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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 in southwestern New Mexico offers a glimpse of the homes and lives of Indians who lived here over 700 years ago and across a span of time.
European American settlers penetrated the mountain wilderness in the early 1870's in search of water and fertile land on which to homestead. They were surprised to find traces of an earlier human occupation. Long before the arrival of Europeans, these early Americans had lived, loved, and made the narrow canyons their home. Walls of stone, strewn with pottery fragments, were reminders of a well-developed culture that had lived in this landscape for over a thousand years.
The Mogollon people built their homes in natural caves between 1260 Common Era (CE) and 1280 CE. Archaeologists suggest that about 8 to 10 families lived in the cliff dwellings for roughly one generation.
The Tularosa Mogollon people tilled mesa and riverside fields of squash, corn, and beans; ground cornmeal with metate and mano, wove cotton cloth, traded with other communities and cultures, hunted wild game, and gathered wild edible plants. They were skilled potters, producing handsome brown bowls with black interiors and black-on-white decorated vessels.
Five naturally eroded alcoves contain the homes of the Tularosa Mogollon. About 42 rooms were constructed from local stone. All wooden beams seen in the dwellings are the originals. Tree-ring dates range from the 1260’s through the 1280's. The cliff dwellers had departed their homes and abandoned their fields by about 1300. Dire need may have sent the families elsewhere—or maybe they were ready for a new location and embarked on an adventure seeking their next place to call home.
The Visitor Center and the dwellings are open to the public daily except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Visitor Center and trail hours vary by season, check the park’s website www.nps.gov/gicl for current hours.
Rainy season from July to September can bring powerful lightning and rain storms, usually in the afternoons. Spring and fall experience moderate days and cool nights. Winter months often have pleasant afternoons with very cold mornings and nights. Snow and ice can be present on the roads even when the ground is bare. Summer days bring 100 degree temperatures that make drinking large quantities of water a must!
Call the Gila Visitor Center at 575-536-9461 during business hours. Visit the official website at: www.nps.gov/gicl/ , and check out the official Facebook site at: https://www.facebook.com/GilaCliffNPS