New Mexico October 20, 2017
The Under-Appreciated New Mexico Cliff Dwellings You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should Visit Soon
There are a number of ancient cliff dwellings in New Mexico. Maybe you have been to some of the more well-known among them, like
Chaco Canyon, Bandelier National Monument, or the Gila Cliff Dwellings. However, the Puye Cliff Dwellings are an often overlooked gem. Take a look.
Ancient Pueblo people lived at the Puye Cliff Dwellings for almost three centuries.
Nearly 1,500 people lived at the site, from roughly 1250 to 1577. These ancestors of today's Santa Clarans eventually moved off the cliffs down to the Rio Grande River Valley. The cliff site is about 10 miles away from today's Santa Clara Pueblo.
The ancient site has two main sections, the cliff dwellings and the mesa top. The cliff dwellings have two levels. The first runs along the base of the mesa. Pathways and stairs connect it to the shorter second level and the mesa above.
The cave-like dwellings were dug into the volcanic tuft. For additional space and storage, stone rooms were built onto the cave rooms. Though no longer standing, a few of the stone rooms have been reconstructed to give visitors an idea of what the site looked like.
The Puye Cliff Dwellings were the largest settlement on the Pajarito Plateau.
A large, multi-story complex stood on top of the mesa. While the exact number of rooms is unknown, one part of the complex, alone, had 173 ground-floor rooms, with more stories on top.
From atop the mesa, visitors can look out across the Rio Grande Valley.
Aside from the road below and the ski runs on the nearby Pajarito Mountain, the views are almost the same as those seen by the Ancient Pueblo people.
A Harvey House also sits on the site and serves as a gift shop and interpretive center for the cliff dwellings.
Hospitality mogul Fred Harvey made his name feeding and housing hungry railroad passengers at Harvey Houses. During the 1920s and 1930s, this Harvey House was part of Harvey's "Indian Detours" and hosted passengers traveling on the "Chili Line." In the early days, guests were conveyed to the Pueblo via covered wagon. Later, they arrived in Model Ts.
Three guided tours are available -- a cliff dwelling tour, a mesa tour, or a combination.
Tours start on the hour and are led by guides from the Santa Clara Pueblo. As visitors explore the dwellings, a kiva, and even petroglyphs, the guides explain the site's significance and Pueblo culture. The Cliff Dwelling and Mesa Top tours are each $20 per person. The combination "Adventure Tour" is $35. Both tours include admission to the Harvey House, but do not include a tip for the guides.
You can buy your tour tickets at the Welcome Center before driving to the cliff dwellings.
You can find the Puye Cliff Dwellings at Highway 30 and Santa Clara Canyon Road., in Espanola. Summer hours (April- September) run from 8:30 am until 4 pm. Winter hours (October-March) are from 9 am until 4 pm.
Have you been to the Puye Cliff Dwellings? What did you think? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.