"Exploring the caves" Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Things to Do Tip by toonsarah
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Things to Do: 26 reviews and 58 photos
What makes the Gila Cliff Dwellings special is not their size (several other places, such as Bandelier or Chaco Canyon have bigger groupings) but the fact that you can explore inside the caves and buildings, and can do so if you want to on your own. This makes it easier, I think, to conjure up images of the people who once lived here and to imagine what their lives must have been like. This was why we deliberately chose to explore on our own, but if you’d like to take a guided tour, these are offered daily at 1.00 p.m. Note though that the tours start at the Cliff Dwellings and you’ll need to allow about 30-40 minutes to walk up from the trailhead.
Whether exploring alone or in a group, there are six caves that you can enter, although as four and five are linked it may not feel like that many. This first one is the smallest and has very little in the way of structures, but moving on to cave two (photo one) you will see some of the original Mogollon constructions. These had already been vandalised when the dwellings were first properly explored by experts, but about 80% of the original structures remained, and the rest have been carefully restored.
There are more structures in cave three, which you need to climb up to. This is where you can really get a sense of the long-ago inhabitants, as you look up at the roof of the cave blackened by soot from their fires, or look out across the valley from its cool interior, as they must have done. Photo two shows the view of its entrance from cave two, and photo three was taken looking out from this cave.
Caves four and five are linked, and I confess that I couldn’t work out exactly where one ended and the next began, even though a helpful ranger whom we met here explained it – the small structure to the right of my photo (photo four), with what appears to be a window, is at the point where cave four becomes cave five. There is apparently a mystery surrounding the purpose of this structure, which is too large to have been a storage area (and in any case has sooty walls) and too small to have been a dwelling.
Without that helpful ranger we would not have known to climb the ladder propped against one wall in cave five and look down and to the right – and we would have missed seeing the pictograph (photo five) painted there by the Mogollon, and the remains of some corn husks on the floor below.
To exit these caves you have to climb down a wooden ladder of about a dozen steps – if you don’t fancy this you can retrace your steps to cave three and descend from there. The trail then passes cave six, which you can’t enter, and then loops round the cliff face before descending steeply to rejoin the outward trail just before the bridge.
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