Few visitors to the Southwest are prepared for the awesome scale and beauty of the desert cities and cliff palaces left by the Ancestral Puebloans, as seen all over the high plateaus of the “Four Corners” region, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah now meet.
Although the earliest humans reached the Southwest around 10,000 BC, the Ancestral Puebloans first appeared as the Basketmakers, near the San Juan River, two thousand years ago. Named for their woven sandals and bowls, they lived in pits in the earth, roofed with logs and mud. Over time, the Ancestral Puebloans adopted an increasingly settled lifestyle, becoming expert farmers and potters. Their first freestanding houses on the plains were followed by multistoreyed pueblos, in which hundreds of families lived in complexes of contiguous “apartments”. The astonishing cliff dwellings, perched on precarious ledges high above remote canyons, which they began to build around 1100 AD, were the first Ancestral Puebloan settlements to show signs of defensive fortifications. Competition for scarce resources became even fiercer toward the end of the thirteenth century and it’s thought that warfare and even cannibalism played a role in their ultimate dispersal. Moving eastward, they joined forces with other displaced groups in a coming-together that eventually produced the modern Pueblo Indians. Hence the recent change of name, away from “Anasazi”, a Navajo word meaning “ancient enemies”, in favour of “Ancestral Puebloan”.
Among the most significant Ancestral Puebloan sites are:
Magnificent cliff palaces, high in the canyons of Colorado.
Bandelier National Monument
Large riverside pueblos and cave-like homes hollowed from volcanic rock.
The largest and most sophisticated freestanding pueblos, far out in the desert.
Canyon de Chelly
Superbly dramatic cliff dwellings in a glowing sandstone canyon now owned and farmed by the Navajo.
Enigmatic towers poised above a canyon.
Several small pueblo communities near the edge of the Painted Desert, built by assorted groups after an eleventh-century volcanic eruption.
Numerous homes set into the canyon walls above lush Walnut Creek, just east of Flagstaff.
Canyon-side community set in a vast rocky alcove in Navajo National Monument; visible from afar, or close-up on guided hikes.