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Modern Technology Aids Repairs To 14th-Century Kiva At Bandelier National Monument

(Top) The climb into Alcove House requires use of 4 wooden ladders and many stone stairs. NPS photo by Sally King. (Bottom) The helicoper delivers supplies to the Alcove House. NPS photo by Santa Fe helitak.

Many Americans tend to describe any structure that's survived more than a century or so as "old," and by those standards, Alcove House in Bandelier National Monument is positively ancient. These remains of homes for the Ancestral Pueblo people date back to the 14th century, so it's not surprising that some repairs are needed. The challenge, however, was how to get the necessary supplies to the site, safely and efficiently.

Getting There is Not For the Faint-of-Heart

The original inhabitants of Alcove House choose their location wisely in terms of their own security. The alcove is tucked into the face of a sheer cliff, 140 feet above the floor of Frijoles Canyon'”about the height of a modern 14-story building. Even today, visitors to the site must negotiate a series of four long wooden ladders and a number of stone stairs. It's a steep'”and for many people an intimidating'”climb.

Despite the challenging access, this is a prime destination for a surprising number of visitors to Bandelier, and Alcove House contains an important example of a kiva'”a semi-subterranean room used for ceremonial purposes by Ancestral Puebloans.

An Outstanding Example of a Kiva

According to a park spokesperson, the kiva at Alcove House "has outstanding value and importance to the general public, culturally affiliated Native American tribes, and special interest groups who visit the monument." During a typical year, some 220,000 visitors come to see and study the cultural resources in Frijoles Canyon, and the Alcove House is among the most-visited sites in the canyon.

This particular kiva is significant for several reasons, including its pre-Hispanic origins. As a historic structure it also represents early preservation efforts initiated under the Antiquities Act, the development of Bandelier National Monument, and the development of archeology as a discipline

Back in 2010 conservation studies of the kiva confirmed the need for masonry repairs to the kiva walls, but a key question involved logistics: Considering the difficult access, what's he best way to get construction materials and tools to the site?

Resource managers settled on a modern solution'”a helicopter'”as the preferred method, but even that wasn't as easy as it may sound, since there's no place to land the aircraft on the face of the cliff. A plan was developed with support from the park's fire management division, and on June 13th, an A-Star B3 helicopter from Mountain Air Helicopters delivered building materials, slung beneath the 'copter on a 150-foot-long line.

Over Three Tons of Materials Flown Safely to the Site

Ten loads, totaling 7,500 pounds of material, were delivered to the site, and crews on the ground in the alcove had to be on their toes. Loads had to be cleared immediately after each delivery to ensure there was space for the next load in the small landing area, close to edge of the alcove. Thanks to skill and teamwork by everyone involved, the helicopter delivery job was completed smoothly and without incident.

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Repairs to the kiva wall were urgently needed. NPS photo by J. Holdsworth.

Work is now underway on repairs to the kiva, and in order for it to be completed safely and efficiently, Alcove House is currently closed to visitors. In recent weeks more buttress rocks have fallen from the kiva walls, the steep climb to the alcove is below the work site, and tools and materials are stored in the limited space in the alcove itself. The project is currently scheduled to be completed by August 22, 2013.

If you're interested in a visit to Bandelier National Monument, you'll find information to help plan your trip on the park website. Even with Alcove House temporarily closed, there's still more than you can possibly see and do in several days' time.



Reading someting like this really increases my admiration and respect of the people who worked so hard and ingeniously to construct places like this originally. I keep looking at places like Alcove House and wondering, "How in the world did they do that!"

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