Why the Puye Cliffs are One of the Best Sites for Santa Fe History

Thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the Santa Clara Pueblo Indians called the area that is now Santa Fe home. Instead of building huts for themselves, more than 1,500 Santa Clara Indians carved their homes into the nearby cliffs. Today, the Puye Cliffs still hold traces of ancient life, even after they have been left abandoned for over 500 years. To see these fascinating ruins in person is a one-of-a-kind experience and one we highly recommend during your visit to Santa Fe.

Explore more of Santa Fe’s rich history beyond the Puye Cliffs. Our Chimayo Vacation Guide is filled with all the best recommendations for historic sites, museums, and much more!

Puye Cliff Dwellings History

In Tewa, the name Puye means “pueblo ruin where the rabbits assemble or meet.” It is believed that these dwellings have existed since 1250 A.D. and have been passed down from Pueblo generation to generation. While not much is known about the Indian’s life here, the traditions of the Pueblo claim their ancestors abandoned the cliffs when springs began to dry out. In addition to the dwellings, more than two subterranean ceremonial kivas have also been discovered. Large sockets were made to hold the heavy roof beams that supported these large rooms. The Puye Cliffs are now recognized as a national and cultural landmark and are even still used for Pueblo rituals. It is also the largest ancestral settlement to exist on the Pajarito Plateau, making it a prized gem of the local Pueblo.

How to Visit the Puye Cliffs

There are two self-guided trails that will lead you to the Puye Cliffs. Choose the trail that is going to be the best for your skill level and enjoy your journey!

  • The Mesa Top Trail: This trail is perfect for beginner hikers and is generally level grounded. Travelers will begin at the Visitor’s Center and continue towards the parking area on the mesa top. When you reach the Puye Cliffs, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the 740 rooms and see the restored ceremonial chamber. There is also available space for you to enjoy a picnic while taking in the stunning views of the Rio Grande.
  • The Cliff Trail: This steep trail is recommended for those with more hiking experience. If you’re up to the challenge, you’ll enjoy a journey up rails and ladders past many of the ancient dwellings. The prehistoric stairways will lead you through two levels of the cliffs and to the top of the mesa, where you’ll find the great Community House.

If hiking isn’t exactly your forte, the Puye Cliffs Scenic Byway is another popular option for reaching the historic site. Visitors who take this drive will find four of New Mexico’s seven life zones along the way. Upon reaching the Puye Cliffs, you will be welcome to explore the dwellings and the surrounding structures. 

More Cliff Dwellings Near Santa Fe

Would you be surprised to know that the Pueblo Indians expanded their living space beyond the Puye Cliffs? If you are interested in seeing more, a visit to the Bandelier Cliff Dwellings is in order. The Bandelier National Monument consists of over 33,000 acres of canyon and mesa country. In these cliffs, you will find even more dwellings and evidence of human life dating back almost 11,000 years! The ancient petroglyphs that have been carved into the walls of these cliffs have fascinated visitors for many years and pay tribute to a culture that still exists today.

Experience New Mexico’s Wonderland of Discovery During Your Stay With Casa Escondida

Located in beautiful and historic Chimayo, Casa Escondida encompasses authentic New Mexico with modern luxuries. Our eco-friendly rooms are adorned with local antiques and act as the perfect getaway for a weekend or extended stay and. You’ll also love the bountiful breakfast we serve each morning in our sunny breakfast room. To enjoy more of Casa Escondida and Santa Fe attractions for less, check out our tempting bed and breakfast specials. We look forward to welcoming you soon! Book your Casa Escondida getaway today!  

Photo Credit: SumikoPhoto/Getty Images