Solar Astronomy in the Prehistoric Southwest
18. Cliff Palace:
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. This is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde, with 217 rooms, 23 kivas and an estimated resident population of 200–250. The prominent square tower seen on this slide is the tallest structure at Cliff Palace. Notice, and make a mental note of, the small third story window slightly above the shadow line.
A possible Sun-watching station has been identified at the South end of Cliff Palace. From this location the southwestern horizon is featureless, except for the Sun Temple standing some 300 meters away on the mesa top across Cliff Canyon. At winter solstice, seen from the observing station the setting Sun touches the horizon between the Sun Temple's two main towers. It has also been suggested that the smallest tower in the Temple's West end might have served as an horizon marker to anticipate the winter solstice by some 20 days. These solar alignments inferences —and other alignments of a different nature discussed along with the next slide— only hold provided that the circular rooms of the Sun Temple were indeed towers that extended by a significant height above the Temple's outer enclosing walls; in the present-day ruin they do not. Whether they ever did (or were intented to) is likely to remain a mystery.