After I’d waddled down the trail from Alcove House, my left leg just beginning to drag from the exertion of coming down the ladders, we encountered the cliff dwellings we’d passed up earlier in the day to avoid the crowds. These are easier to enter, requiring only five or six steps up a much shorter ladder. The dwellings are called cavates — a blend of the words cave and excavate, and pronounced “cave-eight” — and there was a couple chatting outside the first one we passed. They smiled, and motioned for us to go up the ladder first. So we did.
I went first, this time keeping my camera around my neck, and after a few steps I entered a circular room with a black ceiling. The dwelling was small; the Tiny House movement has nothing on the Ancestral Pueblo. But as I walked around the room, I could see that it might make a fine home for a family whose lives unfolded mostly in the canyon below. The air was cool, and it must have been a welcome shelter in the summer heat.
The blackened ceilings are thought to have been intentional, and not just the consequence of burning fires in the dwellings. The volcanic tuff is soft, which is why these dwellings could be created in the first place, and it is thought that the blackening prevented the ceiling from crumbling onto the inhabitants.
I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d entered someone’s home, and they’d just stepped out for a century or five. I turned to take a photo of the door, and the couple outside — firmly placed in the present — had begun to hug. And I wondered whether someday my neighborhood might be a museum.