Standing on top of the mesa, looking down at the Cliff Palace, it is difficult to not feel like a scientist looking down at a crucible through a microscope, a scope that cuts through the dimension of time along with distance. Tucked into the natural alcove just below the precipitous edge of the mesa, is a magical little village that was inhabited by the Anasazi not too long ago, just over eight centuries. It is a touch difficult to call them ruins for they are well preserved in the arid climate of the southwest, it almost feels like if I wait a little more, I will see Anasazi spilling out of the adobe houses and this ancient village will yet again be agog with activity.
The Anasazi built this city in the 12th century, lived here for a little over 80 years and then out of the blue, a mystery that has yet to be deterministically explained, evacuated it.
A series of steps snake down lazily to the abandoned village, a luxury Anasazi did not enjoy. They employed hand and toes hold dug into the face of the cliff that dropped vertically down from the mesa, scaled several times a day by men and women to get food and water to the village. Standing on the floor of the alcove, suspended several hundred feet from the canyon floor, it is clear that not only were the Anasazi prodigious yet minimalistic builders but they were also very, very clever. The village has been built precisely inside the shadow line of the sun at high noon in summer yet allowing for enough warmth in winter when the sun moves southwardly. Overall, the city/village is not built to a specific plan. The natural lines of the alcove are used to decide where to build what.
A series of Kivas line the front. These circular pits lined with brick with six pilasters for the roof, narrow banquets along the inner wall, and deflectors to prevent smoke from the fire-pit flooding the kiva held great importance in the Anasazi culture. Besides being used for ceremonial rituals, it was a gathering place for the adults to congregate in the evening – just like the piazzas in Italy or the Banyan tree in villages in India.
This adobe adorned tower with pinyon-juniper logs jutting out houses four floors, each with one apartment. Each apartment is miniscule with just enough room for a family to curl and sleep.
This majestic building has been romantically named the Chieftain’s house though there is no known evidence if Anasazi ever organized themselves under a tribal chief. Built on top of a fallen rock, it has 4 asymmetrical levels that reach all the way to the roof of the alcove. The rock has a major crack that has continued upwards into the main building. When the site was being stabilized in early 1900, engineers went below the rock with metal and mortar. To their utter surprise, they saw that the Anasazi engineers had been in exactly same spot - 800 years ago - armed with mud and pinyon-juniper logs.
Behind the house, along the roof of the alcove, a natural ledge has been converted into storage rooms.The attic has exactly as many windows as the number of kivas in Cliff Palace - 23. A huge cache of ancient corn can still be found in these rooms.
In the evening, we were across the Soda Canyon. We had to be within 10 yard radius of the spot Wetherill and Mason allegedly stood in December 1888 looking for their lost cattle. Instead they discovered the Cliff Palace- the first time ever that a Caucasian eye landed on this stonework.I get goose bumps just thinking of what that moment would be.
I mean, I have goose bumps now!