Gila Wilderness/Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The Gila National Forest, in southwesten New Mexico, was established in 1905 and currently covers some 2.7+ million acres. The Gila Wilderness and Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument are located within its borders. I visited Gila Wilderness and Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in April of 2000 and again 24 years later in May of 2024.

Gila Wilderness

Gila Wilderness is the very first designated wilderness area and was created June 3, 1924. It's comprised of 558,000 acres located in the Gila National Forest. The wilderness area designation means just that, wilderness. There are no roads, buildings, logging or mining. No motorized or mechanized vehicles (including bicycles) are allowed in the wilderness area. What is allowed is camping, backpacking, horseback riding, and permited hunting and fishing. Leave no trace rules apply. The wilderness area is accessed via New Mexico State Road 15, about 27 miles north of Silver City, NM. There are several campsites and turnouts along the road. Of particular interest is a stop with a low U-shaped mosaic covered wall commemorating the creation of the Gila Wilderness Area. The view from there is fantastic.

New Mexico State Road 15

Junction of New Mexico State Roads 15 and 35
Both roads are part of the Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway

Mosaic Wall

Section of Mosaic Wall

Celebrating the creation of the wilderness

View of Gila National Forest

Large Alligator Juniper

Art Deco Guardrail at Copperas Vista Turnout

Gila Wilderness trail April 2000

Gila Wilderness April 2000

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is 44 miles north of Silver City, NM, at the end of NM 15. It's administered jointly by the National Park Service and National Forest Service. There is no entrance fee and no reservations required. Facilities include a visitor center, gift shop, restrooms, a great little campground, and corral facilities. The visitor center contains Mogollon artifacts that were found in the cliff dwellings and surrounding areas, and an exhibit on the Chiricahua Apache, who consider the wilderness to be their homeland.

Park Sign

Birthplace of Geronimo

Fendler's Hedgehog

Visitor Center (April 2000)

Visitor Center (May 2024)

Mexican Gray Wolf - very rare

Chiricahua Apache Exhibit

Mogollon Artifacts

Model of Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings

People of the Mogollon Culture constructed and inhabited the cliff dwellings between the late 1270s and 1300. They built their dwellings in five caves and each dwelling had approximately 40 rooms. The cliff dwellings trailhead is located at the cliff dwellings parking lot and bookstore. The trail is a 1.1 mile loop that is considered moderately strenuous. There is a 180 foot elevation gain to the cliff dwellings. The trail to the cliff dwellings crosses Cliff Dweller Creek several times on neat little foot bridges. The trail is open year round, although summer hours may vary somewhat from the rest of the year. Dogs are not permitted on the trail, but there are 4 or 5 first come first serve kennels at the parking lot. Signs caution against poison ivey and rattlesnakes, but I saw neither on my two trips to the ruins.

Western National Parks Association Bookstore in Gila Cliff Dwellings Parking Lot

Bookstore Interior

West Fork of Gila River

Several Foot Bridges Cross Cliff Dweller Creek along Gila Cliff Dwellings Trail

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Circular Depressions in Cave 1 (April 2000)

Cave 1 (May 2024)

Cave 2 Gila Cliff Dwellings

T-Shaped Doorway in Cave 2

Cave 3 Gila Cliff Dwellings

Cave 3 Gila Cliff Dwellings

Room Blocks

Mogollon Mural

Mogollon Mural

Mogollon Mural



Ruins in Cave 4

Cave 4 Gila Cliff Dwellings (April 2000)

Cave 4 Gila Cliff Dwellings (May 2024)

Cave 5 (right) Gila Cliff Dwellings

Crevice Spiny Lizards
(Sceloporus poinsettii)

My thanks to the National Park Service and Wikipedia for background information used in this photo essay.
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