Thursday, January 8, 2015

Gila Cliff Dwellings

A week ago I had never heard of this place, but now I am of the mind that everyone needs to come to New Mexico to see them. The Gila Cliff Dwellings were built by an ancient people, the Mogollons (pronounced locally as "Muggy-Yawns") who inhabited this area between 1276 and 1287. By the year 1300 they were gone, moved on to more hospitable regions. Later the Chiricahua Apache occupied the area.

It was a two hour, twisty turney road to the cliff dwellings, located north of Silver City in the Gila Wilderness, nestled in the Mogollon Mountains. Along the ride we passed over the Continental Divide and stood at a mountain pass that was 7440 feet above sea level. The views were amazing, and a little scary.

It is really hard to get a sense of space using my iPhone camera. The above video gives a little better idea. At one lookout where we stopped for pictures we saw the wreckage of a car that had not made the turn.

We finally arrived at the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitors Center, where we saw a short film about the Mogollons and how the cliffs were discovered. We also talked with Marci, a full-timing RVer who volunteers at the center and who travels with her two horses. I was a bit envious!

Then it was time to hike up to the seven caves which comprise the Cliff Dwellings.

It was a steep climb, about a half a mile hike, up the mountain, made more difficult for us by the altitude. But we made it, and met George who provided us with an excellent lecture on the caves.

We learned about the lives of these people who built such amazing structures, and told us that we were standing on a caldera, which is a cauldron-like volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. The caves were formed when huge bubbles in the lava hardened. Over time the Gila River wore away the outer portion, exposing the caves, which became the temporary home for a tribe of Mogollon people. They built walls, ceilings, and rooms to live in, hauling building materials and food up to these caves. It must have been a back-breaking job.

It was also sad to learn about how early tourists to this area ransacked and destroyed most of the artifacts left by the Mogollon.

Finally it was time to return to our motorhome, taking a different route home that, while twice as long distance-wise, took about the same amount of time as the twisty road. It also offered beautiful views of the mountains and countryside.

It was a day I will never forget.

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