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Manitou Springs, Colorado: Cliff Dwellings and Native American Dancers

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Eagle dance being performed in colorful costumes at Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Eagle dance being performed in colorful costumes at Manitou Springs, Colorado.

A Colorful Colorado Attraction

My mother and I were staying in Colorado Springs at the start and at the end of our 11-day vacation to Colorado from Texas in July of 1999. We tried to fit in all of the attractions that we could in the time allotted, and since Manitou Springs essentially blends into the Colorado Springs landscape, we decided to check out the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings there.

Both Manitou Springs, as well as Colorado Springs, sit in the scenic foothills of the towering Pikes Peak mountain, which dominates the landscape from all directions. Pictures of those cliff dwellings as well as Native American dances are shown in this post.

View looking towards the Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Museum

View looking towards the Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Museum

Native Americans

Long before white settlers discovered this part of Colorado, Native Americans lived there and knew the land intimately drawing life and sustenance from it. They would undoubtedly have enjoyed the natural beauty of the forests, mountains, and streams.

Underground aquifers bubbled up to the surface, and the natural spring waters provided not only good clean drinking water for the Indians but also lured wild game to this area. The animals, when killed, would then have provided the Native Americans with hides and meat as necessary for clothing, shelter, and food.

Called the "Ancient Ones" the Anasazi Indians are ancestors to the modern Pueblo Indians. In addition to the Anasazi, other tribes like the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho, and Ute also lived in this area around what is now called Manitou Springs.

Things started to drastically change for the Native Americans when surveys were ordered of these lands after the Louisiana Territory was purchased from Napoleon in 1803 by what was then the growing United States of America.

Following the exploration and mapping of these beautiful parts, settlers were drawn here, which ultimately had the effect of pushing the Indians away from their native lands. Regretfully for the Native Americans, this happened in many other parts of America as well at different times and locations.

Cliff Dwellings

The Anasazi Indians settled in the Four Corners region of the country which includes parts of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona.

In addition to building lodgings with bricks made out of dried mud and vegetative materials on the ground, Indians also took advantage of the overhangs of cliffs with naturally carved out caves caused by erosive action over the years to build dwellings for themselves and their families.

These cliff palaces or cliff dwellings were secured to the front by facing them with handmade bricks. They were also considered to be safer lodgings in case of warfare between rival tribes of Indians.

Since they were built high up into the mountainsides, all the Indians had to do to protect themselves from assault would be to pull up the homemade ladders and easy access to their homes would have been made much harder. The downside to this would be that eventually they would be forced to exit those cliff dwellings to have access to freshwater and food.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings

Manitou Cliff Dwellings

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Manitou Cliff Dwellings

There is some controversy over the Manitou Cliff Dwellings authenticity. The cliff overhang and natural caves did exist. Some claim that these are actual ruins dating back to 1100–1300 A.D.

Here is the real story according to the official Manitou Cliff Dwellings website. Before our Federal Government passed the 1906 Antiquities Act, many people were looting ancient Native American sites. Much history was being destroyed. A woman by the name of Virginia McClurg took it upon herself to do something about this. She hired William Crosby, and a substantial preservation project began.

From the years 1904 to 1907, pieces of actual cliff dwellings from McElmo Canyon in the Four Corners region of Colorado were carefully disassembled, packaged and moved by oxen to railcars and eventually transported to the current spot by horse and wagon. Using concrete mortar in place of what was initially adobe, the dwellings were faithfully replicated as to appearance and size. The concrete made this site more structurally sound and allows visitors a chance to experience a hands-on view of life as it would have occurred centuries ago.

Prices

The adjacent museum and gift shop are well worth a visit and one can view prehistoric artifacts as well as purchase more modern souvenirs of one's visit if so inclined. A part of what is now the museum was an original pueblo dating back to the early 1900s.

Tourists can visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings every day of the year, and at the time of our visit, adult tickets cost $7 with child tickets priced at $5. As of May 2021, the costs are as follows:

  • Adults (12 years and older): $12
  • Seniors (60+): $9
  • Ages 4 to 11: $7.50
  • Ages 3 and under: Free

Student and group tours, as well as seasonal passes, can reduce these prices.

Seasonal Extra Attraction

In June, July, and August, an added attraction is the multiple performances that can be enjoyed at no additional cost, with Native Americans dressed in colorful costumes doing dances that date back in time and hold significant meaning in their culture.

Hoop Dance

The Hoop Dance represents the never-ending circle of life. Old beliefs meant that a person would be rewarded with good or evil, depending upon how they lived their lives. In other words, according to more modern terminology..."What goes around comes around." Personally I think that there is much credence to this belief.

The Eagle Dance

This dance has significant symbolic meaning, as does the Eagle to many native Americans. Many Indians believed that the eagle who could fly higher than any other bird could carry prayers directly to God. Thus for centuries, the Eagle has been revered.

Interestingly enough, when the United States was formed, the American Bald Eagle was chosen to become our national symbol and has been featured ever since on every type of item from currency to furniture to tapestries to paintings and so forth.

As a national symbol, the American Bald Eagle is protected and cannot be hunted or purposely killed. With permission from our government and only if an eagle is found dead from natural causes are today's Native Americans allowed access to harvesting and using eagle feathers in their ceremonies. Thus the eagle feathers on the arms of these dancers are exceptional and treasured items and are not easily replaced.

Manitou Springs

If you find yourself looking for attractions in Colorado Springs, just a "stone's throw" distance away (five miles west) is Manitou Springs where these Anasazi Cliff Dwellings can be not only be viewed but entered and explored room by room.

With paved paths and stairs with railings, these cliff dwellings are accessible to most people. For the more adventurous who wish to climb those wooden ladders, that can also be done. Inside of the caves looking out at the surrounding scenery, the views are magnificent.

For those who have not yet visited the cliff dwellings at Manitou Springs, Colorado, hopefully, these pictures and videos leave you with an impression of what can quickly fill a few hours of your time if you are ever in this gorgeous part of the country.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings location

Sources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods

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