Sunday, February 8, 2015

Gila Cliff Dwellings - Huffin' and Puffin'

Heading up to Gila Cliff Dwellings. About the year 1200, the Puebloans got to this area and found some caves. Inside the cave they built houses and lived here for quite a while. Then they moved on, leaving their houses behind. Teddy Roosevelt declared this a National Monument back in 1907. I wanted to get here around 1:00 because that is when the rangers were doing a guided tour and I love to do ranger walks. You learn so much – not that I retain a lot of it, but I think I'm learning a little bit here and there.

The Gila (pronounced Hee-la) Cliff Dwellings are in the middle of the Gila National Forest in the middle of a very mountainous area. There are two ways to get there – the first is on Highway 15, a tortuous switch back laden road where it takes you two hours to go about 35 miles. The other is along Highway 35, which goes through a series of valleys. Highway 35 is about 40 miles longer but a lot easier to drive. I set my GPS for Gila and took off. I meant to go on Highway 35, the easier way, but my GPS had different ideas and I found myself on Highway 15. I am so very glad I was not driving the RV. We would not have made it. With the car, it was a great deal of fun. I have never driven so many tight switchbacks in my life. Add to that altitude, trees, no center line and it was a blast. The views were incredible. I wish I wasn't so afraid of heights, because along most of the road it was straight down. I would definitely die if I went off the road here. It took me most of two hours to get to the Visitor Center and then you had to walk about a half mile to actually get to the dwellings themselves.

What they don't mention is that a lot of that half mile is up 175 steps. You start off in the woods, following this peaceful little stream. It is lovely, babbling brook, filtered sunlight. Then you get to the stairs. They are uneven rock steps cut into the side of the hill, switch back style. By the time I got to the top, I was huffin' and puffin'. The ranger was waiting as well as a group of about 7 young adults – early twenties. They all moved over to let the old lady sit down and recover. Ranger Joan loved her subject, had explanatory cards to show and was very knowledgeable about the dwellings. It was hot on top of the mountain, the sun was beating down – that filtered sunlight was no more. There are six caves and the National Park Service had done a lot of renovation to show us what it might have looked at when it was an active settlement.

After the tour, I walked down the mountain and headed out. I was going to do the easier way home. It was scenic, but no where as scenic as the arduous trip on the way up. I highly recommend the hard way. The whole trip took me about six hours. Miko was very patient waiting for me at home.

At home, tidying up and then the sunset walk around the park. Sunsets are really glorious, they turn everything a really nice reddish yellow color and then pffft, the colors are gone.

Another wonderful night sky – I am trying to spend some time outside every night trying to remember which star is which. When I get back to Minnesota, I won't be able to see the stars as I see them here.

The trail to the dwellings before it got steep
Looking out of the cave across the canyon
The other side of the canyon

One of the houses in the caves


City of Rocks from a distance



  1. Loving this! You're getting some great pictures! You're seeing stuff I've never seen there. Heidi T

  2. Thanks Heidi. When I start coming back across northern New Mexico, I'm thinking I'll be asking you about where you've been and what you've seen there. You are my NM expert, ya know.