Saturday, June 22, 2013

Travel Review: Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum - Colorado Springs

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Ability to really explore the dwellings
Cons: Bit expensive, dwellings have been moved
The Bottom Line
Some full disclosure
Would turn this place into a
Better attraction

Bit Overpriced, Especially Since They Have Been Moved

When my family and I vacationed in Colorado Springs, the day we tried to drive to the top of Pikes Peak, we found out that the road was closed part way up due to snow blowing across the road.  So we turned around and decided to stop at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum.  We'd passed it on the way up and thought it would be fun if we had the time.

These dwellings are located just outside of Manitou Springs on US 24 not too far from Colorado Springs.  There's a toll booth like entrance where you'll pay admission.  2011 rates were $9.50 plus tax for adults, $8.50 for those over 60, and $7.50 for those 7-11 years old.  Those 6 and under and over 100 plus those in a wheelchair, get in for free.  This last one makes sense because the dwellings themselves aren't wheelchair accessible.  You can see them, but you can't really explore them.

When you hit the far end of the parking lot, you can't miss the structures.  They line up under the shelter of a cliff in the rock wall.  There are about half a dozen buildings right next to each other.  And here's the cool part.  You can actually go in them and walk through.  In fact, the last building lets you climb in the upper floors of the multi-family building.  If you go slowly, it will take you 20 to 30 minutes to go through the dwellings.  My two year old niece was part of the group.  She is very active, but for once she wasn't leading us through stuff faster than we wanted to go.  There are signs that help explain what you are seeing.

The catch came later, when we figured out for sure what I was beginning to suspect.  These dwellings weren't built in the Manitou Springs area but several hundred miles away in the Four Corners area.  In 1906, they were brought to Manitou Springs and rebuilt in their present location.  That helped explain some of the signs that made the dwellings sounds like they had been built years apart.  They had.

I had been getting a different impression of the Anasazi Indians who had built the dwellings.  The rooms were small and ceiling low, even for me.  When I found out that these buildings had been moved and rebuilt, I began to question all I had "learned" by visiting them.  On the other hand, it was very cool to actually walk and climb through the dwellings.

Speaking of which, these buildings and the cliff they are under are made from red clay, so if it rains, my guess is you and your clothes will turn red.

Rounding out the complex is a massive Pueblo with a large gift shop and a very small museum that talk about the daily life of the Anasazi Indians.  If you've been to other exhibits about the lives of Native Americans, there is little you'll learn here you don't already know.  Rounding out the complex is a snack bar that is open June through August.  They also have Native Americans come to perform traditional dances during the summer.  All this is wheelchair accessible, as are the restrooms located near the museum.

My big problem with this location is that they aren't very open about how these dwellings got to this location.  If they stated upfront that they had been moved but every effort had been made to preserve accuracy, I would feel better.  As it is, we only learned the truth because we overheard a guide telling a school group about moving the dwellings to the location.  Nothing else we read told us about this.  It left me feeling like I had been lied to and tainted the morning spent there.  And it made me wonder why we had paid so much to go.

The fees feel a bit steep for the time you'll spend there.  And if I had known going in that these dwellings had been moved, I'm sure I would have felt better about the time I did spend there.  As a result, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are worth visiting only if your first choice of activities doesn't work out.  It's not a bad place, but it feels more commercial than historical when you learn the whole story.

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