Cliff Palace

 
Ancient stone-masonry village in an alcove
“Even though we physically moved away, the spirits of my (our) ancestors are still here. If you stop for a minute and listen, you can hear the children laughing and the women talking. You can hear the dogs barking and the turkeys gobbling. You can hear and feel the beat of the drums and the singing. You can smell the cooking fires. You can feel their presence, their warmth, their sense of community” - T J Atsye, Laguna Pueblo
 
Separation bar with triangles - black and white
 

Open 8:00 a.m. to sunset, the Cliff Palace Loop Road takes you past Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and overlooks to other cliff dwellings. You may enter Balcony House or Cliff Palace by ranger-guided tour only. Visit Purchasing Tour Tickets for more information.

Recent studies reveal that Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. Out of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings concentrated within the boundaries of the park, 75% contain only 1-5 rooms each, and many are single room storage units. If you visit Cliff Palace you will enter an exceptionally large dwelling which may have had special significance to the original occupants. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage.

 
View of Cliff Palace from within alcove
Cliff Palace doorways

Many visitors look at the size of the doorways in Cliff Palace and other cliff dwellings and wonder about the size of the people who once lived here. An average man was about 5'4" to 5'5" (163 cm) tall, while an average woman was 5' to 5'1" (152 cm). If you compare them with European people of the same time period, they would have been about the same size. Compared with today, the Ancestral Pueblo people's average life span was relatively short, due, in part, to the high infant mortality rate. Most people lived an average of 32-34 years, however some people did live into their 50s and 60s. Approximately 50% of the children died before they reached the age of five.

 
Example of chinking in stone and mortar wall
Example of chinking

Sandstone, mortar and wooden beams were the three primary construction materials for the cliff dwellings. The Ancestral Pueblo people shaped each sandstone block using harder stones collected from nearby river beds. The mortar between the blocks is a mixture of local soil, water and ash. Fitted in the mortar are tiny pieces of stone called "chinking." Chinking stones filled the gaps within the mortar and added structural stability to the walls. Over the surface of many walls, the people decorated with earthen plasters of pink, brown, red, yellow, or white -- the first things to erode with time.

 
Cliff Palace Late 1800s and Cliff Palace Today
Ancient, stone-masonry village rooms under an alcove with crumbled walls and piles of rubble. Ancient, stone-masonry village rooms under an alcove with stabilized walls and a group of visitors along a path.
Pre-stabilization Nordenskiold collection, MEVE 11084
Post-stabilization NPS Photo
From the late 13th century to 1880s, Cliff Palace slowly deteriorated from the effects of water, wind, freeze/thaw cycles, differential fill levels, a variety of animals, spalling of the alcove roof, and the inherent qualities of the prehistoric structures themselves. Over the course of six centuries, Cliff Palace was visually transformed from an imposing assemblage of buildings,courtyards, and subterranean kivas to an array of stone structures rising from tons of rubble and debris. Still remarkably impressive, the effects of time were nevertheless evident. However, with the 'discovery' of Cliff Palace in the late 1800s, this gradual process of decay rapidly accelerated. Casual visitation and commercial exploration employed everything from pick and shovel to dynamite in an effort to recover all types of artifacts. In the end, the form and fabric of Cliff Palace was heavily damaged throughout its extent, with the natural processes of deterioration now altered by human activity. Visit Preserving Cliff Palace to learn more about the work involved in preserving this remarkable piece of American history. 

All archeological sites, especially those with standing architecture like Cliff Palace, require continued assessment and maintenance. Natural factors such as rainfall and alcove spalling, as well as animals and insects, all impact the integrity of the site's fabric. As a public site, conditions at Cliff Palace are routinely monitored on an annual basis. To learn how the park continues to preserve archeological sites for future generations, visit the Archeological Site Conservation Program.



 

Last updated: July 29, 2020

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Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

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