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"The path to the dwellings" Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Things to Do Tip by toonsarah

  West Fork of the Gila River
by toonsarah
  • West Fork of the Gila River - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
      West Fork of the Gila River
    by toonsarah
  • Cliff Dweller Creek - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
      Cliff Dweller Creek
    by toonsarah
  • Collared Crevice Spiny Lizard - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
      Collared Crevice Spiny Lizard
    by toonsarah
  • First view of the dwellings - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
      First view of the dwellings
    by toonsarah
  • Getting closer - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
      Getting closer
    by toonsarah

After checking out the Visitor Centre you will need to return to your vehicle and drive the two miles to the main parking lot for the dwellings themselves. It is not possible to view the cliff dwellings from the road so you will need to be able to walk a short-ish distance even to see them from a distance. Before you set out a ranger will give you a leaflet (the “Cliff Dweller Canyon Companion”)and explain the walk. You will also be asked if you are carrying any food or drink – only water is allowed on the trail so everything else must be left in your car.

Leaving the parking lot, the path takes you across the West Fork of the Gila River, which was largely dried up when we were there in late September (photo one). You then follow a tributary stream, Cliff Dweller Creek, (photo two) on a path that ascends a little, with a few steps in places. So far the walk is easy, although not accessible for anyone with real walking difficulties (we noticed that one elderly lady turned back, leaving her husband to do the walk on his own). The path is mostly shaded and there are glimpses of the cliffs above you, although not yet of the caves themselves. Look out for wildlife – we spotted a good-sized lizard (photo three), which a ranger later identified for me as a Collared Crevice Spiny Lizard.

After about ¼ mile the path arrives at the viewpoint from where you will get your first glimpse of the cliff dwellings (photo four). If you find walking difficult, you may want to turn back here, as the path is about to get a lot steeper. But while I don’t consider myself especially fit or accustomed to hiking, and I had a bad back on our visit, I did make it to the top and around the full loop without too much difficulty. So I do recommend that you give it a go if at all possible - you will be glad that you did! The steepest part is that immediately in front of you – a series of steep steps winding upwards until you emerge at the level of the dwellings (photo five). From here it is an easier and more level walk along the face of the cliff to Cave 1.

My tour continues in “Exploring the caves”, my next tip.


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  • Updated Oct 24, 2011
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