After a day spent at White Sands National Monument, we drove east for 4 hours and headed towards Gila National Forest, the 6th largest national forest in the Continental United States, to camp overnight. It is quite a drive towards Gila National Forest. It took us about 2 hours from its closest city, Silver City, and required a lot of turns on a steep, narrow and twisted paved roads. The view however, was very rewarding. We settled at the Lower Scorpion campground, marking my husband and I’s first camping experience together.
TRAILS TO THE PAST
Luckily for us, just a short walk from our campground is a trail that branches off to two directions. One branch leads to a cliff where there are several panels of interesting pictographs, and the other leads to an alcove that contains a small ruin.
The trail to the rock art is easy along a gravel path. It directly leads to the cliffs that are covered with reddish pictographs which, according to a nearby plaque, were painted with a mixture of water and hematite, the oldest known iron oxide mineral that has ever formed on earth. Surprisingly, the pictographs are easily at an arm’s reach and not fenced at all.
The other branch of the trail leads to the cliff dwelling. The trail itself is more austere in nature but still an easy hike. The cliff dwelling is not as grand as I imagined but still impressive. It is beneath a small overhang and it certainly looked tight. This dwelling was probably used for storage or as a granary.
GILA VISITOR CENTER
Gila is home to the prominent Mogollon people. Inside the visitor center is a small museum celebrating the Mogollon culture through artifacts from the Gila Cliff Dwellings and surrounding area and an exhibit on the Chiricahua Apache who consider the wilderness to be their homeland. Some of the highlight exhibits are hand made pottery, stone fetishes, and jewelry crafted by Zuni, Apache, Hopi, and other regional tribes.
GILA CLIFF DWELLINGS
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is surrounded by the Gila National Forest and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area. Wilderness means the intrusion of roads or other evidence of human presence will not alter the character of the area. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse into the homes and lives of the Mogollon people who lived here. For years, mostly nomadic tribes used these naturally formed caves on the Gila River for shelter. Sometime between 1275 and 1300 AD, a relatively small family group decided to make this a permanent home. Sadly, this lasted only for about a generation before they abandoned the area. Situated deep in the mountains of Gila National Forest, Gila Cliff Dwellings is only 553 acres but contains the ruins of interlinked cave dwellings. Archaeologists have identified 46 rooms at this main site.
The trail towards the cliff dwelling is not handicapped friendly. We had to cross few small bridges and did some inclined climb. The dwellings can be reached today by an easy one mile loop trail along a narrow canyon. The location is very remote and there are no stores nor hotels nearby. The closest city is Silver City, which is about 2 hours drive away. Provide your own necessities especially water.
Have you noticed the absence of doors in this dwelling? How did the Mogollon people got in and out the dwelling, and out and about each rooms?
LADDERS! The Mogollon people accessed these dwellings with retractable wooden ladders. In addition to the natural protection provided by a cliff, the absence of doors and windows to the rooms on the ground floor left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder. Ladders could easily be removed if being attacked.
The structures I the cliff dwellings are extraordinary, as are the cliff paintings. It’s absolutely amazing what traditional peoples were able to accomplish without the aid of modern technology or materials.
I absolutely agree with you Josh Gross. It is fascinating how the people in the past were able to do so much with what they have had. Building a dwelling, on a cliff especially, with simple tools is an amazing feat. I am thankful we were able to protect this part of our history. This is a heritage worth preserving.
The cave dwellings absolutely are heritage worth preserving!
Great post! Love the pictures and details. Looks like fun!
Thank you Pam! It was fun and truly worth visiting. The park’s tour guide also did an impressive job and were very accommodating.