Geologist Builds Cozy Home In Vertical Cliffs In New Mexico

Geologist Bruce A. Black built a cosy home in vertical cliffs in New Mexico influenced by Puebloan architecture called Koko’s Cave, or Kokopelli’s Cave.

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Was he anticipating a nuclear holocaust? For a few extra square feet of office space, someone would have to dig down the side of a cliff in a steep valley and spend $20,000 on it, right?

Who is that? A naval intelligence commander. And in 1982, while sharing a few beers with two miners, the Zink brothers, Bruce A. Black drew the initial layout of his cave on a bar serviette.

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(Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)

That serviette design evolved into a home nestled in a geologic wonder in a northwest New Mexico cliff valley of a unique kind of sandstone known as Ojo Alamo (did we mention Mr Black was also a geologist?).

It’s also important to wonder who gave him the insane notion. It might not be so crazy after all, since the magnificent Cave Palace was constructed by the native ancient Puebloans of the 12th century, who originally resided here and were only two hours north.

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A cave master bedroom with a balcony overlooking a steep 300-foot vertical drop into La Plata River valley, New Mexico. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)
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An aerial view of the geologic valley wonder known as Ojo Alamo located in northwestern New Mexico. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)

Some people theorise that the Puebloans constructed their castle partially concealed in a cave halfway up a cliff as a defence against attackers from other tribes.

It’s neither here nor there as to whether Mr. Black desired a remote office, a subterranean castle, or a nuclear fallout shelter; in the end, it became none of the above. Instead, it was dubbed Koko’s Cave, or Kokopelli’s Cave. Though partially influenced by Puebloan architecture, it currently has most of the conveniences you’d find in a comfortable bed and breakfast.

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Thus, the Zink brothers carved a donut-shaped cavity in the living sandstone by using hydro-drilling and blasting to remove stone. A substantial central pillar was retained inside to support the sturdy rock ceiling. There was a main door opening and a secondary balcony puncture with a view that looked out over the La Plata River valley with a 300-foot drop to the valley floor.

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A rocky path descends into the valley, leading to Koko’s Cave domicile in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)
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The entrance to Mr. Black’s cave domicile, hewn from living sandstone on the side of a cliff in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)

This raw, empty space was first left unfinished, bare, and unoccupied for many years. It became a hangout for young people to party. Vandals used it as a blank canvas, and soon the inside of the cave was littered with graffiti and burned-out smoke.

After a while, Mr. Black lost patience and installed ¼-inch-thick steel doors to block entry, turning the location into an eccentric man’s pet project that became an urban legend. Up until 1993, that is.

Time went by. When Mr. Black’s son eventually came home from his initial tour in the Air Force, he would take over his father’s work. He would transform the cave into something more than a cliff palace, workplace, or bunker. It would be something else totally, not a home either.

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An interior view of Koko’s Cave shows the living room, hearth, and front entryway. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)
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Part of the cave living area in Koko’s Cave domicile in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)

“Dad decided the logistics of moving his office in were cumbersome, and he abandoned the office effort,” said Mr. Black’s son. “As an experiment, we moved my fiancé and her dog in it for a year as I began my career as an FBI agent in Las Vegas.”

He completed the renovations and made the home livable by 1994. Mr. Black converted it to a bed and breakfast after his son got married, and that’s how it is now.

Not only is it cosy, but it’s a geologist’s paradise. The walls at Ojo Alamo display sandstone strata that were deposited just above the boundary of the last great extinction, which occurred 65 million years ago during the early Cenozoic period, which is why the textures are remarkable.

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A view of the living room in Koko’s Cave domicile in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)
A mockup kiva is made to resemble a traditional Puebloan hearth. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)

Koko’s Cave is modelled after the circular stone hearths known as kivas, around which the Puebloans used to congregate. The structure is composed of native sandstone and has people orno fireplace. Even now, Cave Palace has a large number of kivas nestled throughout it.

Thanks to services and electricity running through a 100-foot shaft drilled to the clifftop above, modern luxuries were provided. A powered venting shaft is also housed in the hole. They now have a jacuzzi with flowing water and a waterfall that doubles as a shower. Of course, there are laundry facilities and a kitchenette, just like in any bed and breakfast.

A view of the kitchenette in Koko’s Cave in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)
(Left) The bathroom features a jacuzzi and a waterfall shower; (Right) A view of the cave kitchen which also includes a washer and drier. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)

Around 1,700 square feet are arranged in a free-flowing ring as the floor layout. The only room with a wall that is fixed is the bathroom. Drainage pipes travel to a septic system in the valley by passing through grooves dug beneath the flooring.

“The cave was done on a shoestring,” Mr. Black’s son said. “Fortunately, Mom and my sister picked out excellent colors on the carpet and countertops.

“The cave, due to its natural stone walls, is full of texture, and we deliberately avoided trying to add to it.” They furnished the cave with aspen wood upholstery.

A view of the master bedroom in Koko’s Cave. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)
A gorgeous sunset viewed from the patio of Koko’s Cave. (Courtesy of Kokopelli’s Cave)

You can take a vacation at Koko’s Cave, where you can stay in its comfortable cave rooms and enjoy the breathtaking view, just like the Puebloans did in the twelfth century. The owners will meet you in the neighbouring Farmington church parking lot. Drive to the valley, then take a stone path halfway down the cliff to a shady entrance alcove (avoid heavy luggage and bring a backpack!).

You can quickly run to the grocery store or eat out because Farmington is close by. The owners hope that the cute local animals, such as squirrels, chipmunks, ring-tailed cats, and hummingbirds, would come and keep guests company while they are visiting, so please leave your pets at home.

It’s beginning to become much more obvious why anyone would want to live in a rock cave, be it Mr. Black or the ancestors of the Pueblo people. Don’t you think so?

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