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Greetings, salutations and no fooling!
The very first thing one realizes when planning to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is that it’s a long way from modern civilization. It’s located 45 miles north of Silver City, New Mexico in the middle of the Mogollon Mountains and the Gila National Forest and Wilderness. All the tourist information warns visitors that it takes from 1 1/2 to 2 hours to make this drive. Yes indeedy it does, unless you have experience driving race cars and have a sports car built to take the many turns and curves at high speed! I’m not and we don’t so plodded along in our F-150 and enjoyed the journey. And it was worth it as you shall see.
Let me back up a bit, we left Las Cruces late in the afternoon bound for Silver City but realized it would be late and dark when we arrived so we spent the night in Deming, NM. The next morning we made the leisurely 55 mile drive up to Silver City. After setting up in a very nice KOA campground, we took a tour of the town and visited the excellent visitor’s center. There, the helpful attendants gave us maps and made suggestions of things to see in the area. We learned that in addition to all the outdoor recreational activities available, there is a thriving ranching culture, a couple of huge copper mines, and more interesting to us, a vibrant artistic community around Silver City. In addition, it is the area’s shopping destination so has a couple of grocery stores, a quilt shop for my traveling partner and even a Walmart! We walked around the nearby historic downtown with it’s galleries and antique shops and found it to be very pleasant and interesting.
The next day, we decided to take Highway 180 from Silver City to one of the local sites, the Catwalk of Whitewater. The very walkable trail takes visitors into Whitewater Canyon. Some of the trail consists of an iron catwalk bolted into the side of the canyon that ends abruptly where a flood wiped out part of the catwalk and remainder of the trail.
There were lots of signs warning visitors to not go beyond this point as the way was unpredictable and dangerous. I did wander a little past the end while my traveling partner watched safely from the catwalk making sure I didn’t go too far or get into any trouble. I happy to report I made it safely back!
Here’s some of the photos I took during our walk.
The next morning we headed out a little after 7 AM so we could reach the Gila Cliff Dwellings by the 9 AM opening time. The informative docent at the Silver City visitor center told us the best light for photography at the Dwellings was in the morning. We made a few stops along the way for some photography and to take in the vastness and stillness of the National Forest.
Prior to reaching the trailhead to the cliff dwellings, we made a stop at the Visitor Center to check out the exhibits and watch a 15 minute video on the life of the Mogollon peoples who built and occupied the dwellings. There were only a few cars in the parking lot when we reached the trailhead. There we met a friendly and informative volunteer ranger who pointed out the Passport stamps and gave us a briefing on getting to the dwelling site. Our trek started by crossing a bridge over the picturesque Gila River and on to the trail that rose 180 feet above the floor of the canyon.
After about 1/4th mile, we started to see the dwellings located on the wall of the canyon.
As we got closer, the dwellings themselves became more apparent and we began to imagine how life might have been for these cliff dwellers. The Mogollon peoples were an off shoot of the Ancestral Pueblo tribes further to the north of this area in present day New Mexico. It’s estimated that these dwellings were built around 1275 and were occupied by 8-12 families or about 50-60 people until sometime in the early 1300s. So they didn’t live here very long, maybe one generation, but left behind an enduring legacy for us to understand and enjoy. The canyon below provided the occupants a steady supply of both natural and cultivated foods. Water was plentiful from a spring fed creek and wood for building and fire was readily available. To this day, it’s unclear why this homestead was abandoned, maybe due to change in climate or food supply or for safety reasons.
As we explored the cliff village, staying on the designated path to help preserve the area for the future, we checked out what was on the other side of the walls by using these replica ladders much like the original residents did during their time.
We also saw a couple of pictographs, paintings or drawings that have been placed onto the rock face. These artworks are typically made with mineral earths and other natural compounds.
This is the view we (and likely the dwellers of many centuries ago) saw from the dwellings.
The most interesting part of our visit was our interactions with a volunteer interpretive ranger. Meet Saul, who shared some of the history of the peoples and buildings of the dwellings. He told us that he’s been coming to the area for over 50 years from his home base in El Paso, Texas. We learned from another ranger that Saul is a civil rights activist and works with law enforcement to rehab gang members by bringing them camping to this area. It was such a pleasant experience to learn from him and hear his stories.
The walk down from the dwellings was much less rigorous than the climb up! Here’s our last look as we walked away.
We really enjoyed our visit to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Much like the trip to the dwellings, the return trip took nearly two hours even though we took a different route. I should mention that if you are planning a visit this year, allow extra time for travel from Silver City to the Dwellings as the route, Highway 15, is under construction!
Since we had some daylight left, we decided to check out the highly recommended City of Rocks State Park located about 35 miles southeast of Silver City. It is amazing that in the middle of a prairie landscape these rock appear! Here’s are a few photos to get you started.
The theory is that these rocks were thrown from a volcano near Albuquerque, a distance of 180 miles! The Rocks themselves are easily walkable since they don’t cover a huge area. After parking near the visitor center, we wandered around and through the rock formations gawking at the beauty and power of nature. We chatted with a couple, who told us that the sunset is really stunning from this park and directed us to the west for a good view. Here’s what we saw behind us as we walked towards the sun.
And a few more, I couldn’t stop taking photos! Please note the moon rising, this was a couple of days before the lunar eclipse so the moon was beginning to show it’s full glory.
The sunset was nice but not as specular has we hoped for but here’s one of my last photos.
The day wouldn’t be complete without a selfie!
The City of Rocks is certainly worth a stop for an hour or two. There is a very nice campground that is located in and around the rock formations, we vowed to stay here on our next visit.
Thanks for traveling along with us. Next week, we visit Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona.
Until next week, travel safe.