Lake Mead N.R.A.

Lake Mead N.R.A.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

May 5, 2010.
It was another beautiful morning in Silver City. Lows overnight were in the 50's and expected to warm to the lower 80's.  The sun was shining brightly and we had a steady breeze. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is about 46 miles away and though it wasn't originally on our "things to do list", we decided to take the ride and experience it.

We headed north on NM Hwy 15 through Pinos Altos climbing to over 7000 ft and crossing the Continental Divide.

The narrow drive in the mountains on NM 15 had started out beautifully and was sure to be an enjoyable drive.

Shortly after leaving Pinos Altos we came across this sign. From this point the cliff dwellings were only about 40 miles away. However the travel time on the sign was for 2 hours!

The mountain vista views were quite striking.

You know the saying, "what goes up must come down". Well before long we knew why the route time was two hours. The road was increasingly narrow with several steep down grades...

and twists and turns. I flashed back to my previous career and training on the pursuit driving course as parts of the road was like driving through a serpentine course.

We went up one mountain and down another perhaps three times. I had to lock the 4spd transmission on the car in 3rd and at times 2nd gear going down the mountains due to all the hairpin turns and switchbacks. 

However, the views at the top were amazing. The two dimensional pictures just can't do it justice.

You can see the road across the valley that we had to navigate via one of many switchbacks. This was by far one of the most demanding mountain roads I had ever driven. Now to be fair, being from Florida, I don't have a lot of mountain driving experience! 

The real shocker is that this was the same route used for the final stage of the Tour of the Gila, up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument visitor center and finishing in Pinos Altos.

After checking in at the visitor center, we had to hike a mile to the start of the 1 mile hike to the cliff dwellings. Normally you would drive to the start of the cliff dwellings hike. However, the bridge over the Gila River was damaged and thus it was closed. Because of this, there was no entry fee.

Joyce standing on the bridge over The Gila River.

A National Park Service volunteer, snapped our picture before starting the climb up to the dwellings.

The hike to the dwellings is about 180 ft. up through a canyon along a stream and then up the side of the cliff over rough rock steps and switchbacks.

At a starting elevation of over a mile up, it's not an easy climb. We passed a younger heavy woman on the trail coming back the opposite way. She said she couldn't make it and she was obviously winded.
You can just see the opening of one of the caves in the picture below.

Once we arrived at the cliff dwellings, we were able to explore several of them and walk inside. A little more than seven hundred years ago, a peaceful people, called the "Mogollon" (mug-ee-yone) by modern archaeologists, sought refuge from marauding enemies and the elements. They built forty rooms within five spacious sandstone cliff caves, located in what is now the heart of western New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, on the edge of the Gila Wilderness. The ruins were designated as a national monument on November 16, 1907.

The Mogollon band at the Gila cliff dwellings, like Mogollon bands who lived in small groups along river systems as far south as Mexico, appear to have been influenced by the Anasazi who lived to the north, in the Four Corners region, during the same period. The clues lie both in the architecture and the artifacts from the Mogollon sites.

We came across a guided tour group in the middle of an interpretation.

Once again I was amazed by the views from inside the cliff dwellings. 

We still had a long precipitous climb back down.

We made it back to the start of the hike and then walked the mile back to the car along the hot road as temps were now in the low 80's. It was another long slow drive back to Silver City via the mountains. I'm sure you've heard the saying, "getting there is half the fun".  Well for me, the drive and the hike to the dwellings was the most exciting part of this excursion.  It's definitely worth the visit, but be prepared for the mountain drive and the somewhat arduous hike. 

Wear good footwear with substantial soles for hiking on the cliff dwelling or monument trail. The path is natural and quite steep in places. Take sensible precautions if you are not accustomed to high elevation hiking since it is more strenuous than trekking in the lowlands!

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