Many centuries before the coming of the Spaniards, a deep gorge on the eastern slope of the Sierra de los Valles, eighteen miles west of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was the home of a people living in caves which they hollowed by enlarging erosional openings in the soft volcanic sides of nearly perpendicular cliffs. The work was done with pains and skill. A small entrance, sometimes from the valley floor, sometimes reached by ladder, opened into a roomy apartment which in many cases consisted of several connecting rooms. These apartments were set in tiers or stories, as in a modern flat-house. There were often two, sometimes three, floors. They occurred in groups, probably rep-resenting families or clans, and some of these groups numbered hundreds. Seen today, the cliff-side suggests not so much the modern apartment-house, of which it was in a way the prehistoric prototype, as a gigantic pigeon-house.
In time these Indians emerged from the cliff and built a great semicircular pueblo up the valley, surrounded by smaller habitations. Other pueblos, probably still later in origin, were built upon surrounding mesas. All these habitations were abandoned perhaps centuries before the coming of the Spaniards. The gorge is known as the Rito de la Frijoles, which is the Spanish name of the clear mountain-stream which flows through it. Since 1916 it has been known as the Bandelier National Monument, after the late Adolf Francis Bandelier, the distinguished archaeologist of the southwest.
The valley is a place of beauty. It is six miles long and nowhere broader than half a mile; its entrance scarcely admits two persons abreast. Its southern wall is the slope of a tumbled mesa, its northern wall the vertical cliff of white and yellowish pumice in which the caves were dug. The walls rise in crags and pinnacles many hundreds of feet. Willows, cottonwoods, cherries, and elders grow in thickets along the stream-side, and cactus decorates the wastes. It is reached by automobile from Santa Fe.
This national monument lies within a large irregular area which has been suggested for a national park because of the many interesting remains which it encloses. The Cliff Cities National Park, when it finally comes into existence, will include among its exhibits a considerable group of prehistoric shrines of great value and unusual popular interest.
“The Indians of today,” writes William Boone Douglass, “guard with great tenacity the secrets of their shrines. Even when the locations have been found they will deny their existence, plead ignorance of their meaning, or refuse to discuss the subject in any form.” Nevertheless, they claim direct descent from the prehistoric shrine-builders, many of whose shrines are here found among others of later origin.