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Tsankawi Caves

Tsankawi Cave Dwellings

The ancient pueblo inhabitants of Tsankawi not only had a settlement on top of the mesa, but built their homes along the base of the cliffs. They dug caves into the soft tuff stone and extended the dwelling with walls made of talus rock mortered with mud. (Talus are the loose stones found at the base of a cliff.) The roofs were made with timber and mud. These dwellings are called talus pueblos.

Socket holes
Tsankawi Dwelling with visible socket holes used to hold ceiling timbers.
Since the time that the talus pueblos were inhabited, the masonery walls have collapesd. The only thing that remains are caves carved into the cliffs and socket holes which were used to support timbers for the roof. Where not exposed to the elements, the caves are blackened from fires used for cooking and for heat during the winter months.

It is interesting to note that the talus pueblos were built on the south facing side of the mesas. During winter months the afternoon sun would warm the southern cliffs melting the snow, but the northern facing cliffs frequently had snow all winter long. Imagine what it must have been like to live in the talus pueblos during the long winter months. In this arid environment firewood was scarse, and the fires that were built left the rooms full of smoke.

Cave Dwelling Exploration of the caves is one of the delightful experience of the Tsankawi hike, but caution must be used not to touch the structures as this can cause harmful deteoration. The roofs of the caves are blackened with soot. The walls were frequently plastered with clay perhaps for aesthetic reasons or to help prevent the walls from crumbling. Artwork along the walls can be seen in a number of the caves in the form of pictographs carved into the rock and painting reminants where clay still sticks to the walls. The cave shown to the left contains a snake like structure (below) carved into the wall.

Tsankawi Caves

Large Dwelling Complex

In its day, this must have been a fairly elaborate dwelling and storage structure of the Tsankawi Indians. The caves were on multiple levels and the dwellings would have extended out with out with walls built out of talus brick. Timbers were used for floors and ceilings. This is also one of the few places where a partial talus brick wall is still standing. Worn steps can be seen leading to the top on the lefthand side. Today the complex has become quite fragile and the caves should not be entered.

The top row of pictures shows an overall view of the complex with one of the caves and a detailed view of a petroglyph within the cave. The second row shows another cave that was built on multiple levels and a cave with a partial talus wall.

Dwelling Complex Dwelling Complex cave Petroglyph
Multi-level caves Talus wall

Feathered Human Cave Figure

This dwelling has steps worn into the rock on the outside of the cave. It also has a petroglyph of a human figure with feathers on the inside.

Cave Dwelling Human Pictograph

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