Puye Cliff Dwellings - Ancestral Home of
the Santa Clara Indians
Puye Cliff Dwellings
At the Santa Clara
Indian Reservation near Los Alamos,
Puye Cliff Dwellings. For more than three centuries, from
about 1250 to 1577 A.D., these cliff dwelling were called home to some 1,500
Indians. Until such time as drought forced the villagers to leave
for locations nearer the Rio Grande River, these ancient
Indians built villages, dwelled, farmed and hunted game here.
Through the years, it has been passed down
from generation to generation, that the inhabitants of the
Santa Clara, located some ten miles east of the cliff dwelling, are
the decedents of the Puye.
These decedents continue to speak the Tewa language, of which, the
name Puye translates to " pueblo ruin where the rabbits
assemble or meet."
Carved out of a 200 foot high cliff
ridge formed from the Jemez Caldera volcano that erupted more than a
million years ago, the cliff dwellings contain some 740 rooms. Foundations and archeological evidence suggest
that additional dwellings were constructed at the base of the cliff. The rooms dug into the cliff wall extend for over a mile along the
south face of the Puye mesa, sometimes at two separate levels.
Over a dozen stairways, that are
more like ladders and handholds, link the great Community House on the
mesa top to the rock debris at the base of a
cliff and the dwellings at its side. These "stairs"
leading downward in various directions, have been cut and worn into
the cliffs, often accompanied by finger grips to make the climbing
In addition to the many dwellings, at
least two subterranean ceremonial kivas have been found at the base of
the cliffs where large sockets were cut to hold the heavy roof beams
needed to span such a large room.
Many of the stairways lead up to the large
"Community House" which has been partly reconstructed on the top of
the cliff. Built of blocks of volcanic tuff (rock formed of
compressed volcanic ash and cinders,) the Community House may have
served a defensive purpose for the ancient
Indians. Portions of this structure were once up to two to
three stories high.
the many rocky faces of the walls of the cliff house, numerous
petroglyphs, including animal forms, human figures, geometric designs can
Today, the Puye Cliff
Dwellings is a National Landmark, owned and operated as a cultural
monument by the Pueblo of
Santa Clara. The site is generally open to the
public but sometimes closed for rituals.
Following the Cerro
Grande Fire the Puye Cliff Dwellings were closed for several years, but
reopened in October, 2008.
Two self-guided tours are available at the
The Cliff Trail - This trail
begins at the Visitor Center and leads up moderately steep rails and
ladders past many of the ancient dwellings built along and into the
cliff. Prehistoric stairways link the two levels of cliff dwellings to
the mesa top and its great "Community House."
The Mesa Top Trail - Follow the
graded road past the Visitor Center and continue to the parking area on
the mesa top. The ground there is generally level. You can visit the 740
ruin and its restored ceremonial chamber. The views of the Rio Grande
region are spectacular. There is some space available for picnicking.
Directions: From Santa Fe,
take I-285/84 North to the Los Alamos exit, NM 502. Follow 502, turn right
on NM 30, look for sign on left for Puye then
follow road for about 7 miles to the cliff dwellings.
Santa Clara Pueblo
P.O. Box 580
of America, updated September 2013.
The Santa Clara
are the descendants of those who once lived in the historic dwellings.
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