Manitou Cliff Dwellings – Manitou Springs, Colorado - Atlas Obscura

Manitou Cliff Dwellings

These faux-cliff dwellings allow visitors to climb around on a replica archaeological site. 


The Manitou Cliff Dwellings, located a few miles west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a fake Indian village built to resemble the much more famous ruins of Mesa Verde National Park.

This tourist destination, now over 100 years old, began with a Colorado Springs journalist-turned-historic-preservationist named Virginia McClurg. In 1889, after a couple of visits to the still largely unexplored Mesa Verde country, McClurg and fellow preservationist Lucy Peabody founded the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association. Their goal was to protect Mesa Verde from vandals and pothunters by turning it into a national park.

Fast forward a decade. After two unsuccessful attempts to get a national park bill passed through Congress, McClurg gave up the fight. She opted instead to try gaining support for turning Mesa Verde into a state park. However, Peabody continued promoting the national park idea and soon the women cut ties with one another.

Mesa Verde did indeed become a national park in 1906, leaving McClurg on the wrong side of history. In response, she retreated to Colorado Springs, hired men to haul over a million tons of rock from demolished cliff houses near Mesa Verde, and had them rebuild the ruins beneath a red rock cliff just north of Manitou Springs. Hence, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.

Visit today and you will witness something you would never see at Mesa Verde: kids climbing over walls and traipsing through the dwellings themselves. Unlike archaeological sites within the national parks, visitors are welcomed and encouraged to touch the ruins. They are held together with cement, anyway.

Oddly enough, and despite the 100-year-plus history of the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, many visitors leave wondering if what they just saw was real or not.

Know Before You Go

Head west on U.S. Highway 24 from Colorado Springs, CO, and look for the signs on your right.

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December 3, 2012

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