Exploring the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
The Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Museum were described as an “archaelogical and natural history preserve”. Easily accessible from Colorado Springs and at the base of America’s famous Pike’s Peak, these fascinating Native American structures were a wonderful family-friendly attraction.
These dwellings were originally located in southwest Colorado (McElmo Canyon) near Mesa Verde National Park but was moved here by a private owner to preserve and protect them from vandals and looters. The ruins were dismantled and packaged, stone by stone, and transported to this location via oxen, rail and horse. The dwellings were assembled to closely resemble how they were found.
Extensive blueprints of the original ruins were used to recreate them here. It took three years to restore the dwellings and was opened to the public in 1907. The structures were restored using concrete mortar instead of the adobe mud and clay mortar used by the Anasazi Indians.
The red stone structures were located beneath a sandstone overhang and almost looked like they’ve always been there. Even though we were in the same state, we were hundreds of miles from authentic ones in their original locations. So, this was the next best thing and a good introduction to the Anasazi Indians and their culture.
Scientists believe that the stone pueblos and cliff dwellings were abandoned either from being forced out by enemies or from starvation caused by a drought. The Anasazi Indians, also known as the Ancient Ones, started out as nomads and around 750 AD, settled in larger communities and built multi-story stone buildings. It was believed that they moved these structures on rock ledges at the base of cliffs for protection from their enemies.
This site was a lot smaller than we expected and allowed visitors to walk through the structures. It was a self-guided tour with 13 informational signs revealing what we were looking at and how they were used over 700 years ago. We loved that they encouraged visitors to touch everything for real hands-on learning especially for the kids. There were even Indian hymn chants on the speakers to add to the ambience of the stone buildings and gravel floors.
The “Please Touch” policy was greatly welcomed by my kids. They took every opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of the dwellings and climb its ladders inside. My daughter studied the California Indians last year so this gave her a different perspective on other tribes in this region.
It was very interesting to imagine what it was like to live in structures like these hundreds of years ago. They provided a great insight into their daily lives. It was impressive to see how self-sufficient and resourceful the Anasazi made use of their surroundings.
One of the sections was a four room, four family home which made for some crowded areas. The large rectangular openings were doors and the smaller ones were windows which looked more like peepholes. Both were closed using stones. The Anasazis were believed to be 4-5 feet tall which explained the small size of the doors.
Vegetables and meat were hung to dry in the sun on the small pegs protruding from the top. Steps were built into the wall to reach the second-story door. We found niches on walls believed to hold household goods or sacred objects.
The Kiva was a round-shaped pit used as a ceremonial chamber. In its original form, it had a timbered roof with a square shaped entrance in the middle. The center section had a firepit used for light and warmth and a ventilation shaft nearby.
The stone tower structure was believed to have been used to serve a ceremonial purpose or as a lookout tower. Timbers were inserted through small openings and used to go to the top of the tower platform to keep watch.
Below was the Chief Speaker structure which had larger rooms and windows than the other structures nearby. Instead of stones used to close doors, sandstone slabs were used here. Timbers were typically used to support the upper floors.
For some reason, my kids’ favorite part was the balcony structure which was a two-story, four-family home and considered one of the most well-preserved.
The left side of the balcony used double timbers due to a larger upper floor while the right side used single ones. Both provided the understructure of the second floors and built to support heavy loads.
But to preserve it in modern times, only three people at a time are allowed to stand at the balcony.
The scenic mountains provided some great views from the dwellings.
The biggest area was a village communal made up of a three-story structure for nine families. The rooms averaged 6 by 8 feet and 5.5 feet high. The upper stories’ floors were made of large timbers, covered with small sticks, bark and a clay layer. During the winter months, the families huddled together with covers in these small rooms to keep warm since fires couldn’t be used.
A museum and a huge gift shop were located nearby in a three-story Pueblo-style building. This was also a residence of several generations of Native Americans until 1984. The shop had extensive local products and many tourist knick knacks.
The Anasazi museum featured southwestern artifacts, dioramas of their daily lives and exhibits displaying tools, weapons and pottery to give a better understanding of how these American Indians lived.
Despite its small size, We enjoyed our visit to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings which gave us an insight into the Anasazi Indians and their unique culture. We liked the hands-on learning experience and the kids couldn’t get enough with exploring the structures. This visit has inspired us to speed up the timeframe to visit the authentic ones at their original locations. If you’re in the Colorado Springs area, it’s a pleasant stop for an hour or two.
Visiting Manitou Cliff Dwellings Tips and Basics
- Ticket Prices (plus tax): Adults (12 and over) – $9.50; Children (7-11) – $7.50; Children (6 & under) – Free; Seniors (60+) – $8.50
- Open seven days a week year-round, weather permitting.Hours vary depending on season so check their website.
- Get $1 off coupon from the Manitou Cliff Dwellings website.
- The dwellings are not strollers or wheelchair accessible due to the slopes and narrow passages between the structures.
- Get the short quizzes from the website to engage the kids on the cliff dwellings and museum.
*Have you explored the Manitou Cliff Dwellings or visited other cliff dwelling sites?