Spruce Tree House

Near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, on Chapin Mesa (map)
View of stone-masonry pueblo within a cliff alcove
Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling (Cliff Palace and Long House are larger), was constructed between about 1211 and 1278 CE by the ancestors of the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest. The dwelling contains about 130 rooms and 8 kivas (kee-vahs), or ceremonial chambers, built into a natural alcove measuring 216 feet (66 meters) at greatest width and 89 feet (27 meters) at its greatest depth. It is thought to have been home for about 60 to 80 people.

The cliff dwelling was first discovered in 1888, when two local ranchers chanced upon it while searching for stray cattle. A large tree, which they identified as a Douglas Spruce (later called Douglas Fir), was found growing from the front of the dwelling to the mesa top. It is said that the men first entered the dwelling by climbing down this tree, which was later cut down by another early explorer.


Spruce Tree House, Pre-1907 and Spruce Tree House 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 crumbled walls and piles of rubble.

Left image
Spruce Tree House, pre-stabilization
Credit: Nusbaum collection, MEVE

Right image
Spruce Tree House, post-stabilization
Credit: NPS Photo

Spruce Tree House was opened for visitation following excavation in 1908 by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Fewkes removed the debris of fallen walls and roofs and stabilized the remaining walls.

Today, it is known as one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the park. Due to the protection of the alcove, 90% of the material you see such as walls, wood, and plaster are original.

All archeological sites, especially those with standing architecture like Spruce Tree House, 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 Spruce Tree 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.

Sandstone cliff face with a ancient, stone-masonry village within an alcove. Above it in text, shows how a crack follows along the entire top of cliff.
Natural Forming Arch at Spruce Tree House
A natural sandstone arch is present in the Spruce Tree House alcove, just above the cliff dwelling. Early stabilization work was performed in the 1940's with additional stabilization work completed in the 1960's. Natural erosion processes, including the settling of the arch, have been affected by the early stabilization work, so modern engineering techniques may be necessary to ensure continued stability of the arch. Because of a number of rock falls beginning in 2015 that fell onto the trails below, work is currently being done to assess and mitigate this reoccuring issue. For more information, visit Spruce Tree House Arch Stabilization.

Last updated: August 1, 2020

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