Many travelers drive through New Mexico, only stopping at the main cities – Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces – rarely venturing far off the I40 or I10. Of course, National Park travelers will go out of the way to stop at White Sands (now a National Park) and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but most overlook many of the other units that the National Park Service maintains throughout the state.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is one of these harder to reach treasures in New Mexico. It is also one of the older national park units in the country, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 to protect ruins of the Mogollon culture that date back to the late 1200’s.
These ruins are similar to many of the other ruins we have visited in the southwest (Tonto National Monument and Walnut Canyon in Arizona, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado). Here, the Mogollon’s established their homes in caves that had been used for centuries by travelers. In these caves, they built multi-story dwellings, linked together to form communities. In fact, archaeologists believe that as many as 10-15 families lived in Cliff Dweller Canyon alone.
Visiting Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
At Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, you can experience what it may have been like to live as the Mogollon’s did centuries ago. There is a one-mile round trip walk up to the cliff dwellings, where you can walk into the caves, go into the rooms, and look out over the beautiful valley.
When we went there, the volunteer was really interesting, helping to bring the ruins to life. The visitor center has some great displays of artifacts as well.
Getting to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
You really have to want to visit Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This isn’t one that you just drive by and decide to stop at. It is 44 miles from Silver City at the end of a windy road. Where is Silver City you may ask… it is about an hour north of the Interstate 10 (exit at Deming new Mexico).
If you decide to go there, be aware that the normal opening times are from 10 to 3:30, so be sure to get there early enough that you have time to explore.
Around Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
We would encourage you to think about staying in the area for a few days. It is an absolutely gorgeous part of the state. The monument lies within the country’s first wilderness area – the Gila Wilderness. – established in June 1924. Now part of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, if you like to hike and camp, you will find lots of opportunities for both there.
New Mexico: Land of Enchantment. Places like this make us understand how enchanting New Mexico really is.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.