Gila Cliff Dwellings National
Catron County, NM

The Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument is located on New Mexico State Route 15 in Catron County, NM near the border of Grant County and roughly 45-miles north of Silver City, NM.  The ride from Silver City, where we are camped, is anywhere from 1.5 to 2-hours long depending on traffic.  SR15 is a very hilly, curvy and narrow road where the speed limit rarely exceeds 25-miles per hour.  But there are some stretches where higher speeds are possible.  On heavy traffic days...and heavy traffic can mean as few as one or two cars or trucks in front of you...the trip can easily take 2-hrs.  When we made the trip we didn't encounter any traffic until we were just a few miles away and so covered the distance in about 80-minutes.  SR15 winds through some very pretty country.  There are no real services along the road so be sure your gas tank is full.  A few miles south of the National Monument we did find a cafe and country store of sorts.  Don't recall seeing any gas pumps but there was a small campground and the homemade ice cream in the shop was superb.  SR15 is not advised for vehicles longer than 21-feet but we did see some small travel trailers and Class C motor homes in some of the forest service campgrounds.  An alternate route that is a bit longer but speed limits are higher is SR35.  Longer vehicles can access some of the commercial campgrounds using this road although SR35 will end at SR15 but the stretch of SR15 north of SR35 is not quite as bad as the segments south of SR35.

Your first stop upon arriving should be at the small visitor center.  There you'll find a 15-minute movie and some exhibits and the usual gift shop.  There is an entry fee to the monument but when we visited the fees were being waved due to 'No Entry Fee Week'.   A guided ranger/volunteer tour of the cliff and caves is offered every day of the week except for certain major holidays when crowds are large.  Two-miles from the Visitor Center you'll find the Natural History Center with additional exhibits including a magnificent stuffed wolf.  There are picnic tables and water at both the Visitor Center and Natural History Center but the only flush toilets are at the visitor center.  You'll have to settle for pit toilets at the Natural History Center.  And there are absolutely no facilities on the trail to, from or at the caves.  No food or pets are permitted on the trail. 

The guided tours are said to be limited to 20-persons but no names were taken or tickets distributed.  There is no fee for the tour which meets in front of the first cave on the canyon wall.  To get to the cliff dwellings you must drive, or walk to the Natural History Center.  From there you'll have a 30/45-minute walk to the first of five caves where the tour begins.  Wear good hiking/walking shoes or boots, carry water and pace yourself because the trail to the top includes 100-irregular steps carved from stone.  And don't forget your camera.  A walk that should have taken me about 25-minutes took closer to 40-minutes because i was stopping every 12-feet, or so it seemed, to snap new photos.

The tour guide was very easy going and knowledgeable about the caves.  Over the next hour or so he presented us with the known history of the caves and the Mogollon (MAH-gee-ahn) people who inhabited them for a single generation, about 30-35 years ending around 1299 or 1300.  Not much is known what caused the Mogollon to abandon the cliffs and caves but this phenomenon has been seen in other parts of the southwest.  One theory is that an ongoing extreme draught forced the Mogollon to follow the wildlife as they sought water and food.   During the tour we were shown examples of living, storage and communal rooms.  Even a collection of corn addition to hunters and gatherers the Mogollon were farmers raising corn, beans and squash.  The corn they raised bears little resemblance to modern corn.  The average size of the husks appeared to be no more than 2 or 3-inches long.  You'd need a lot of that to make a meal!  At the end of the tour we were free to explore the caves as much as we liked.  Photos are fine but we were cautioned not to touch or remove anything.  You can leave the cliffs by walking back the way you came up or by following a second trail back to the visitor center.  The ranger at the Visitor Center recommended that we defer seeing the movie until after touring the caves and that proved to be a good idea.  The trail is not handicapped accessible.

Allow at least two hour for the hike to the cave, the tour itself and the hike back to the visitor center, more if you're like me and tend to dawdle.  We followed SR15 up to the monument and SR35 back to Silver City.  I hope you'll enjoy the photos and video.