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Overview

Walking into this 80-square-mile area of right-angle cliffs and deep canyons is like stumbling onto a ghost civilization — massive stone villages, complete with buildings, towers, pools, and an odd-shaped checkerboard of rectangular windows and protruding, brick-shaped stones. The residents of these cliff dwellings were the Anasazi (also known as Ancestral Puebloans), who lived here from roughly 550 to 1300 A.D. and built their homes during the last 75 to 100 years of that era. They took off at the end of that period, leaving their empty homes behind. The structures went undiscovered until around 1888, when local ranchers came upon them. ...

Walking into this 80-square-mile area of right-angle cliffs and deep canyons is like stumbling onto a ghost civilization — massive stone villages, complete with buildings, towers, pools, and an odd-shaped checkerboard of rectangular windows and protruding, brick-shaped stones. The residents of these cliff dwellings were the Anasazi (also known as Ancestral Puebloans), who lived here from roughly 550 to 1300 A.D. and built their homes during the last 75 to 100 years of that era. They took off at the end of that period, leaving their empty homes behind. The structures went undiscovered until around 1888, when local ranchers came upon them. Eighteen years later, the abandoned dwellings became a national park, and almost 500,000 visitors continue to arrive every year. Visitors are allowed to visit just two of the dwellings on their own: Spruce Tree House and Step House, both accessible via short, steep hikes. For the other dwellings, you need a guided tour. Begin at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, at the entrance to the scenic park.

Steve Knopper
About the Expert

Steve Knopper is the Denver-based author of Moon Handbooks Colorado as well as a contributor to numerous Fodor's city guides.

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Steve Knopper for Triporati

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    Spring, summer and early fall