Ho, for the Cliff Houses!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 7:06 PM
The Cliff Palace, by Gustaf Nordenskiöld, 1891.

Editor’s note: This column is adapted from July 27, 1900, edition of The Montezuma Journal.By One of the GirlsLast Friday morning, our party of fourteen mounted their horses en route for the Cliff Houses in Mancos canon under the guidance of Sterl Thomas. We left Cortez about ten o’clock. We rode out into the great unknown of Mesa Verde. We took the trail just west of Lookout Mountain and seemed to be a continual climb after leaving the ranch of D. Longenbaugh east of town. We crossed the Razor Bank safely in spite of its narrowness but if we had fallen would have been sure to have followed our genial guide’s advice and fell “straddle” of it. It was a little scary looking with a trail just wide enough for one horse and a steep hill on each side. We camped at the well for dinner about half past twelve scrambling for “grub” after the horses were unsaddled and turned to graze. The weather was pleasant for us and our ride so far was more refreshing than tiresome. There is always such a variety of scenery in our “Rockies” one never grows tired looking. After dinner we rested an hour then Sterl said it was time to “move on” and we began climbing again. Seemed to me it was mostly climb all afternoon. Some of the boys got in a hurry and left us after we had gone about five miles and we saw no more of them ’till we reached camp about an hour before sundown. If they’d just had supper ready when we got there it would have been all right, but they hadn’t and we eased our mind by telling them what we thought. When we arrived at Soda Springs we thought it nearly time to be at our destination and they said it was five miles farther. It proved to be five typical mountain miles (long ones) and somewhat trying on the neck, as mine got more exercise by dodging trees and things. We had a little shower just as we got there to dampen us. We girls piled into the limited quarters of some tourists already there, but the shower was soon over and we wandered out to view the country. Mr. Thomas had the boys busy, some bringing wood and water, some caring for the horses and others making themselves generally useful around the camp. Our kitchen and dining room were on the edge of the canon just across from Spruce Tree house. After supper Sterl and we girls moved below the ledge of rock under shelter from the threatening rain. The rain had made plenty of water for the horses and the springs were quite full so there was no cause to worry about water. Early in the morning the boys were out after horses and by sunrise breakfast was over and we were ready to investigate the wonders of Spruce Tree house. The natural staircase of a fallen spruce tree nearly 300 years old was a curiosity to me as the house itself. We climbed down it to get up to the house and up to get down. The house is very large but they said “Wait till you get to the Palace this is nothing in comparison” and it wasn’t. The Palace is 300 feet long and thirty feet high. The houses are two miles apart so we took our dinner with us to the Palace. One cannot express how wonderful the ruins are. I can only say, go see the Cliff Houses and by all means go with Sterl as he’s the best guide in Montezuma. We came home Saturday afternoon by a shorter trail and the view of our valley and Shiprock from the top of the Mesa was worth the trip. A happy, tired, dirty crowd we were when we reached home but we would not have missed going to anything.

By One of the Boys

Last Friday morning, fourteen of the young folks of the Cortez area departed for the Mancos Cliff houses with S.P. Thomas as our guide. The trip was a pleasant one. At noon the first day we stopped at Bill Prater’s well for lunch where the horses were watered and we filled our canteens. The afternoon passed pleasantly climbing up one hill and down another. About six o’clock we reached the Spruce Tree House – soaked slightly with rain – where we camped for the night; horses were turned to graze and supper prepared and soon the appetites of the hungry crowd were satisfied. The evening was made short by sacred songs and storytelling; the forty blue bottles were taken and replaced to the wall by that rich tenor warble of our guide. We were then told how John was called by the angel in the wilderness to go preach.

Morning dawned and the male members of the party were in pursuit of the horses which were brought to camp; breakfast was served and we departed for Cliff Palace where we remained until after lunch. Returning to camp we repacked and soon were homeward bound, arriving in Cortez about 9 p.m. that evening. One accident marred the pleasure of the trip when the “nerve” of one of the hapless members of the party came in contact with a canteen so forcibly it was demolished. Ern Shacklett says that hereafter when camping out, he will sleep with his boots on. His horse “Jack” fell from grace and hereafter will have to be hoppled. Cliff Palace is a wonderful construction and those who are living here and have never seen the ruins should go at once. Two of the essentials are first, a guide and a more obliging and accommodating guide than Sterl Thomas cannot be found; second, Japanese oil, in case of snake bites, is invaluable.

June Head is the historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. Please contact her at 565-3880 for questions or comments.