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Archive for December, 2017

Palatki Cliff Dwellings

The third cliff dwelling site we visited was Palatki in the red rock country outside of Sedona. Someone told me it’s the best archeological site in Arizona, which may or may not be true, I don’t know Arizona well enough to really say, but it’s a wonderful place, amazingly scenic, with cliff dwellings and a collection of pictographs and a nice little museum. Docents lead tours right up to the dwellings and pictographs, and though I’m not always a fan of tours, the docents gave a lot of good information.

There are two sets of dwellings, tucked under the arch you can see at the base of the cliff. The dwellings were occupied from around AD 1150 to 1350 while there was a year-round water source. Nomadic people, understandably, decided the area was too beautiful to leave and built the dwellings.

It’s charming how they incorporated the boulders that were too large to move. Personally, I’d be leery of building a house anywhere that such giant boulders were accustomed to falling, but maybe if you sleep tucked against the talus it’s like sheltering beside your bed during an earthquake. The structure is still standing, so maybe that’s proof of concept.

There’s a lovely pictograph up on the cliff above the structure, an image outlined by a white circle. The docent said it may be a clan symbol, possibly based on a bear’s paw. The main collection of pictographs is in a shallow cave in another part of the site, and the docent did a great job explicating the different styles and ages, but it was too much for me to really process. This one, a negative-space image of a bear’s paw sited high on the rock face, was my favorite.

It’s a beautiful site. I’d never been to the Sedona area, but it lived up to all of the hype.

Montezuma’s Castle and the Sedona Chapel

After Bandelier, I visited Montezuma’s Castle near Sedona, another wonderful cliff dwelling site, this one perched in an alcove about a hundred feet up on a vertical cliff. The building is in good shape, though for obvious reasons you don’t get to go up into it (the park service website has some photos of the interior). I can imagine how much work it took to haul rock and mud up a hundred feet of cliff, but it was worth it. A spectacularly sited building.

On the same day, I also saw the Chapel of the Holy Cross about ten miles away as the crow flies. Another spectacular little building. They are obviously from different traditions — I’ve read a few versions of the chapel’s origin story and nothing mentions Montezuma’s Castle as an influence — but I was struck by similarities in the spectacle they both present as they perch overhead on the rock. I love how the cruciform shape is adapted to the contours of the cliff. There aren’t many buildings that do that, so it was striking to look up at two of them on the same day.

Bandelier National Monument

Before Thanksgiving I took a brief trip through the southwest, including visits to several sites with cliff dwellings. Bandelier National Monument was the first, and my first time seeing cliff dwellings. A lot of fun. I was perhaps expecting the buildings to be a little more intact than they were, but it’s a great place and I loved going up into the cavates, the little caves that had been carved into the cliffside. Climbing up the ladders and crouching to go through the openings took me back to that feeling when I first saw illustrations and read about them as a kid.


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