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Sunday, March 27, 2011


March 24 2011

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The Gila River in the Gila Wilderness
On the morning after our arrival we were off to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. We followed Hwy 35 to where it joins with Hwy 15 which runs up from Silver City. All roads leading through these mounatins are narrow and curvy, so a low.speed is required.

From the intersection with the 15 it takes approx. 45 minutes to reach the Visitor Center.  A cold wind was blasting across the open terrain, when we got out of the car. The Visitor Center holds a little gift shop and a small museum, where we also saw a video about the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Entrance to the Park
Equipped with a map we ventured off to the trail head which is about 2 miles away on a side road. Here we paid our fees and went on the 1mile round hike to the Cliffs. The narrow path leads through a forested gulch before it starts climbing up to the dwellings. At the first cave we met a volunteer who told us about the history of the dwellings.  

Inside one of the caves

A lizard is posing for me...

The first people living here were the Mogollon. They were hunters and gatherers, but also did some farming. Traditionally the Mogollon would build pit houses or surface pueblos. When finding fertile soil and abundant game in the Gila River valley, the Tularosa Mogollons broke with their tradition and built inside the caves of the cliff. They also used rock, mortar and timbers for ceilings and ladders. The remaining timber has been dated to be the original timber from these first Mogollons. It was cut between 1276 and 1287. As with most cliff dwellings in the South West the mystery remains about why the owners of the dwellings moved on. In this case the Mogollons had left the area by 1300. No signs of hostilities have ever been found. As with other cliff dwellings drought might have been one of the possible reasons.

It appears that no one lived in the area for the next 100 years. However, around 1500, Apaches had moved to the  upper Gila River, although some of their oral traditions claim that it always has been the homeland.

Their legendary leader Geronimo was born near the Gila River in the 1820s as Mexico challenged Apache control over the area. There is no mention whether the Apache actually moved into the caves.

For us it was a true field day, and we can recommend the visit to everyone, though I would not undertake the 1 mile roundtrip hike in the middle of the summer.

When returning to camp we felt thorougly  tired and had to reward ourselves with coffee and a doughnut. (ouch..)

The trail as it descends 

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