The earth is certainly cool inside in the summer months and would be relatively easy to heat up in the winter, so the practicality of these houses is easy to see.

Shown below are pottery shards that have been found in the course of excavations, which "began in the summer of 1907 by Adolf Bandelier,.... It was the first of the ancient Pueblos of the Rio Grande Valley to be systematically excavated, and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966" (

The lichen on the rocks and cliffs added a but of color to the sandstone-colored cliffs.
"This National Historic Landmark has been called 'one of northern New Mexico’s most awe-inspiring cultural attractions.' ...In this 'place between earth and sky,' the wide open views of the New Mexico landscape are enough to catch anyone’s attention" (

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