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. 

My husband and I's first camping experience in the United States at Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
My husband and I’s first camping experience in the United States at Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

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Camping at Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
Dusk settles soon and the camping experience is about to get real.
Dusk settles soon and the camping experience is about to get real.
Our first camping experience together at Gila National Forest.
Our first camping experience together at Gila National Forest.

 

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 pictographs at the end of the Trail to the Past in Gila National Forest which were painted with a mixture of water and hematite, the oldest known iron oxide mineral that has ever formed on earth.
The pictographs at the end of the Trail to the Past in Gila National Forest which were painted with a mixture of water and hematite, the oldest known iron oxide mineral that has ever formed on earth.
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The pictographs at the end of the Trail to the Past in Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

 

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.

The other branch of the Trail to the Past at Gila National Forest leads to this small cave dwelling. It is located near Lower Scorpion campground.
The other branch of the Trail to the Past at Gila National Forest leads to this small cave dwelling. It is located near Lower Scorpion campground.
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The other branch of the Trail to the Past at Gila National Forest leads to this small cave dwelling. This was probably used 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. 

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Gila Visitor Center
Inside Gila Visitor Center is a small museum celebrating the Mogollon culture.
Inside Gila Visitor Center is a small museum celebrating the Mogollon culture.
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Right in front of the visitor center was a plaque in commemoration of Geronimo. Geronimo was a medicine man of the Bedonkehe band of the Chiricahua Apache but would eventually become their leader. He was born on the Gila River in New Mexico, not far from the Gila Cliff Dwellings. His birth name, Goyakla, meant “one who yawns.
Some of the highlight exhibits at Gila Visitor Center are hand made pottery, stone tools, and jewelry crafted by Zuni, Apache, Hopi, and other regional tribes. 
Some of the highlight exhibits at Gila Visitor Center are hand made pottery, stone tools, and jewelry crafted by Zuni, Apache, Hopi, and other regional tribes.
Some of the hand made pottery exhibits at Gila Visitor Center crafted by Zuni, Apache, Hopi, and other regional tribes. 
Some of the hand made pottery exhibits at Gila Visitor Center crafted by Zuni, Apache, Hopi, and other regional tribes.
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Some of the weaving exhibits at Gila Visitor Center crafted by Zuni, Apache, Hopi, and other regional tribes.
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Some of the exhibits at Gila Visitor Center in Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument in New Mexico.

 

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. 

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Starting our trail towards Gila Cliff Dwellings.
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Gila Cliff Dwellings can be reached by an easy one mile loop trail along a narrow canyon. While the trail is not handicapped-friendly, it is otherwise beautiful.
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Our first glimpse of Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Waiting in line for the park ranger to give us a tour of Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Waiting in line for the park ranger to give us a tour of Gila Cliff Dwellings.
The view from inside the Gila cliff dwellings.
The view from inside the Gila cliff dwellings.
I believe these were firepits inside the cliff dwellings. A proof of a civilization that once flourished here.
I believe these were fire pits inside the cliff dwellings. A proof of a civilization that once flourished here.
Archaeologists have identified 46 rooms at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Archaeologists have identified 46 rooms at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Enjoying a deep conversation with our park ranger at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Enjoying a deep conversation with our park ranger at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
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Looking out from one of the 46 rooms in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
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Some areas of the cliff dwellings require an inclined climb.
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Smoke on the ceilings proves that the Mogollon people cooked at this dwelling.
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Wood beams at Gila Cliff Dwellings.
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Looking inside cliff dwellings from the side.
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This was probably a granary.
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One of the pictographs at Gila Cliff Dwellings.
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Another pictograph at Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.
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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.
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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.

 

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 Mogollon people accessed these dwellings with retractable wooden 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 of Gila Cliff Dwellings left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder. Ladders could easily be removed if being attacked.
In addition to the natural protection provided by a cliff, the absence of doors and windows to the rooms on the ground floor of Gila Cliff Dwellings left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder. Ladders could easily be removed if being attacked.
In addition to the natural protection provided by a cliff, the absence of doors and windows to the rooms on the ground floor of Gila Cliff Dwellings left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder. Ladders could easily be removed if being attacked.
In addition to the natural protection provided by a cliff, the absence of doors and windows to the rooms on the ground floor of Gila Cliff Dwellings left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder. Ladders could easily be removed if being attacked.
In addition to the natural protection provided by a cliff, the absence of doors and windows to the rooms on the ground floor of Gila Cliff Dwellings left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder. Ladders could easily be removed if being attacked.
In addition to the natural protection provided by a cliff, the absence of doors and windows to the rooms on the ground floor of Gila Cliff Dwellings left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder. Ladders could easily be removed if being attacked.
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Each of us had to climb down the wooden ladder at the end of the tour at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
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At the end of our tour of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
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Looking back at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
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Overlooking the Gila wilderness after the Gila Cliff Dwelling tour.
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Soaking all the Gila National Forest beauty in.

 

 

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