The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is 44 miles from Silver City. "Allow two hours driving time," it says in the brochure. What? Why on earth? Well, the road, while paved, is narrow and curvy. It passes through a beautiful Ponderosa Pine Forest with some great vistas over the Gila Wilderness.
But when the sign looks like this:
and the road looks like this:
It does take two hours.
After going in the Visitor Center, we stopped at the Trail to the Past, a short walk to this old two-room dwelling.
Nearby there were some pictographs. I have no idea what the first one represents, but the second photo shows a person. The actual rock paintings are not this bright or sharp. My photo editing software does amazing things.
The cliff dwellings were built between 1276 and 1287 (determined from dating when the trees for roof beams were cut) by people of the Mogollon culture.
These people were hunters and gatherers and farmers who traditionally built pit houses or surface pueblos in the mountainous areas of Arizona and New Mexico. They found abundant game and fertile soil in the Gila River valley. For some reason, the Tularosa Mogollon built inside the caves of cliff Dweller Canyon. By 1300 the people had moved on from the canyon.
The dwellings were built in six caves, using small rocks.
The cave opening gives a nice view out into the canyon.
This is a two-story building in the corner of one cave.
The soot coating on the ceiling of the cave shows the results of many fires for cooking and ceremonies.
Archaeologists believe the square area seen here was a hearth and the two circles were rings for round storage pots or ollas.
T-shaped doors are important clues for archaeologists. Unfortunately, I can't remember what they are clues to.
This view gives a good idea of the size of Cave 3.
Here we could see a tall basket (possible a waste basket?) and a smaller basket, each holding small corn cobs. Both are modern replicas, I believe. As you hear often in old sites like this, use your own imagination about how they were used.
To protect the fragile ancient walls, the Park Service has built several small ladders like this so visitors can see what is on the other side of the wall. They are very sturdy and easy to stand on.