The Gila Wilderness is one of America’s greatest
backcountries. The area of land is over 3 million acres
and was the first area in the world where the land was
set aside specifically to protect its disposition as wilderness.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings are a direct result of
the Mogollon culture, a prehistoric North American Indian
peoples who lived mainly in the region of the Mogollon
Mountains in New Mexico (hence
their tribal name) between the late 1200's into the 1300's.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings are a phenomenal ancient habitat
and offer some insight into the Mogollon culture and history what their lives were like back then. They are as fantastic
to delve in to as Bandelier
National Monument and Aztec
National Monument. The Gila Cliff Dwellings, which
were occupied for a period of about 20 years, were abandoned
by the Mogollon for unknown reasons. Lying on the edge
of the Gila Wilderness, the archaeologists say that the
homes of this ancient culture are likely very similar
to what they were like when they were actually occupied.
The dwellings were excavated and carved into the mountainous
regions creating varied and interesting homes, which show
impressive and adept building skills. There are lots of things to do and see in
this area so take your time and explore thoroughly.
The heart of Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument is created by a loop one mile long up along the shaded canyon and lead to the 42 room cluster of homes which were established in five roomy sandstone caves. Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument is situated on 300 acres and was officially established on November 16, 1907 as an important archeological site to be protected, and as a tribute to the tribe who built it. The site is an exciting place to explore and discovering the tucked away rooms and corridors is like playing Indiana Jones. It’s fascinating to imagine how the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument, a project massive in scope, was originally built with lots of skill yet minimal modern day tools.
Gila National Forest surrounds the cliff dwelling in a vast expanse of arid land. The Gila National Forest doesn’t house cabins but there are a lot of camping areas that range from high to low elevation, very basic to fairly developed and forested and lakeside sites. Gila National Forest is actually great for camping as it provides many different options from bare bones, primitive camping to sites with electrical hookups and dump stations for trailer or RV camping.
Gila National Forest is best known for the Gila Wilderness which is defined by a cooler summer and a warmer winter climate, beautiful mountainous backdrops, and a range of activities to be enjoyed. Some activities in the summer include horse-back riding, camping, hiking the hundreds of miles of trails, climbing, caving and cycling. In winter, visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Fees for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument are $3 per vehicle and the first day of each month is free of charge. Educational groups and students get in free. Overnight camping fees are charged and vary according to amenities and location so be sure to check with the park before you head there. Current rates can be found from the U.S. Forest Service District Offices.
All sites are "first come first served" with the exception of two sites, the Pinon Campground (May through October) with 22 camp spaces and the Little Walnut Group Area (January through December) which has 3 large picnic areas on it. The park is accessible year-round but the attractions with fees are closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. With the exception of the small museum at the visitors center there are no shops, food, lodging or gas services available.