Around AD 1250, families came together around the head of Sand Canyon to build a large and compact village. A thick U-shaped wall surrounded hundreds of square rooms, round kivas, and community structures including a plaza, a large D-shaped structure, and a great kiva.
The village seems designed for defense, perhaps due to regional strife over dwindling resources. A spring was at the heart of the village, giving residents exclusive access to their all-important water source. The thick stone outer wall had small, angled peepholes and a few doorways. the towers built against the outside face of the wall also provided good lookouts that could only be entered from inside the village.
By AD 1275, Sand Canyon Pueblo was about three times the size of Cliff Palace (the largest pueblo in Mesa Verde National Park). Some 600 people--healthy, judged by the standards of their time--had lived for a generation or more in the village. They depended on rain-fed cornfields. The corn fed both people and a sizable flock of domestic turkeys.
AD 1276 saw the onset of a severe, long-term drought. Corn crops were poor or failed completely. Elk and deer were scarce, so the people hunted rabbits, birds, rodents, and even carnivores. Some villagers migrated shortly after the drought began. Others stayed behind, trying to outlast the harsh conditions.
Sometime after AD 1277, Sand Canyon Pueblo suffered a devastating attack, possibly by other Pueblo people competing for limited resources. Many residents were killed. Soon afterward, the survivors moved away. The spirits of the ancestors have been the pueblo's only occupants for more than 700 years.