Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Ever since I was a little boy I have wanted to visit the cliff dwellings that the Native Americans lived in years ago.  I guess the most popular ones are located in Mesa Verde Colorado that the Pueblo Indians lived in.

We have not make it there, yet, but was close enough to the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico to visit the caves there.  We had to drive a good three hours one way to get to them, but it was well worth it.  

We were pronouncing it with the 'G' in the name but it is actually pronounced with an 'H' sound, just so you know.  I was informed of that by a deputy sheriff who was kind enough to give me a warning for going sixty eight in a sixty mile in hour zone.  I'm lucky he did not give me a ticket!
Gila Cliff Swellings National Monument.
Before we get into our visit there though, we need to have a few words from our sponsor, Courtney's Films.

If the above video will not play then you can click here to view it on YouTube.

Now back to the blog.

If you are driving to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument from the south via Silver City, NM then you have two ways to get there, either Highway 15 or Highway 35.  Traveling Highway 15 the park is only forty four miles from Silver City, but expect it to take a good two hours due to the steepness and curves in the road.  If your vehicle or RV is over twenty feet long, you will want to take Highway 35, which is twenty five miles longer, but does not have such severe curves.  We drove up Highway 15 and drove back on Highway 35 so we could see everything on both routes.

We wanted to get to the caves by 11:00 AM to participate in the guided tour of the dwellings which required us to leave by 6:00 AM so that we had plenty of time to get there which meant that we had to get up around 4:00 AM, but it was well worth it to make the tour. 

Our guide was Brian Phelps who did an excellent job of telling us about the cliff dwellings.  It was his last day on the job and he was very happy to have our six kids, who asked tons of questions, for his last tour.
Brian Phelps giving us a guided tour of the cave dwellings.
Climbing up the mountain to the caves was fun too.  There were lizards and frogs the entire trip and luckily we did not see any snakes at all.  If we would have, Misty would have probably turned around and run away with half the kids behind her.
Misty, Courtney, and Chloe climbing the trail up to the cave dwellings.
One of the lizards sunning on a rock while we climbed up to the cliff dwellings.
A frog or toad that blends in to the arm rail of the bridge.
While going up the trail you get to see one of the openings to the dwellings, which starts to get you excited or at least it did us.
The cave dwellings are coming into view.

They do not know exactly who they were or why the people who built the dwellings left, but think that they were ancient Puebloans of the Mogollon area who later migrated with the Pueblo Indians in Colorado. 
Brian coming to start the tour.
Below you can see depressions in the rock where they ground their corn with a post to make cornmill.
Holes formed in the rock from grinding their corn for cornmill.
There were also fire pits in the caves and rocks found that were used to grind all types of food to eat.
Fire pits and tools used to prepare food.
In some of the caves you can still see paintings where the native people were trying to keep a record or tell a story.
They are not sure what these marks meant.
Here you can see a hand on the wall.
They think this is a drawing of a snake.
Here you can clearly see an image of a person.
Below are a bunch of shots from the caves for you to look at.  You will notice in some of them the black soot on the roofs of the caves where fires have stained them over the many years.
Cave One which is not too deep into the cliff.
Cave Two where the first walls were built.
Another shot of Cave Two.  Notice the T door that is very popular with the Pueblo Indians cliff dwellings.
More of Cave Two.
Lower entrance door was probably not blocked like it is today.
Heading to Cave Three which connects with Cave Four and Cave Five.
All of the roofs are gone, but you can see the posts used to support them.
The walls usually did not go to the cave ceilings so as to provide ventilation.
Living in the cave dwellings was a safe place for the inhabitants.
What you see when looking out of the caves.
You can still make out the layout of this room.
Looking from Cave Four through Cave Five.
One of the big rooms in the cave which was probably used for group gatherings.
Ethan, Ian, Chloe, Tia, Avery, Courtney, and Misty listening to Brian tell us about the dwellings.
They think this room was very important and was used to practice their religion.
Just some more info about when the dwellings were built.
They think there was a colorful mural painted on this wall.
This is what they think was painted on the walls.
Another view from inside the cave to the outside.
They think the doors are so small to serve as a safety feature in case of invasion.  This way they were easier to defend.
Some more rooms built into the caves.
One of the paths connecting the cave dwellings.
Since the caves face the southwest and their openings are shaped and angled perfectly to block the summer sunlight, but let the winter sunlight in, they were cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  It is like God made them just perfect to live in.  Coincidence?  I do not think so.
All the openings face southwest which helps with heating and cooling.
Looking the opposite way in the dwellings.
The kids looking into one of the rooms.
This room was probably used for storage, but may have been used to sleep in too.
Brian, our tour guide, waiting for us to catch up.
Another square room in the dwelling.
This may be what you would have seen 700 years ago stored in this room.
Making sure Chloe gets out safely using the only way down out of this part of the caves.
Not sure what this room was for, but probably for storage.
We are so happy that we took the time to visit the cave dwellings even though it was quite a drive to get to them.  We also had the kids participate in the Junior Ranger Program and earn their badges to make sure they learned something about the dwellings.
All the kids earning their Junior Ranger badges.
So if you are ever near Silver City or Pinos Altos New Mexico, you should drive north to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and check it out.

God bless!

Don, Misty, and Kids...

States we have visited so far.


  1. We have not been to Gila Dwellings but it sure look fascinating. Your kids looked so behave, which i think they are in real life and they are learning a lot in your travels. How fortunate they are.
    We also had a road trip recently as Steve took me back where he was while I was in the Philippines. It was a trip from Cottonwood all the way to Canyon De Chelly, And the cliff dwellers there like the ones at Gila Dwellings are amazing people. It bogles our mind how these people built there homes along the cliffs.
    There are thousands of cliff dwellers in the southwest.

    You took great pictures of the cliff house and captured your kids enthusiasm!

    1. We are so lucky to be able to live the way we do and see all that we see. While touring the dwellings you have to think what would it be like to live here and what types of challenges did they have?

      We are blessed to have such good kids that want to learn and appreciate our little trips to all the local sites. Sometimes we may expect too much out of them, but in the long run they will profit from it.

      Thanks for the comments, we really appreciate them and I am hoping that one day we will cross paths and finally meet.