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Gila Cliff Dwellings, NM

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Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southwest
3.9 of 5 by 7
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 1 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 1 mile
Trailhead Elevation 5,771 feet
Elevation Gain 180 feet
Accumulated Gain 259 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1 hour
Kokopelli Seeds 2.3
Interest Ruins
Backpack Connecting Only
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Inaugural Calculation on Button Tap!
27  2017-07-02 DarthStiller
27  2016-10-13 jameslcox44
12  2013-07-07 nonot
5  2012-03-13 lP14
14  2011-09-25 cindyl
67  2011-04-23
Jordan Hot Springs - Gila
24  2009-10-24 Azbackcountry
5  2008-10-18 BrettVet
Page 1,  2
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, Mar, Nov → Any
Seasons   Late Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  5:57am - 6:18pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Cliff Dwellings in Cliff Dwellers Canyon
by PaleoRob

The Gila Wilderness, in southwestern New Mexico, was the nation's 1st designated wilderness area, and is still a very popular destination for hikers across the southwest. Tucked unobtrusively in one corner of this wilderness, on its edge at the end of NM Route 15 is the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

The Mimbres Branch of the Mogollon culture inhabited this area of southwestern New Mexico from around 400 AD up until just before 1300, when this area, like the Colorado Plateau to the north, was abandoned. Before they left, though, they constructed hundreds of villages across the region, grew crops, traded with neighbors, and made some of the most beautiful pottery ever created in the southwest, Mimbres Classic Black-on-White, depicting wonderful scenes of people, animals, and mythological figures and creatures. Gila Cliff Dwellings offers a glimpse into the daily life of these people.

Your first stop should be at the Gila Visitor's Center, about a mile east of the trailhead on NM15. Check in here for information about the area, the Mogollon who lived in the area, as well as displays on wildlife and the plants of the area. There is also a gift shop here, as well as water. If you're lucky, TJ Ruins might be open to the public as well - it's worth asking about at least.

From the Visitor's Center, drive west on NNM15 until the road ends in a parking area. There is a small contact station here, with a self-pay fee kiosk and trail brochures. During the summer, guided tours are offered as well. Drop into the contact station, and then head up the trail.

The trail starts immediately to the west of the contact station, and begins climbing up the east wall of Cliff Dwellers Canyon. The hike is shady, under cottonwood and juniper trees, and the trail is wide and fairly well graded. You can catch glimpses of the cliff dwellings on the opposite canyon wall as you continue upcanyon.

You then reach a switchback, and the ruins come into full focus on the northwest cliff face. The structures appear to be well preserved. The switchback provides a convenient resting place to catch your breath, if you are unaccustomed to the altitude, and admire the ruins.

The trail now climbs up towards the ruins and their alcoves, or caves as they are called at this site. They are numbered, and if you picked up a trail brochure you can follow along with the numbering system and pick out the post holes, bedrock metates, and pithouse remains in the first couple of caves you'll come across. During the summer months there are often rangers and volunteers stationed here along the trail in the various "caves" to help explain various features and answer questions.

The highlight of the ruins come after the first two caves. The next three caves contain an interlinked series of well-preserved dwellings, storage, and ceremonial rooms. There is an enormous plaza at the back of the ruin, against the back wall of a very deep alcove. Very interesting, in that most plazas, even in cliff dwellings, are located near the front or in between room blocks. Here the plaza seems to be guarded by the rooms.

The trail leads your through and around some of the various rooms, while the trail guide points out various features. Almost all the wood in the ruin is original, and tree-ring dates from the beams yield late 1270's-1280's dates - barely over a decade of occupation of the largest structures in the dwelling complex! Some of the storage rooms still contain large quantities of dessicated corn cobs. Pretty cool. Also look out for a tower masoned into a fin at the cliff edge that separates two of the caves.

When you're done pondering the past in the ruins, continue on the trail and it'll drop you back down to the main trail and then to the parking area. While you're in the area, it is worth the time to do some of the other day trails near the monument. Several easy trails explore beautiful mountain forests, creeks, and canyons not far from the monument, while other trails can take you into the back country for many days.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2008-05-12 PaleoRob
  • Wilderness Map
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    Wilderness Map
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent Triplog Review
Gila Cliff Dwellings
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Friday afternoon after picking up a passenger in Tempe, picking up Wendy and Lilo, exchanging a passenger at Sarae's, getting some last minute groceries AND after driving the frontage road to get ahead of a traffic jam on the I-10 we finally got away from Tucson after 2:30ish. Once we got past Willcox, it was all new territory for me :) .
We made it to Silver City, walked the dog above the Big Ditch 8) , had a leisurely dinner at Jalisco's, filled Tonto with fuel and then headed on the very tight and windy road to the Scorpion Campground in the Gila Wilderness where we set up our tents in the dark and cold of night.
In spite of all the warm stuff I had brot, surprisingly it was a chilly nite in the tent for me. I don't think my sleeping bag is living up to the +20 degree rating at all (it only got down to the low 30s); it's VERY frustrating when you spend nearly $200 for something that doesn't work right; surely I can't sleep THAT cold.

The next morning we gathered everything up and after a short discussion a few of us hiked to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. It seemed like we raced through them. Ruins take time to see, feel and absorb :M2C: but apparently the rest of the folks didn't feel that way. But I guess we really did need to keep moving it along since we still had the main hike ahead of us that involved a couple miles of an uphill climb.

We shuttled the vehicles and finally hit the trail at 9:30ish. The first of the uphill seemed to go pretty fast until you get slightly past the meadow area where you slog it out on a gradual ascent for a couple miles before reaching the Pass at 2.5 miles. I was glad for the slightly overcast skies. The rest of the group took out like they were running from something (me?) :lol: but Wendy and Lilo hung back. I was hardly taking any pictures either.

After a short break at the Pass we headed down into Little Bear Canyon which was fasinating right off the bat. This is a nice little canyon that's fun to enjoy at a slower pace cuz there's a lot to see. I guess other folks see things faster than me ;) cuz once again I ended up at the back and was the last to arrive at the junction with the Middle Fork (about 4.5 miles from the TJ Corral TH). Here we enjoyed a leisurely lunch. This was nice so at least we got to soak in the view before heading up the stick of this lollipop route to Jordan Hot Springs.

Once again, everyone took off and Wendy, Lilo and I meandered along the trail being awestruck by the TALL canyon walls and admiring the trees and change of scenery :DANCE: as we made the 15 water crossings. In one area we heard this screeching as it echoed down to us. Wendy looked up and spotted a hawk going toward its nest. I didn't get to see this :( . She used my camera to try and zoom in on their location (sad to say I still can't see the nesting area in the photo; hopefully Wendy can).

We continued on and eventually reached the springs where folks were already enjoying the warm water. They directed us back to where the camp was, we changed, joined them in the spring, went back to camp, had an incredible fajiata dinner :y: that we cooked with many stoves due to the fire ban and then after some Irish drinking songs [-( retired to our tents at hiker's bedtime. I was using a new sleeping pad with an R-factor of 4. Along with being at a lower elevation than the night before, I was plenty warm :zzz: .

The next morning I woke with a headache :sk: left over from the nite before and in short order it became a migraine. After breakfast I popped an Immitrex, gathered my stuff and asked if I could hike ahead to the junction so I could get a jump on the day and be able to enjoy the trail and take pictures :gun: . You know how it is, when it's time to hike out, it's like horses back to the barn and I knew with this group, I wouldn't stand a chance in keeping up if I wanted to take very many pictures. However, I did have the keys to the shuttle vehicle so they couldn't totally abandon me :D .

I took off around 9:05. I enjoyed my solitary time walking to the junction even tho I spooked myself a couple times. I have a very vivid imagination and can be quite the scaredy cat so it didn't take much to get my heart to pumping a couple times :lol: . It was an absolutely beautiful morning. Even with the pics and movies I took, I kept a good pace at 2.3MPH and arrived 2.85 miles later at the junction around 10:15AM just as two of the hikers showed up behind me. The rest of the folks came along very shortly. We had a quick lunch here before we started on new territory down the Middle Fork.

I was still bound and determined to take a photo at each creek crossing as I had done the previous day from the Junction to JHS. This hike back to the Visitor's Center TH is quite fascinating as well. There's lots of changes in topography. Your feet never get tired because the constant creek crossings provide instant relief :) . A couple of the girls hung back with us for about 15 minutes but then as usual, Wendy, Lilo & I were alone again. There are some meadows, caves, and cool trees along the route. We got to see old and fresh beaver-cut trees. In one area, just as you think you might be done with your river crossings as you head up and over a hill, there's the water again.

We did run into quite a few folks at a junction and then we encountered the rest of our group at the Gila Hot Springs. From there it was like we were sucked into a wind tunnel as the canyon walls were no longer there to protect us. It was quite something. But even along here, the topography had a lot to offer. I know it's been a good day when I really didn't feel my backpack toward the end; plus today I had re-tied my boots in the morning and they fit much better :) . I was pleased.

We arrived at the TH around 2, shuttled vehicles, found some good deals in the 15% off "free entry parks day" Visitors Center and then headed to Silver City. We stopped at the Overlook to take in the Gila Wilderness and after a jaunt thru Pinos Altos looking for a lunch spot to no avail, we ate at Isaacs in Silver City. The food and service were great. Once again in Tucson I did some passenger exchanges and finally arrived back home at 11:30. (FYI - it was a windy drive most of the way)

:thanx: to Sarae for putting together the trip and thanks again to my mentor Wendy for being in the mood for a leisurely hike after your Royal Arch adventure.

The Ruins:
Hike to JHS:
Hike back to Middle Fork:
Hike from Middle Fork to Visitors Center TH (and if you like Jethro Tull, you should enjoy this):

Permit $$

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
From the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Web Site:
Take State Highway 15 north from Silver City. Although the distance from Silver City is only 44 miles, the travel time is approximately two hours due to twisting and winding mountain terrain. An alternative route from Silver City is along State Highway 35 and goes through the Mimbres Valley. Even though it is 25 miles longer than Highway 15, it is less winding, wider, more level, and easier to travel; therefore it takes about the same amount of time to drive. NOTE: If your vehicle, travel trailer, or RV is over 20 feet in length, you should take Highway 35.

2010-06-08 BrettVet writes: The bridge over the West Fork was damaged by flooding and is in the process of being repaired. Parking for the cliff dwellings is at Woody's Corral campground and it is a 1 1/2 mile walk up the road to the cliff dwellings. The good news is that there is no fee because of the hike.
page created by PaleoRob on May 12 2008 11:19 am
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