Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
GilaCliffDwellings NatlMonument.jpg
Gila Cliff Dwellings as seen from a gorge below
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is located in New Mexico
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Location Catron County, New Mexico, USA
Nearest city Silver City, New Mexico
Coordinates 33°13′38″N 108°16′20″W / 33.227222°N 108.27222°W / 33.227222; -108.27222Coordinates: 33°13′38″N 108°16′20″W / 33.227222°N 108.27222°W / 33.227222; -108.27222
Area 533 acres (216 ha)
Governing body National Park Service
NRHP Reference # 66000472[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966
Designated NMON November 16, 1907

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is a U.S. National Monument in the Gila Wilderness (The Nation's First Wilderness Area) of southwestern New Mexico. The 533-acre (2.16 km2) national monument was established by executive proclamation on November 16, 1907, by President Theodore Roosevelt.[2] It is located in the extreme southern part of Catron County. Tourists can access the site by traveling from US 180, from Silver City, New Mexico, to NM 15.


The first European contact with the Gila Cliff Dwellings was by Henry B. Ailman an emigrant to New Mexico who was residing in Silver City at the time. In the summer of 1878, Ailman found himself, along with a bunch of friends, on a jury list. To avoid serving, they organized a prospecting trip to the Gila River where the site was discovered.[3]

Throughout the following years, many visitors would study the dwellings. In the next couple of years, the site became more accessible. In the 1890s the Hill brothers had created a resort at the nearby Gila Hot Springs. The Hill brothers would take guests on tours to the nearby cliff dwellings. In June 1906, Rep. John F. Lacey of Iowa and chairman of the House Public Lands Committee introduced a bill for the regulation of prehistoric sites. The Act for the Preservation of Antiquities, also known as the Antiquities Act, the president was authorized to set aside land that contained prehistoric and historic ruins by executive order.

Looking out from one of the cave dwellings

These reservations were called national monuments and were to be managed by the Interior, Agriculture, and War departments, depending on which agency had controlled a particular site before it was withdrawn.[4] In December 1906, Gila Forest Supervisor R. C. McClure reported to the chief forester in Washington, D.C. that the Gila Cliff Dwellings warranted preservation by the national government to avoid further removal of artifacts by hunters and other prospectors.

A couple of mummified bodies had been found at the Gila Cliff Dwellings location. Most were lost to private collectors. In 1912, a burial ground was found and the mummy was named “Zeke”. The body was described as an infant. This discovery gained national attention and increased visitations to the monument. This led to additional improvements in the next couple of years. This was the only mummy to reach the Smithsonian from the site.

Administration of the monument was transferred from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the National Park System on August 10, 1933, by Executive Order 6166. President John F. Kennedy signed Proclamation No. 3467 that added approximately 375 acres (1.52 km2) containing an additional archaeological site, known as the TJ site, as well as additional wilderness. In the spring of 1975, the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service signed a cooperative agreement whereby the Gila National Forest is responsible for administration of the monument.

Cliff Dwellings[edit]

Gila Cliff Dwelling

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is located in the Gila Wilderness within the Gila National Forest. Within a few miles of the Cliff Dwellings, elevations range from around 5,700 to 7,300 feet above sea level. In the immediate vicinity of the Cliff Dwellings, elevations range from 5,700 to about 6,000 feet. The terrain is rugged, with steep-sided canyons cut by shallow rivers and forested with ponderosa pine, Gambel's oak, Douglas fir, New Mexico juniper, pinon pine, and alligator juniper (among others).

The monument is on a location of 553 acres (2.24 km2). The cliff itself was created by volcanic activity. The cliff contains the ruins of interlinked cave dwellings built in five cliff alcoves by the Mogollon peoples. People of the Mogollon culture lived in these cliff dwellings from between 1275 and 1300 AD (Pueblo III Era), which is the only location that contains Mogollon sites.[5] Archeologists have identified 46 rooms in the five caves, and believed they were occupied by 10 to 15 families. It is not known why the dwellings were abandoned. Hopi oral tradition does say migrations occurred due to cycles of beliefs, and in response to changing climate. People also lived in Javalina House, about 1/3 mile above the main ruin, West Fork Ruin, currently under Highway 15 across from Woody Corral,Three Mile Ruin along West Fork Gila River, and Middle Fork Gila River(11 room Cosgrove Ruin).

The dwellings were a perfect place for human living. The caves provided adequate shelter, while the wooded area concealed the homes. Impressively, the wood found in these shelters has proven to be original. Dendrochronology (tree ring dating) determined that the wood used in the dwellings was cut down sometime between 1276 to 1287. The nearby area also provided for growing and finding food.

Visiting the Dwellings up close requires hiking a well-traveled, one mile (1.6 km) trail loop with several foot bridges over a stream. The entire walk takes about an hour. The hike begins at an elevation of 5695 Feet (1736 Meters) and ends at 5875 Feet (1790 Meters).


T-shaped doorway, common in Ancestral Pueblo buildings

A museum and visitor center is located at the monument. The visitor center is jointly operated by the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service, which maintains a small museum of Apache and Mogollon artifacts, uncovered both in the surrounding wilderness, and at the main ruins themselves. Artifacts on display include a glycemerus clam shell bracelet, traded from the Gulf of California, etched and drilled at a Hohokam village near present Phoenix, Snaketown, then traded up the Gila River, to its headwaters near the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

The park has a mild climate, with a rainy season that goes from July to August. During the spring and fall the days are moderate and the nights are cool. During the winter months the afternoons are nice with cold morning and nights.

Other nearby attractions include hot springs, more ancient sites, national forest trails and fishing along the Gila River.


External links[edit]