Should We Live in a Cave or a Canyon?

If there’s a perfectly good canyon–with a stream--why would Native American people choose to live in caves carved into a cliff?

If there are perfectly good caves, why would people choose to go to the effort of building homes in the canyon?

Since the Ancestral Pueblo people of mid-New Mexico had both kinds of dwellings in the same place, how was it chosen who lived where?

We don’t know. Kinda makes for a good story, right?

Bandelier National Monument

The tribe who settled here chose well–the scenery is magnificent.

view at Bandalier

cliffs at Bandalier

Canyon Homes

Built from the 1200’s-1500’s BC/BCE, this collection of caves and brick homes is an architectural feat.

The canyon homes had 400 rooms for 100 people. Are you doing the math? Not every room was for sleeping. There were storage rooms, places to do work (like make blankets from yucca fibers and turkey feathers), kitchens, and kivas (community centers, of sorts, for gathering and ritual). Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

Cliff Dwellings

Those who lived at the cliff had a choice of lodging. Some took natural caves and expanded them to roughly the size of a double bed. These are called “cavates” (cave+eights). Others chose a location where the cliff face was straight and smooth, and built multi-story homes, like those in the canyon, using the cliff wall as a support.

I think it would be wonderful to sleep in the caves: natural cutouts in the rock–much like swiss cheese–give you views of the stars. But also, exposure to the weather.

Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

Entering the Homes

Whether in the canyon or on the cliff, entrance was via ladder. On the cliff, clearly you had to climb up. In the canyon, the door was via ladder in the roof. Why? Perhaps to strengthen the walls, keep out rodents, or keep out the cold. There were no windows, either.

ladder at Bandalier

While here, I thought about the effort to build a home while also living daily life.

  • How was the order decided for transitioned from temporary housing to permanent?
  • How long did it take build a section?
  • Was there jealousy while waiting?
  • Was there a sense of keeping up with the Jones-es?


How do you think people chose whether to live in a cliff dwelling or in the canyon?
Was it by clan, custom, or some other reason?

3 Responses


The cliff dwellers must have had very short lives. One false move — and splat.

PS: I keep forgetting to ask whether you got to the church in Santa Fe with the spiral staircase.

Your Comments
I’ve been there. It’s beautiful, majestic and well, eerie.
Your blog is a great reminder of that trip. Your mom and dad
were helpful with restaurants and points of interest in Santa Fe.
Ten? years ago.


Diane – majestic is a good word. And seeing the remains of a thriving community is rather eerie. I didn’t feel that, but in thinking about it, I agree.

Leave Your Response

* Name, Email, Comment are Required

This is ad number one.


These links may be helpful with logistics for your trip. I may not have used them, but we all want to promote our sites!