May 2016. The Gila Cliff Dwellings are 44 miles and a two-hour drive north of Silver City, New Mexico. Why, you ask, would it take 2 hours to drive 44 miles? Well, the road is VERY narrow, and VERY curvy. It is also VERY scenic, and the Cliff Dwellings are VERY worthwhile. A slightly longer route, no hairpin turns is available. We did the loop.
Ms. Karen took most of these photographs because I don’t walk so good and could not go on this one-mile hike to see these ancient buildings for myself. We recommend that you first stop at the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center for maps, books, and a short video about this special place. If you are just going to hike up to these ruins, allow about one hour.
For thousands of years, groups of nomadic people used the caves along the Gila River for temporary shelter. Then, in the late 1200’s, a few people of the Mogollon Culture decided to build and make it their home. They built rooms, shaped pottery, and raised children here for about 20 years. Why they abandoned these dwellings we can only speculate.
Ms. Karen counted 138 steps and 12 bridges on this 1/2 mile trek to get to the dwellings. There is a short side trip along the way where you can get an overview of the dwellings. There is no handicap access. Inside the caves, the ceilings are charred.
The people who built and lived here may have been primitive by modern standards. But they had plenty of water and game, plus one fine view.
There are 7 caves in this complex. You will enter at Cave 3, visit Cave 4 and descend either by ladder at Cave 4 or return to Cave 3. Ms. Karen took this ladder but would not suggest it. As for the paths, they are narrow, so if you are afraid of heights, do not look down.
While Ms. Karen was exploring the cliff dwellings, I was chatting with Ranger Megan, a Park volunteer. She told me that some human remains had been found at the cliff dwellings, but they had not been carefully handled. Thus they were not useful for archeological purposes.
Gila National Monument is surrounded by the Gila National Forest and lies within the rugged Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first wilderness area. The Gila National Forest is administered by the United States Forest Service. The wilderness designation means that the wilderness character of the area will not be altered by the intrusion of roads or other evidence of human presence.
These fellows are set to hike 5 days in Gila National Forest with its 3.3 million acres of wilderness. I was particularly struck by their leggings. Come to find out they are for protection against rattlesnake bites. What a concept! Do they work? Let me know.