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Visit The Manitou Cliff Dwellings ( If You Can't Visit Mesa Verde NP )

The American Southwest contains more than its fair share of natural wonders: Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park are only three of the most famous natural attractions that draw people from all over the world. The region is home to a wonderful and vibrant mix of Anglo, Latino, Hispanic, and American Indian traditions making it one of the more diverse and interesting corners of America with regards to history, landscape and culture.

During my trip to Colorado, I was looking forward to seeing such famous landmarks as the Great Sand Dunes and Rocky Mountain National Parks, Mesa Verde, Dinosaur National Monument, and of course, taking an iconic photo at The Four Corners !

I was especially fascinated to learn more about the rich history of Native Americans in this area. Originally, I was planning to visit the famous Mesa Verde National Park, but due to weather conditions, and time travel from Denver ( about 7 hours ), I decided to leave it for my next visit.

Luckily, while visiting Colorado Springs, I heard about the no-less famous Manitou Cliff Dwellings. And I believe was a great substitute for Mesa Verde NP.

Just 1 hour 20 min from Denver, the dwellings at Manitou Springs are easily accessible by car, and are right next to highway 24. The site is self-guided so you can take your time to learn and explore. Not sure if I was lucky, but during my visit there were barley any people visiting the place which gave me plenty of time to explore this amazing site.

The dwellings are not native to this area. For those who are not familiar with the site: the Manitou Cliff  Dwellings are a reconstruction of ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings, using original “rubble” from destroyed ancient sites in the Four Corners area. No settlements of this kind ever existed in Manitou Springs – the location for this reconstruction, which opened to the public in 1907, was probably chosen because the cliffs at Manitou Springs were just perfect for the purpose, could easily be accessed by foot, and were within a manageable travel distance from Colorado Springs and Denver at a time when few people had the means or desire to undertake longer journeys to rural places in the far Southwest.

The fact that these are reconstructions (and “relocations”) often leads to criticisms that they are inauthentic. That may well be. But comparing to Mesa Verde ( which is an archaeological site that naturally offers only limited accessibility ), the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, on the other hand, you can enter the buildings and walk around in them.

The Anasazi Museum ( which is part of the dwellings ), displays dioramas depicting daily life, exhibits of tools, pottery,weapons, and informative videos offer a glimpse of the mysterious people who left a remarkable architectural legacy on mesa tops and in cliff walls like the one at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.

Though, the whole tour took me about an hour, it was amazing to experience the dwellings first hand at my own pace ! The Manitou Cliff  Dwellings overlook Manitou Springs, CO at the foot of Pikes Peak. On a beautiful sunny day, the view here is stunning !

Along with taking a cog train to the top of Pikes Peak, roaming around Garden of the Gods, and hiking the grueling Manitou Incline, I'd definitely recommend to make the dwellings part of your visit of the area. 

Tip : If you like caving/spelunking ( and haven't had a chance to visit beautiful and mysterious Glenwood Caverns ), check out the nearby  Cave of the Winds.

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