Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila National Monument, Gila Cliff Dwellings

The Gila Cliff Dwellings lie at the end of NM15, a winding mountainous road that follows the Gila River.  One of the more remote national monuments, Gila Cliff Dwellings lies deep in the mountains of the Gila National Forest, surrounded on all sides by wilderness areas.

Gila National Monument, Gila cliff dwellings, motorcycle ride

The monument is a small site of just 553 acres, containing the ruins of cave dwellings built in five cliff alcoves with over 40 rooms.  Built by the Mogollon peoples between 1275 and 1300 AD, it is reached today by an easy one-mile loop trail along a narrow canyon.  The trail follows a shaded trickling streambed, with several wooden bridge crossings.  Along the way there are several viewpoints of the dwellings, which were built quite high along the south-facing canyon wall. 

Gila National Monument, Gila cliff dwellings

This dwelling, well preserved due to the dry climate and by stone overhangs that protect them, was home to 8-10 families and were only occupied for an estimated 20-40-year span.  Just what happened has been the greatest puzzle facing archaeologists who study this ancient culture. 

Gila National Monument, Gila cliff dwellings

One would think the logical first question would be why was the site abandoned?  But actually, it should be what drove the people to retreat to these cliffs  high in the mountains in the first place.  The dwellings - so high up with dead vertical drops to the canyon below almost exude a feeling of paranoia – as if the builders lived in constant fear of attack.  In our modern age of child safety laws, it’s hard to imagine toddlers wandering along some of the dangerous passages, yet they must have done just that.  Bringing water, food and materials from the valley below on a daily basis was no small matter.

Gila National monument, gila cliff dwellings

And I, probably like the inhabitants themselves, found the view from their mesa top dwelling quite grand – I admired the awe-inspiring view, while they scanned it for approaching enemies.

Several theories abound as to the ultimate abandonment of the dwellings:  Drought?  Deforestation of the region?  Overhunting?  A family squabble?  Whatever it was, they walked away from their homes high in the cliffs and never returned – eventually scattering into the surrounding countryside.

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When blogging can you be sure to mention when roads are gravel? Or do you? So if you don’t, they are paved?

Kate Semer June 30, 2020

Hi from South GA & I ride a ’16 FLHTK. I really enjoy your videos on You Tube. Suggest you consider a ride to Salida, CO. Its a great small town/area with natural hot springs & good campgrounds. Your corned beef hash looked fantastic! Ride on!

Dan Taylor June 29, 2020

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