October 8, 2012 by Deborah W. Trotter
How about a high, safe location, with a creek flowing nearby, canyon views, windows situated so that the winter sun shines in to keep you warm and the higher summer sun passes above?Sounds good today, and those features were also desirable centuries ago when the Tularosa Mogollon people built their cliff dwellings in natural caves above the west fork of the Gila River in the late 1270’s.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in western New Mexico is about 44 miles north of Silver City at the end of the road. Driving there a couple of weeks ago, winding through the forest, seeing very few other vehicles, my husband and I realized that the only people who visit this National Monument are those who really want to go there. But it is definitely worth the trip.
A one-mile loop trail takes you on a pleasant hike along (and across and back several times) a creek that runs into the Gila River and then up to the cliff dwellings. You have full access to most of the caves, and a printed info sheet that you can get at the trailhead provides some explanation of what you are seeing.
A better option for us was a tour given by a charming Park volunteer. She told us everything we could learn from the info sheet, vastly augmented with her broad knowledge of southwestern natural and cultural history. Even better, she pointed out features of the caves and dwellings that we would never have noticed ourselves and shared her ideas about the lifestyles of the cliff dwellers that really brought them to life. Thank you, Susan!
We are all fortunate that this site has been preserved and made a part of our National Park System. It is a remarkable experience to stand and walk in the cool caves where ancient people built their homes and lived their lives centuries ago. You will feel their presence.