The Manitou Cliff Dwellings, Or Why My Car Probably Hates Me

I initially wasn't planning on blogging about this particular adventure. But it was somewhere around the time I was hugging my car's steering wheel after we made it home that I figured it might be worth telling this tale. And hey, I can write travel blog-esque posts about nearby attractions, can I not? Backyard blogging is totally a thing, and it turns out that there are some cool things around Colorado Springs!

(Also, in case you were unaware, my car's name is Buzz. I speak about him as if he's a person. Just go with it.)

I ventured out to the DMV on Wednesday to renew Buzz's plates, and I figured I'd make an afternoon of it. I mean, no sense in making myself presentable just to go to the DMV, right? Might as well do something fun! So after I ensured that Buzz, if not myself, is going to be a registered Coloradan until July of 2015, I pointed my GPS in the direction of my chosen destination; the Manitou Cliff Dwellings in Manitou Springs. I only discovered the existence of this place recently, and I was instantly intrigued. It's a group of old Native American dwellings (duh) built right into the mountainside (duh), and visitors can go explore in them! My favorite museums are always ones that are interactive like that, where you can physically walk around where something actually happened or someone lived, so I was pretty excited about this.

The cliff dwellings in Manitou are less than half an hour from where I live in Colorado Springs, and it was an easy enough drive... at first. I should've been tipped off about the impending issues when I tried putting the address -- 10 Cliff Drive, according to the website -- into my GPS and it told me that there is no 10 Cliff Drive, and the nearest house number to the one I put in is 100. Um. Okay. So I put in 100 Cliff Drive and went on my merry way.

Well, I turned off the highway where my GPS told me to and immediately took the wrong fork in the road. Whoops. So Buzz huffed and puffed up an exceedingly steep hill into this little mountain community of houses on little winding roads that I have trouble believing could handle two cars attempting to go in opposite directions. Luckily, however, there were no cars coming in the opposite direction, so we wound our way down and out of there easily enough. My palms were a little bit sweaty and I felt bad about making Buzz tackle that hill, but it was fine. We were fine. I hate mountain roads.

I got back onto the road we were supposed to be on and within a minute or so, my GPS was saying "turn left" onto Cliff Drive... but I did NOT see a road. I saw what looked like a driveway. So I pulled a U-turn and, on my way back, I did indeed see a street sign. Feeling exceedingly uneasy, I turned onto the "street."

Why "street" and not street? Because it was very steep, very narrow, very questionably paved, and very definitely was not much more than a driveway. There were two houses along the left side, and it ended at nothing. All I could see in front of me and to the right was vegetation.

Not even sure what my next course of action was going to be, I began the process of turning Buzz around so we could get out of there, when I saw a lady exit one of the houses and jog up to my window. I rolled it down.

"Are you looking for the cliff dwellings?"

"Yes. I am so sorry."

"No, don't worry about it!" she said brightly. "This road used to cut up there across the highway, but it doesn't anymore, and that hasn't been updated in GPS systems yet."

Oh? Well. That would've been a good thing to know.

She continued talking. "You're going to want to back out of here, and then go this way," she indicated the way I'd originally come from, "And the first right you can make takes you back to the highway. The cliff dwellings are right across the highway!"

Across the highway? What does that even mean?!

I thanked her and she returned to her house, and I set about trying to back out of this godforsaken street/driveway. I had to straighten Buzz out again (because I had been attempting to turn around), which was awful, and then I had to back down this janky, rocky, steep-as-all-hell road. Real talk: I hate driving in reverse for any extended period of time. Especially on a road I don't know. There were a number of times where I was definitely not aligned correctly and went off the crumbly pavement, almost into the bushes, and all I could think about were the pipes that hang rather low underneath Buzz. And the transmission that's been acting up since December. And all the rust doing on down there. I was 100% positive that I was not going to make it off this street with Buzz's guts still intact.

But we made it! As I reached normal pavement again, I didn't see any rusty car parts on the hill in front of me, and Buzz seemed to still be functioning properly, so I hightailed it out of there dripping in sweat, my limbs shaking in a combination of terror, adrenaline and sheer relief. (Thank god Buzz the car is as resilient and awesome as Buzz the person!)

I made it back to the highway just fine, but had no idea what to do from there. What does "across the highway" mean?! I was about to give up and just head home, when I looked straight ahead -- literally, directly across the highway -- and saw a road and a nice big sign that said CLIFF DWELLINGS --->. Thanks, guys. What the actual hell.

So, after another agonizing minute or two of waiting for the four lanes of two-way traffic to clear, I drove straight across the highway (yikes) and FINALLY REACHED MY DESTINATION! I could've cried. Crisis averted!

Visitors are immediately greeted with some beautiful views of the mountains, which certainly helped get my head screwed on correctly again.

Right by the entrance to the complex there's a little pueblo-style building that houses a little museum and the gift shop.

I spent very little time in the museum and hardly read anything -- I just wanted to get into the dwellings! And they did not disappoint!

What you see in the pictures is all there is, so I was easily able to walk through and see everything in about an hour. You're allowed to touch every surface and climb through any entrances that are accessible and that you can fit through (finally, being 5'2" and size zero comes in handy!). There are several signs at various points that say "no climbing," but those are obviously to keep people from killing themselves on crumbling walls and sharp rocks. Otherwise, you've got complete free reign. It's really, really cool.

If you're in the Colorado Springs area, I'd highly recommend stopping by! But just make sure to update your GPS system beforehand, and only turn off the highway when you see the very large sign!

Otherwise you'll be like me, hugging your car's steering wheel when you make it safely home.

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  1. The place looks beautiful! You're so lucky that you got to go see them!

    1. It really was beautiful! Colorado is pretty amazing. :)

  2. An amazing adventure for a resilient adventurer - and your photos are outstanding.

    1. Thanks! :D I wasn't feeling so resilient at the time, lol.

  3. Oh no, I hate that you had trouble finding them! I visited them back in 2009, they're pretty cool :)
    (and shockingly, as I search my blog archives, I'm not finding evidence of ever blogging them!)

    1. You know what's funny? You sent me a postcard with one of your images from here, back in February! But I had no idea until I got home and saw it, and I was like OMG I KNOW WHERE THAT'S FROM!!!!!!!! hahaha.