The ancient pueblo inhabitants of Tsankawi not only had a settlement on top of the mesa, but built their homes along the base of the cliffs. They dug caves into the soft tuff stone and extended the dwelling with walls made of talus rock mortered with mud. (Talus are the loose stones found at the base of a cliff.) The roofs were made with timber and mud. These dwellings are called talus pueblos.
|Tsankawi Dwelling with visible socket holes used to hold ceiling timbers.|
It is interesting to note that the talus pueblos were built on the south facing side of the mesas. During winter months the afternoon sun would warm the southern cliffs melting the snow, but the northern facing cliffs frequently had snow all winter long. Imagine what it must have been like to live in the talus pueblos during the long winter months. In this arid environment firewood was scarse, and the fires that were built left the rooms full of smoke.
Exploration of the caves is one of the delightful experience of the Tsankawi hike, but caution must be used not to touch the structures as this can cause harmful deteoration. The roofs of the caves are blackened with soot. The walls were frequently plastered with clay perhaps for aesthetic reasons or to help prevent the walls from crumbling. Artwork along the walls can be seen in a number of the caves in the form of pictographs carved into the rock and painting reminants where clay still sticks to the walls. The cave shown to the left contains a snake like structure (below) carved into the wall.
The top row of pictures shows an overall view of the complex with one of the caves and a detailed view of a petroglyph within the cave. The second row shows another cave that was built on multiple levels and a cave with a partial talus wall.