The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is simply a must to visit when doing an ancient pueblo tour of the west. This destination is located inside the boundaries of the picturesque Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico. This entire region is a desolate wilderness area with few modern amenity options and the driving distances are lengthy, so some planning will be necessary to ensure a smooth trip. Basically it is best to top off the tank and pack a big picnic basket, because the Gila Cliff Dwelling is a remote day trip destination like no other!
Since this popular National Monument is located in a remote area it can be busy at times, but it is rarely overcrowded. The paved parking area is ample, there are facilities and plenty of shade trees for cooling off on a hot day. The visitor center acts as both a museum and orientation center, so tourists can become familiar with the history of the cliff dwellings, which will greatly enhance the overall experience. There are also some rules to become familiar with that are in place to protect this ancient native heritage site that are easy to follow.
The hiking trail to the Gila Cliff Dwellings goes through a shady forested area before zig-zagging uphill. The ascent is gradual and the foot path is smooth, so most visitors will be able to do this short trek with ease. However, there is a tall ladder that goes up to the cliff dwelling perch that may present a challenge for some people. The total distance for the round trip hike is only about one mile, but this is an arid mountainous environment, so be sure to stay hydrated to prevent dizzy spells.
When the Gila Cliff Dwellings first come into view it truly is an amazing sight to see! There are several large pocket caves on this sandstone bluff and each has an ancient structure inside. The largest pocket cave has two mouths and the pueblo structure inside has quite a complex layout. There are a few ancient pictographs on the walls and other unique features to discover that are associated with the Mogollon Culture that once occupied this sacred place. The architectural design is similar to the Pueblo People structures that are found in central New Mexico, but the fabrication is uniquely Mogollan style.
When standing inside the Gila Cliff Dwellings the views of the forest looking out through the cave mouth windows certainly are stunningly beautiful. It becomes easy to see that this was a very special place way back in ancient times and picturing how daily life once was will certainly be a captivating moment. Touring an ancient pueblo on a high perch that only raptors usually call home certainly is a memorable experience, so be sure to pack a good camera for this one of a kind short trek!
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