Puye Cliff Dwellings

Useful Information

Location: NM 30 and NM 5, Santa Clara Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.
From NM 30 halfway between Los Alamos and Española turn west on Indian Service Road 601, 10 km.
(35.972752, -106.229153)
Open: Winter Thu-Mon 8-16.
Summer daily 9-17.
Fee: Puye Cliff Dwellings Tour: Adults USD 25, Children (0-14) USD 21, Seniors USD 21.
Puye Cliff Dwellings Mesa Top Tour: Adults USD 25, Children (0-14) USD 21, Seniors USD 21.
Roadrunner Trail: Adults USD 20.
Puye Cliff Dwellings Adventure Tour: Adults USD 40, Children (0-14) USD 36, Seniors USD 36.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Castle, SubterraneaCave House,
Light: none, bring electric torch for buildings
Guided tours:  
Photography: allowed, no video, no photographs inside Kiva.
Accessibility: no
Address: Puye Cliff Dwellings, NM 30 and NM 5, Santa Clara Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544, Tel: +1-505-917-6650.
Santa Clara Pueblo, P.O. Box 580, Espanola, New Mexico, 87532, Tel: +1-505-753-7326.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


900 oldest archaeological remains in the area.
13th and 14th century Puye Cliff Dwellings and other villages in the area founded.
1580 drought finally forced the villagers to leave.
1907 excavated by Edgar Hewett in cooperation with the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.
1952 filming location for The Atomic City.
23-MAY-1966 declared a National Historic Landmark.
15-OCT-1966 added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
2000 closed to the public due to the Cerro Grande Fire, which devastated Santa Clara Canyon.
OCT-2008 reopened after vegetation has returned to stabilize soil.


Puye Cliff Dwellings is one of hundreds of abandoned pueblos in southwestern U.S.A. where the natives lived during the Middle Ages in artificial cave homes. The basic explanation is the climate change, which caused a "small ice age" between the 13th and 14th century. Colder temperatures changed the rain, and so this area, which is now arid, was semi-arid for some time, and certain life forms like growing corn were possible. The pueblo was abandoned in the late 16th century, because the climate had become too dry to allow agriculture any more. This is quite long ago, and as there are only archaeological remains and no documents the name is obviously of much younger origin. The term pu is a cottontail rabbit and ye means to assemble in the Tewa language, which is spoken by the Tano which live in this area today. So the name is interpreted as a place for hunting rabbits or pueblo ruin where the rabbits assemble or meet. So it is the modern name of the site, the original name of the pueblo is lost.

The rocks are of pyroclastic origin, block and ash flows. The formation is named the Puye Formation after this site. The rocks have different properties, the so-called Bandelier Tuff is the softest and was used to carve out dwellings. It was actually soft enough for the use of wooden digging tools, which was essential, as the inhabitants were on a Stone Age level. The Ancestral Puebloans used stone tools and wooden tools, had agriculture, were sedentary, and had sophisticated ceramics. The size and quality of their architecture, multilevel dwellings with planned community spaces is extraordinary for such a Late Stone Age culture. It's the reason why they are named Ancestral Puebloans, pueblo means "village" and "people" in Spanish, the name was given to them by the early Spanish explorers.

Puye Cliff Dwellings are located in Santa Clara Canyon near Española, New Mexico. The area is part of the Santa Clara Pueblo Reservation. The cliff or escarpment faces south, with a slope of debris at the foot and vertical reddish volcanic rock walls above. There are no caves, not even an overhanging cliff which could have been used as a shelter. The cliff dwellings were built in front of the vertical wall, the rock was used as rear wall, which gave the buildings a high stability. But the soft volcanic tuff was also used to dig rooms into the cliff, which are today high above the visitor in the vertical wall. Most of them were accessed from the building in front, some might have had a wooden ladder to the entrance.

The main settlement was obviously not a cave dwelling, there was a pueblo on top of the mesa, above the cliff. Several multi-storied dwellings were surrounding a central plaza, the biggest of them had 140 rooms. Up to 1500 Pueblo people lived in the area, from hunting and from agriculture. About 1580 drought finally forced the villagers to leave. They moved to the Rio Grande valley, which offered more water. The inhabitants of Santa Clara Pueblo, which is located 16 km to the east, claim to be descendants of the Puye residents.

The Puye Cliff Dwellings are owned and operated as a cultural monument by the Pueblo of Santa Clara. The site offers various tours, which start at the gift shop. The basic tour is called Puye Cliff Dwellings Tour and a tour guide will explain the architecture from the early habitation. Everyday life on the Puye Cliff face is explained and the petroglyph’s of the ancient Santa Clara Pueblo people shown. The Puye Cliff Dwellings Mesa Top Tour shows the archaeological remain on top of the mesa, the kiva structure, and the main building which once had 140 rooms. Multi-storied dwellings were built around a central plaza. The site is accessed by a shuttle service. The Roadrunner Trail is the most sportive, which actually climbs the cliff face on ancient stone staircases and wooden ladders. Some physical fitness, surefootedness, and no fear of height is necessary. We also recommend good walking shoes and to bring your own water. During the summer months the area is very hot, during winter there may be some heavy snow fall, so please dress accordingly. The Puye Cliff Dwellings Adventure Tour is more strenuous, and includes climbing wooden ladders to reach some dwellings. It is actually a combination of the other three tours.

There is a museum in the entrance building where the gift shop and ticket office are located. They are located inside a Harvey House, Harvey Houses are legendary lodges built by the Fred Harvey Company in the late 1800s. They were intended for tourists traveling to the Southwest by railroad tours. The Harvey House at Puye Cliffs is the only one which was built on an Indian reservation. It was made from volcanic rock and tufa block masonry. The museum contains an exhibition of items which were excavated by Edgar Hewett in cooperation with the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute of America in 1907. It was the first systematic excavation of a prehistoric pueblo in the Rio Grande valley. However, the exhibition tells the story from the perspective of the Santa Clara Pueblo people.