Gila Cliff Dwellings - New Mexico
Date Walked: 18th February 2009
Distance: 2 miles (3.5 km)
Actual Ascent: 236ft (72m)
Time Taken: 1 hour
When on road trips in the US I took my laptop along so when I stopped at a hotel for the evening I could check the internet for local places of interest. This short walk was one such place I found in this manner and couldn't believe my luck when I saw it on map; years ago I had seen a TV show about these dwellings and at that time I had longed to stand in these caves looking along the canyon, now I had the opportunity I wasn't going to miss it.
Located in the 'Gila Wilderness Area' in South-West New Mexico these Indian cliff dwellings were built in the year 1000 (approx) by the Mimbres Indians and 200 years later inhabited by the Chiricahua band of Apache.
It is a very cold dry morning as I arrive at the site, I parked the truck and took a walk back to the entry sign to get a 'for the record' photo, as I took the shot the ranger came by in her truck with a cheery wave as she passed.
I walked back to the visitor centre expecting some sort of fee for my visit but as is very often the case at these places around the US there was no charge, additionally the ranger lady made me a coffee and we had a great long chat about the history of the place and a look through the small museum collection housed there.
out of the visitor centre and a look back before I head toward the cliffs
the hike begins by crossing a well constructed bridge providing a view of the cliff face ahead before dipping into a canyon
I then set off along the short trail in the canyon floor towards the cliff dwellings themselves
it is still very dark in the deep cutting but the target is visible looming above in the winter sunshine
the pathway is well maintained and the short 60 metre ascent is easily made
in a short time I am out into the winter sun and a little warmth on this very cool morning
after negotiating the curved overhang the first dwelling comes into view, I should add at this point that these places are not rebuilt, they remain in this condition as a result of the very dry, cool mountain air.
High above me the first of the caves is almost sealed by building
Passing the first dwelling I reach an entry point that looks like something from a movie set
on entry I am surprised to find square rooms, don't know what I expected but I didn't expect square rooms. whilst I'm poking about in this fascinating structure a group arrive and pass by providing some scale to the picture
a room with a view
looking out across the frontage of the dwellings it is easy to imagine those early Indians carrying out the mundane day to day tasks unaware that more than 1000 years later people would still be visiting their homes
this next section made me smile, home in the UK the public would not be permitted anywhere near this path without a non slip surface and a railing with wire to prevent kids falling through ect - ultimately spoiling the very thing the people come to see
I actually laughed when I realised that this descent is part of the route and comprises of a handmade wiggly wooden ladder worn shiny by a thousand visitors, no non slip surface, no handrail....brilliant
looking back up it is easy to see the ceiling of the cave blackened by camp fires from 1000 years ago (and that wiggly ladder)
back on the ground I take a different route from the main ascent route (advised by the ranger of this circular) and I skirt round the edge of the cliff wall
there is still a good pathway but it is less used as people tend to return the way they came once I reach a descent point there are good steps and its back into the woodland and the canyon floor.
This short walk was an ambition fulfilled for me, one I never thought would occur at the time of wanting. I can't help but wonder if somewhere in the back of my mind I was always aware of this place and just seized the opportunity once we were in the USA or if I really did just 'happen along this way'. Either way I left this place very happy.