• View of Square Tower House, seen along the Mesa Top Loop

    Mesa Verde

    National Park Colorado

Cliff Alcoves

View of the alcove in which Cliff Palace is built.
Note the alcove in which Cliff Palace is built.
NPS PHOTO
 
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Take a look at the alcove in which Cliff Palace is built. The rock you see is Cliffhouse Sandstone, geologically deposited during the Cretaceous Period some 78 million years ago. Since sandstone is a very porous material, moisture seeps right down through it. Beneath the layer of sandstone, however, is a layer of shale through which the moisture cannot penetrate. In the winter months, when the moisture freezes and expands, chunks of sandstone are cracked and loosened. Later these pieces collapse, forming alcoves such as the one here.

The majority of alcoves within Mesa Verde are small crevices or ledges able to accommodate only a few small rooms. Very few are large enough to house a dwelling the size of Cliff Palace.

Did You Know?

View of the House of Many Windows cliff dwelling

Ninety percent of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings contain 10 rooms or less. One-third have only one or two rooms. This should help to put the more famous cliff dwellings of Cliff Palace (150 rooms), Long House (150 rooms), Spruce Tree House (130 rooms), and Balcony House (40 rooms) into perspective.