My first day in the park I got up at dawn and left camp to explore the park. Nothing is open that early, and none of the other tourists were up, so I explored some of the overlooks. I had all my food in the car, to keep it safe from bears. So I got to my first tour a bit early and had a bowl of cereal in the parking lot. This turned into a habit – in three days I had only two meals at the campsite.
The tours tend to be full, because they’re the only way to get up close to the cliff dwellings. Luckily for me the tour had only nine people on it instead of the normal 40 or 50. Even so, I had a difficult time getting the other tourists out my shots – I don’t think I would’ve gotten anything at all with five times as many people present. The tours are fun for the adventurous, involving steep stairs and some ladders. They’re not really dangerous – it is a national park – but it’s more active than anything I saw at the Grand Canyon.
The cliff dwellings are built into naturally formed cavities in the cliff faces. The cavities are caused by water seepage, so many of the dwellings have seep springs in the back of them.
The pit in this photo is the Balcony House seep spring. At one time it would have been full of water, but the Park Service keeps it drained to prevent water damage.
The buildings are deceptively small. They usually have ceilings maybe five feet tall, and rooms covering only 25 or 30 square feet. The doorways are the size of a small window by today’s standards.
The inhabitants had no beasts of burden, so all the rocks, mortar and wood used to construct the buildings were moved by human muscle. It’s an impressive feat. I have to imagine this is one reason they had tiny little buildings.
After leaving Balcony House I toured the largest set of dwellings open to tourists, Cliff Palace. Unfortunately that tour was completely full, so I didn’t have the chance to get as many photos.