Cliff Palace is the largest of the 600 cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, as well as in all of North America. It has 150 rooms, 75 open areas, and 23 kivas. About 25 to 30 rooms have residential features. And yet, only an estimated 100 to 120 Anasazi actually lived at Cliff Palace.
These large cliff dwellings are rather uncommon as 90 percent of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde have less than 10 rooms, and a third contain only one or two rooms.
The following information is my summary of the events based upon Wikipedia and the PBS series on The National Parks.
Modern knowledge of the cliff dwellings all started with Cliff Palace. On a snowy day on December 18, 1888, while chasing stray cattle, cowboys Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason spotted the ruins. Unfortunately, Wetherill and his extended family knocked down walls and did other damage while digging for artifacts to sell to museums. As word of the discovery got out, pothunters and treasure seekers came to loot the ruins as well.
In 1891, scientist Gustaf Nordenskiold, son of Swedish-Finnish polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiold, hired the Wetherills to excavate the ruins. He taught the Wetherills to use a trowel instead of a shovel to dig so that artifacts wouldn't be damaged. And, in what was unusual for the time, he also saved ash from fire pits, trash found inside the rooms, and poop to see if it could be figured out what the Anasazi ate. He cataloged, photographed, and meticulously recorded what was found, including skeletons, pottery, and baskets.
Altogether, he amassed 600 artifacts, including a mummified corpse. But when Nordenskiold tried to ship them back to Sweden, he was arrested for "devastating the ruins." Unfortunately, no such laws existed at the time to prevent people from removing antiquities and he was let go. Most of these artifacts are now at the National Museum of Finland, and are the largest collection of Mesa Verde artifacts outside of the country.
In 1893, Nordenskiold published his findings, "The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde," which is now in the public domain if you want to view the cliff dwellings before excavation and see the artifacts. Despite the dubious beginnings, Nordenskiold's findings were one of the best record of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.
Despite their avariciousness, the Wetherills were concerned about the preservation of Mesa Verde and had urged the president early on to make it into a national park. Further looting of the ruins eventually raised concern from other groups and president Theodore Roosevelt finally designated Mesa Verde National Park on June 29, 1906.
You can watch this YouTube video of me filming an overview of the site from a overlook high above.
Ready to descend? It's a long way down. We started up there.
Keep going some more.
That was 100 feet of cliff we just went down.
The drop-off from Cliff Palace wasn't as extreme as that of other cliff dwellings.
You can see another YouTube video I did from inside Cliff Palace.
Upper rooms were used for storage.
That pointy outcropping is where I was standing when I took the first picture at the top of this post. I told you the stairs going down were steep.
I found it hard to believe when the park ranger said only a little more than a hundred people lived here. Or that it was used mainly for storage.
This is the tallest tower in Cliff Palace and has been restored. You can tell because the newer bricks are a different color.
Also, 23 kivas. Did the Anasazi have that many religious ceremonies? So basically the equivalent of a church for every four or five people? And no one thinks that's odd? Maybe that gives clues to why they abandoned the cliff houses?
The original foot and toe holds that the Anasazi used to get in and out of Cliff Palace. Sorry, I was wimpy and used the steep staircase and five eight- to 10-foot ladders to ascend the 100-foot cliff face.
Cliff House was certainly impressive with its size, but I'd have to say Balcony House was my favorite. It made me work for it, ya know? Seeing the cliff's high drop-off, the tight spaces to go from one room to the next, the difficulty the Anasazi had to scale to get in and out of these cliff dwellings made me feel like I was experiencing something far greater than just staring at stone buildings did.
If you ever go and have the choice of both, I'd recommend doing Balcony House earlier or later in the day when the sun isn't as hot. Even though Cliff House was steep, it wasn't nearly as difficult as Balcony House.
And bring or buy plenty of water. I downed a second bottle of water already at this point in the day. And it wasn't even lunch yet! Or well, lunch at Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe coming up next!
Posts in this series:
Sadie's of New Mexico - Albuquerque - New Mexico
Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum - Albuquerque - New Mexico
Shiprock - New Mexico
Ted's Taco - Mancos - Colorado
Balcony House - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
House of Many Windows - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Hemenway House - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Cliff Palace - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Petroglyph Point Trail - Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Cortez Cultural Center - Cortez - Colorado
Main Street Brewery & Restaurant - Cortez - Colorado
Absolute Bakery & Cafe - Mancos - Colorado
Four Corners Monument - Shiprock - New Mexico
Pine Country Restaurant - Williams - Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) - Arizona
Mesa Verde National Park
P.O. Box 8
Mesa Verde, Colorado 81330
7-day vehicle fee $10, $15 from Memorial Day to Labor Day
$3 tickets are required to take ranger-guided tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House. Tickets may be purchased from inside the park at Far View Visitor Center and must be purchased in person.
1 year ago today, Red Wine Sangria.
2 years ago today, 5 of 7 random things about me meme: I love Target.