I’ve been camping at Bandelier National Monument and the nearby Jemez Mountains. Fall is here in the mountains – one morning it was almost down to freezing when I crawled out of the tent.
Ancestral Pueblo People built villages into the bizarre “Swiss-cheese” cliffs of volcanic tuff (a soft stone formed by huge accumulations of ash) and on the valley floor below.
The ruins predate the Spanish conquest of northern Mexico (what is now the US southwest), but archaeologists have found evidence of ancient humans in the area dating from shortly after the last ice age. I guess the area’s been drying out ever since. Bandelier pueblo peoples didn’t “disappear,” as you may have read. They moved – probably drought had a lot to do with that – and evolved into modern pueblos.
There are other sites in the Jemez dating from the Spanish occupation – a mixture of fascinating Spanish history and sad conquest of the indigenous people. A kiva (ceremonial structure) has been reconstructed at the misnamed Coronado Historic Site. Early 20th century archaeologists found wonderful paintings on the walls, which were removed for study and preservation. A local pueblo artist has reproduced the paintings, but since they represent ceremonial figures, no photography is allowed. You’ll have to travel to New Mexico to see them.