Friday, April 20, 2012

Exploring the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico

The Gila Cliff Dwellings were built in the 1280s by the Mogollon people and later abandoned in the early 1300s. More than 40 archeological sites are protected within the National Monument with these dwellings being the most spectacular and accessible.

The dwellings are high above the canyon floor in southeastern facing caves. The Mogollon chose 5 interconnecting caves to build their dwellings. There are 42 rooms in all with some two stories high. These dwellings are believed to have supported 8-10 families.

There is a one mile moderate loop trail starting from the Contact Center parking area that takes you right to the dwellings. It starts at the bottom of a small narrow side canyon and eventually climbs up the side of the canyon and leads you directly to the dwellings. There is a path that allows you to actually go inside the largest cave and see the rooms up close. From here one can image fires burning in the back of the caves (evident by soot covered ceilings) and the food contained in pottery stored in the various small rooms. These ancestral people raised beans, corn and squash to supplement the natural food and animals found in the surrounding area around the dwelling.

There is also a replica ladder that you can use to climb down to the main trail giving a small feel as to what these people went through to get access to their homes.  In addition, when we were there a ranger was present answering questions about the construct of the dwellings and the people. A Ranger guided tour is offered daily and meets at the first cave at 1pm. The trail continues by looping around the backside of the caves then down into the main valley floor to the parking area.

Experts don’t really know why the Mogollon people lived here for such a short period of time – maybe severe drought, illness or some other reasons. Can you image how much hard work was required to build these dwellings and in such a short period of time all the while performing their basic life duties to survive – crazy by today’s standards that’s for sure. 

There is a Visitor Center one mile from the dwellings. This is a great place to become educated about the wildlife in area and about the ancestral people that once inhabited the dwellings and area. There are displays of ancient artifacts including pottery, stone tools and hunting weapons.

This is a great place see some beautiful country and experience an ancient cliff dwelling up close. We were glad we made the drive and took the time to explore.

To get there:
Take the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway (or NM HWY 15) for 42 miles from Silver City. The road is very curvy with several really sharp turns so plan on 1.5 to 2 hours of travel time one way. This route takes you through beautiful canyons to the top of mountains offering grand views of the surrounding Gila National Forest. The drive alone is worth the trek.
One last note - dogs are not allowed on the trails in the National Monument. We learned its ok to leave your dog in your car (unlike other National Monuments or Parks) or if it’s too hot, free kennels are provided at the Contact Center.

Easy and affordable - no matter where you are!


John and Ellen said...

Thanks for the great post on the Gila Cliff Dwellings. I am wondering if you happened to run into our son, he is one of the rangers there. His name is John (mid 20’s) and he typically works in the Visitor Center or conducts tours at the dwellings themselves.

John and Ellen

Suzanne and Brad said...

Thanks for your comment! No, we did not run into John - the only rangers we saw were definitely not in their 20's. :-)

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