At the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation's first designated wilderness area, is the small but intriguing Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Established in 1907, this 533-acre site is jointly run by the National Park Service and the Forest Service.

The 44-mile drive from the town of Silver City to the monument winds through the mountains of southern New Mexico, providing breathtaking views of rugged canyons and wild lands that look much as they did when the ancient Mogollon people built their homes in the cliffs of the Gila River Valley.

Gila Cliff Dwellings
©National Atlas
The Mogollon people lived in natural caves, open to visitors at the Gila Cliff
Dwellings National Monument.

Visitors can hike throughout the high desert and pine forest of the monument and up to the ruins perched 180 feet above the canyon floor. The dwellings, built in the late 1200s in natural caves, contain about 40 rooms. The Mogollon quarried local stone to build the walls.

The Mogollon were farmers who cultivated squash, corn, beans, and other crops on the mesa tops and along the river. They are known for the distinctive white pottery they made and decorated with black designs of stylized fish and animals. The Mogollon grew and hunted food, traded with other tribes, and fashioned jewelry and art here. Then, in the early 1300s, they abandoned their homes and left for places unknown.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument Information

Address: 44 miles north of Silver City on State Hwy 15
Telephone: 505/536-9461
Hours of Operation: Open daily, hours at the visitor center and ruins vary seasonally; closed Christmas and New Year's Day
Admission: $3 per person or $10 per family

Learn about these other national monuments:

­Agate Fossil Beds National MonumentColorado National MonumentGeorge Washington Birthplace National MonumentNatural Bridges National MonumentScotts Bluff National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National MonumentDevils Postpile National Monument George Washington Carver National MonumentOcmulgee National MonumentSunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument and PreserveDinosaur National MonumentGila Cliff Dwellings National MonumentOregon Caves National MonumentTimpanogos Cave National Monument
Booker T. Washington National MonumentEffigy Mounds National MonumentGrand Portage National MonumentOrgan Pipe Cactus National MonumentTonto National Monument
Buck Island Reef National MonumentEl Malpais National MonumentHohokam Pima National MonumentPetroglyph National MonumentTuzigoot National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument El Morro National MonumentHomestead National MonumentPinnacles National MonumentWalnut Canyon National Monument
Capulin Volcano National MonumentFlorissant Fossil Beds National MonumentHovenweep National MonumentPipe Spring National MonumentWupatki National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National MonumentFort Frederica National MonumentJewel Cave National MonumentPipestone National Monument
Castle Clinton National MonumentFort Matanzas National MonumentJohn Day Fossil Beds National MonumentPoverty Point National Monument
Cedar Breaks National MonumentFort Stanwix National MonumentLava Beds National MonumentRainbow Bridge National Monument
Chiricahua National MonumentFossil Butte National MonumentMontezuma Castle National MonumentRussell Cave National Monument

To learn more about national national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, and other travel destinations in North America, visit:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.