Spruce Tree House Closure

Views of cracks above the Spruce Tree House Alcove
Left: Areas of previous and potential rock falls. Right: 1940 photo of the widest section of the crack about Spruce Tree House. (NPS Photos)
Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best preserved cliff dwelling in the park. Normally open to the public, in August 2015, a rock fall at Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling prompted park officials to close the site for visitor safety until an analysis and hazard assessment could be conducted. After that initial evaluation was completed in September 2015, it was decided that the entire site should be closed to the public in October 2015.

In November 2015, a select climbing team comprised of National Park Service employees from Chiricahua National Monument, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Arches/Canyonlands National Parks completed a technical scaling project at Spruce Tree House. At this time, the arch crack system above Spruce Tree House was inspected and any loose material was removed. However, other rock fall concerns were identified during this process, and Mesa Verde has determined to keep Spruce Tree House closed for the foreseeable future until a full geotechnical assessment can be performed.

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.

Due to the complexity of the project and the significance of Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling, there is a four-phase sequential approach planned. The first phase is to use Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a remote sensing method employing a laser to obtain a complete structure profile. Also, geotechnical information will be collected to be integrated in the numeric modeling and analysis. Phase Two will consist of geotechnical engineers conducting detailed three-dimensional computer-based analyses of the original condition and the 1960's stabilization using information from Phase One as a chronological modeling sequence. Phase Three will include developing plans, specifications, and gathering necessary information to complete stabilization work. Phase Four will be the performance of the work.

The park service has contracted with a geotechnical firm to conduct Phases One and Two. This assessment will result in recommendations for treatment that, if necessary, will use modern engineering technology to ensure that the alcove is stable and safe for public visitation.

Last updated: May 3, 2022

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