A Trip to 1300 A.D. – The Gila Cliff Dwellings, NM
The whole story begins, as all good stories do, long, long ago. We’re in the middle of the massive 3.3 million acre Gila National Forest, a gorgeous and remote area of SW New Mexico where mountains at ~6,000 feet hide 400 miles of trails and millennia of history. We came here to relax in the forest, hike, drink wine and play, but we also came for the chance to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Now, the Gila caves are located ~2 hours from Silver City up the snake-winding road of Hwy 15. At first sight they’re interesting, but not so unusual. After all natural caves have been used throughout history by migrating people and the location of these ones (close to a river and well shielded from the elements) makes them a logical choice.
A closer look however reveals a most interesting archeological oddity. One group of people chose to build inside the caves and lived here for the surprisingly short period of ~1276-1300. The people who did this were the Mogollon and their dwellings are what make this place so unique and interesting.
So this is the step that takes us back ~740 years in time. At that time the Mogollon were a hunter-gatherer society who traditionally lived in pit houses and surface pueblos in the mountainous areas of Mexico and Arizona. In the late 1200’s, however there descended a Great Drought in the SW which forced many populations to move, and one of the tribes migrated ~60 miles south from the Tularosa River to the Gila River valley. These so-called Tularosa Mogollon broke with tradition by establishing themselves inside the Gila caves and building dwellings of rock, mortar and trees.
Overall ~40 rooms were built inside the 6 natural caves and artifacts left behind show that the Mogollon farmed here as well as traded with other cultures during their stay. What caused them to leave after such a short occupation no-one really knows, although it’s speculated the massive drought caught up to them and exhausted resources even here. Their dwellings, however remained behind and the area uninhabited until the arrival of the Apache’s ~100 years later.
All this and more is protected within the bounds of the Gila Wilderness. The trip sparks off with a spectacular wind of a drive up the Trail of the Mountain Spirits to the upper valley. Once there, a relaxing 1-mile hike takes you up and into the caves with an opportunity to walk inside the actual dwellings (how cool is that!) Nearby trails lead to other artifacts with older pit dwellings, pictographs and even hot springs to soak it all off.
We arrived at ~10:00AM and were the only visitors so we got to stroll the rooms, chat to the rangers and take the time to meditate on life as it once was. For $3/person this is a deal and a unique opportunity to see (and walk inside) one of the most spectacular archeological sites in the area. It may be a story that started a long time ago, but this is a tale you can definitely relive today.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Jim B says
We really love the Gila Wilderness…spent 4 days on a backpacking trip about 10 years ago in the area. Looks like some beautiful weather as well!
We had spectacular weather the whole time and I couldn’t get over how many trails there are in the area.
Your 4 days backpacking must have been fabulous (and I’m sure you didn’t see a soul).
Would definitely come back here to explore more.
Jerry and Suzy LeRoy says
You tell a very good story — wish I could use more of your style. We toured the Cliff Dwelling a few years back. Actually, I did. We had been cautioned that Suzy would not be able to make the trip, climb the ladders, etc., so she came out with me a ways (using her mobility scooter), then went back. After I completed the tour, I knew that she would have been able to make it after all, with some struggle, bur she could have done it. At that point, however, we decided not to make a go at it.
Ah, too bad Suzy didn’t get to see the caves. I must admit they put alot of “warnings” about the hike to the caves and it’s really quite accessible and easy. Nina
Kevin and Sheryl says
The Cliff Dewlling are a great visit, glad you enjoyed them. I sure hope you didn’t take your rig up NM-15 from Silve City, we did it in Jeep and it was quite the trip it self. However the veiws are amazing!!!
Yeah, it was awesome and no, we didn’t drive all the way up in the “beast”. We stayed in the National Forest campground on Hwy 35. There’s big-rig camping up at the dwellings, but you gotta take 35 -> 15 to get there (and I’m not even sure we would do that…it’s a bit hairy!)