Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse of the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture who lived there from the 1280's through the early 1300's. Containing 533 acres, it was established on November 16, 1907. The dwellings are located forty-four miles north of Silver City, New Mexico, on Highway 15.
The 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. This unique area comprising homes of prehistoric Indians in southwestern New Mexico offers a glimpse of the homes and lives of Indians who lived here from the 100's to 1300.
Settlers in the early 1870's penetrated the mountain wilderness, where rise the three forks of the Gila River in search of water and fertile land on which to homestead. They were surprised to find traces of an earlier race of men, who in the dim past had lived, loved and farmed the narrow valleys. Fallen walls of stone, strewn with pottery fragments, clearly indicated a people of high culture who made their homes there.
The cliff dwellings were built in the 1280's. These Pueblo people built their homes in natural caves and in the open. There are examples of both types of settlements in the monument area. Probably not more than 8 or 10 families lived in the cliff dwellings at any one time. The rooms were probably not used more than one generation.
These small, diligent, artistic people lived in cliff houses and riverside villages, tilling mesa top and riverside fields with digging sticks, grinding cornmeal with metate and mano, fashioning pottery and cloth, carrying on trade with Indians of other communities, hunting, and gathering wild plants and fruit to supplement their squash, corn, and beans. They were skilled potters, producing handsome brown bowls with black interiors and black-on-white vessels.
The women averaged 5'1" and the men about 5'5" in height. They were slight of build, yet muscular, with dark hair and eyes and brown skin. The sounds of their voices and laughter echoed in the canyon. And then there were only the sounds of the streams and birds.
Seven natural caves occur high in the southeast-facing cliff on a side canyon, and five of the caves contain the ruins of cliff dwellings--about 42 rooms. Walls of the buildings were constructed of stone. All the timbers seen in the dwellings are the originals. Tree-ring dates obtained from these timbers range through the 1280's. The cliff dwellers had abandoned their homes and fields by 1300. Why they left and where they went are not known. Perhaps they joined other Pueblo Indians to the north or south.
Operating Hours, Seasons
Memorial Day to Labor Day 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. (Visitors center: 8-5). The rest of the year, the monument is open 9:00 am to 4:00 pm (Visitors center 8-4:30)
Climate, Recommended Clothing
Mild climate, with rainy season July to August, usually in the afternoons. Spring and Fall have moderate days and cool nights. Winter months often have nice afternoons with cold mornings and nights.
Fees, Facilities, Trails and Programs
- Gila Cliff Dwellings entrance: $3.00 per person for ages 16 and older.
- Museum, visitor center and contact station located at the monument.
- Adjacent Gila Wilderness and Gila National Forest have over 1,490 miles of wilderness hiking and riding trails.
- Guided tours of the monument available, with prior arrangements. Summertime campfire programs also available.
For More Information
Call Wilderness Ranger District at 575-536-2250, 575-536-9461, or 575-536-9344. These last two numbers are the numbers for the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
On the web: www.nps.gov/gicl/