Tag Archives: canyon

Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument

The drive to this national monument in the Gila Wilderness Area is scenic, steep, narrow, twisting and beautiful.  Diane was stressed and her arm rest suffered.  The mountain highway approaching the monument has steep sections of 10-12% grade for several miles, and large drop-offs with no guard rails. A lower gear is necessary in sections to avoid burning out one’s brakes.  Larger vehicles, including bigger RVs, need to take an alternate route, which is still challenging.

At an elevation of 6,700 feet (2,040 meters), it was cool but sunny when we arrived in the late morning.  Snow was visible nearby, but had finally relinquished the trails a few days prior.  The cliff dwellings are accessible by a short but steep hike up Cliff Dweller Canyon, which was apparently a challenge for some prairie dwellers who were departing and complaining when we parked in the almost empty lot.  The south-facing cliffs, sun kissed even in winter, quickly became visible as we climbed among the ponderosa pines.

Large alcoves like caves in a brown cliff from a distance

Cliff Alcoves

The Gila Cliff Dwellings were built and occupied by the Mogollon people during a short 25 year period about 700 years ago (1275 – 1300 CE).  The Mogollon normally built pit houses or surface pueblos but, breaking with tradition, the Tularosa Mogollon built inside the 5 cave alcoves of this canyon.  It is not known why the dwellings were abandoned after such a short period.

Cave mouth closed mostly by white bricks whie tourists looking up

The Second of Five caves

Of the 46 total rooms, most of the walls are still standing.  There were believed to have been occupied by 10 to 15 families.

A large cave half filled with a hite brick wall

Cave Three

The dwellings were a practical place to live.  They were protected from the weather, and their exposure allowed the low sun of winter to enter while keeping out the higher, hotter sun of summer.

The interior of a large cave with brick walls and structure visible

Inside Cave 4 and 5

Cliff Dweller Creek, at the bottom of the canyon, provided a convenient source of water, and the nearby Gila River valley was a good place for hunting, gathering, and growing food.  Of the 32 species of plant remains found in the caves, 24 were native (e.g. grapes, berries, acorns, nuts) while the other 8 including corn, beans, and squash were cultivated.

Very small corn cobs in a basket

700 Year Old Corn Cobs!

Visitors are welcome to enter and explore the caves.

Diane's upper body wearning puple fleece visible over wall in a cave

Diane exploring

Patrick in red shirt and jeans standing on a walkway in Cave 4 & 5

Patrick in Cave 4 & 5

Ladders and walkways are provided to move about the caves.  Scrambling around the cliffs reminded me of our visit to Petra, though this was on a much smaller and more primitive scale.

Patrick seated on a large wooden ladder made of poles that is exiting from a cave

Patrick descending

The first European contact with the Gila Cliff Dwellings was by Henry B. Ailman who was living in Silver City at the time, about 45 miles away.  Legend has it that in the summer of 1878, Ailman and some friends were on a jury list. To avoid serving, they organized a prospecting trip to the Gila River where this site was discovered.

Diane in purple tshirt and beige pants with Gila Cave 4 & 5 in the background

Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument is an interesting place to visit.  The beautiful drive, the remote location, the natural splendour, and the hands-on exploring of a historical site made for an really enjoyable day.

Elvis is in the Building – by Diane

Petra is an ancient city of caves, carved into the sandstone by the Nabataean people about 2000 years ago. It covers a huge area, and is truly remarkable. It has the most amazing rock and rock sculptures I’ve ever seen.

After spending the first day walking around the site in awe and climbing two mountains, we decided to use our second day to try a new route which had been recommended to us by a couple we met in Egypt. We didn’t know what to expect, but Patrick was excited to check it out. We were hiking with a British couple that we met two days earlier. Martin is a retired fire fighter, and both he and Susan are rock climbers.

As we started out on our journey down a side canyon, a local person tried to tell us that we were going the wrong way. Then the tourist police yelled at us from the cliff above and advised us that the way was closed, was not safe, that there was a lot of water, and that other tourists had much difficulty going this way. After a lengthy debate, where it became apparent that we weren’t giving up, they let us proceed. A general rule of thumb in the third world is that if someone tells you that you can’t do something, keep trying and they’ll stop you only if it is truly forbidden. Many of the ‘rules’ are actually guidelines, or someone trying to cover their butts.

The entry to the route was through a large tunnel, carved through the rock by water over the millennia. The route is susceptible to flash flooding, but there hadn’t been any moisture for a few days. The four of us continued down the gradually narrowing canyon, which required route finding and negotiation of large and small rocks.


The first section of the canyon was not too tough, but as we traveled further along, the route became much more challenging. The walls narrowed to just a few feet apart, and the bottom of the canyon was filled with pools of ever increasing depth. The three rock climbers in the group found the journey quite exciting and even exhilarating, I questioned why on earth I was doing this. This was about the time when Patrick joked with Martin and Susan that it was a good thing that the two of them were with us, or Diane would be really giving him a hard time about the choice of route.


The narrowing of the canyon and the water in the floor of the canyon continued to increase. To avoid wading through the water, we used “foot back chimney” rock climbing moves on the canyon walls, and of course the climbers thought this was great.

After traveling down the canyon for about ninety minutes we came to the really “interesting” part of the journey. This was when the walls of the canyon were far enough apart that the chimney moves would only work for those of us in the group with long legs. Patrick went first, carrying both of our bags and cameras, to confirm the best approach, and to ensure the passage was viable. I went next. At the start all was well, however it was short lived as the canyon walls became farther apart. Verbal instruction from the group was plentiful.


I was suspended between the canyon walls, about four feet above water of unknown depth and questionable purity. This was when the climbing phenomenon known as the “Elvis leg” came into play, accompanied by a few choice words beginning with “F”, a scream and a splash into the water. Fortunately Martin quickly employed his fire fighter rescue moves and helped me out of the water. Patrick, on the other hand, captured the event on film for your viewing pleasure.


When I got out of the water, I found that we were in a small chamber carved into the canyon walls. This route was pioneered over 2000 years ago, and was a sacred placed for the Nabataeans.

I was relieved that it was only a short distance from the end of the slot canyon, and we were able to dry off in the warm sun before continuing our exploration of Petra.