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Gila Cliff Dwellings
National Monument

New Mexico

It is thought, by archeologists, that the modern pueblo culture in New Mexico had its origins with the people who are called the Mogollon (mug-ee-yone). These prehistoric peoples lived in small groups along the Little Colorado River system and as far south as Mexico.

Following the evolution of the earlier Cochise people (5500 bc to ad 500, the Mogollon were influenced by the more highly-developed Anasazi who lived to the north in the Four Corners region. This was the period during which the Gila Cliff Dwellings were occupied -- after AD 1000.

The earlier pit dwellings of the Mogollon have been destroyed by nature over the centuries. However, because they have been protected from the elements, the Gila Cliff Dwellings and a few other sites have survived. The dwellings and surrounding Gila Wilderness are national treasures.

How to Get There

Our favorite loop route to these fascinating ruins begins on Interstate 10, in Deming, a few miles north of the Mexico border, and leads beside the Mimbres River through the Gila National Forest, passing Lake Roberts. A more direct route (and the final part of our suggested loop drive) is via New Mexico Route 90, north from Lordsburg through Silver City and then by N.M. Route 15 to the monument.

The Cliff Dwellings

After stopping at the main park visitor center, you proceed to the trailhead, which is a mile down the road. There's a parking lot and another smaller visitor center here. The trail is 1 mile long and leads across the west fork of the Gila River through Cliff Dwellers Canyon. After the climb, visitors can walk through the five deep caves -- with 40 rooms in all. The caves are about 150 feet above the floor of the canyon. You should plan for a 60-to 90-minute walk, including the tour of the dwellings. The walls of the community are well preserved, shaded from the rain and winds.

The national monument area comprises 533 acres, but it is placed within a much larger area -- three million acres -- of national forest, one of the most beautiful and wild regions and the first in the U.S. to be designated as a national wilderness area. In the immediate area surrounding the cliff dwellings are several hot springs which are accessible by a hiking trail.

The nearby village of Gila Hot Springs includes a store with gas, camping supplies, and horse rentals (see below). Guided pack trips into the wilderness are also available. The Gila Wilderness is crossed by 2,000 miles of trails and is a magnet for cross-country hikers and backpackers, who rarely meet another human on their trips through this spectacular mountain region. The village also has an RV park with hookups.

Trails to Hot Springs & Other Places

Several hot springs can be accessed by trails that begin near the monument visitor center. One, Little Fork Hot Springs, offers very hot soaking only 1/2 mile up the trail. Another hot spring is at the end of an 8-mile trail that leads through the Gila Wilderness.

Several popular day-hikes can be taken from the cliff dwellings. A scenic trail along the west and middle forks of the Gila River leads from the cliff dwellings parking lot, or from the middle fork trailhead parking lot. Another trail leaves from Woody's Corral and proceeds via the West Fork Loop and the Stock Bypass. This 4.5-mile hike has an ascent of 210 feet.

An 8-mile hike begins at Woody's Corral, 1 mile southeast of the cliff dwellings via Sideroad 15, and leads to the EE Canyon Loop, ending at the cliff dwellings parking lot.

Another trail begins at TJ Corral and leads to the West Fork Loop via the Zig-Zag Trail. This is an 11-mile walk, ending at the cliff dwellings parking lot. Trail guides and other material on the Gila Wilderness are available at the visitor center.

Camping in the Monument

Two campgrounds are located near the national monument visitor center. These are the only maintained campgrounds with drinking water and toilets within the Gila Wilderness boundaries. The campsites are secured on a first come, first served basis. To get there, take State Route 15 north past the community of Gila Hot Springs and drive past the bridge over the river. Turn left just before reaching the national monument visitor center. Drive 1.5 miles, toward the Gila Cliff Dwellings trailhead. The campgrounds (Scorpion # 1 and # 2) and a picnic area are on the right. Water and flush toilets are available during summer months. Picnic tables, grills, and pit toilets are available year-round. Trailers are restricted to a length of 17 feet. For information on camping, including backcountry camping in the Gila Wilderness, call the Wilderness Ranger District, (505) 536-2250

Two additional Forest Service Campgrounds, are located just south of the small village of Gila Hot Springs, on State Route 15. The Forks and Grapevine campgrounds are of the basic, primitive type usually found in Forest Service recreation areas. There is a small store in Gila Hot Springs, stocking campers' supplies. Grapevine Campground is said to have the world's largest grapevine.

In Gila Hot Springs

Doc Campbell's Post
This is a long-time institution in this tiny community located on State Route 15, just south of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Also called the Gila Hotsprings Ranch, the operation has RV and trailer spaces and a hot spring pool with thermal water piped from the nearby spring. For information, call 575-536-9551, or write Doc Campbell's Post. Hwy. 15, Route 11, Box 8

 

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