New Mexico – Gila Cliff Dwellings

These caves have been in use for 4 to 5 THOUSAND years (as determined by carbon dating the soot on the cave ceilings)


The cliff dwellers that built these homes arrived about 800 years ago. No one really knows who they were, or where they went (they had disappeared by 1300). They weren’t the first to use these caves, and they weren’t the last.

This was truly an adventure for me. When we got to the Cliff Dwelling parking lot we discovered that the trail to the cliff dwellings was 1 mile. Sheesh, I use an electric scooter when I shop at WalMart, a MILE???? We had travelled for 3 days to get to this point and the objective was a “mere” mile away.

I inquired if there was an EASY way to get to the caves. The Rangers SAID it wasn’t that bad, well except for the 180 feet vertical climb at the middle of the trail, going UP to the caves. The Rangers all but forced people to take water with them on the trail (they even sold bottled water).

After much trepidation, I decided that I was going to see these caves, and so our journey began.

The Rangers had also made a BIG point of pointing out that there was NO FOOD allowed. You cannot pick up anything, nor drop anything. Apparently, even the animals understand our limitations, because this little squirrel was totally unimpressed by our presence.

Well, I sat on every bench and invented a few new spots on our way to the “climb”. I really half expected to bail when we got to the climb, but I gave it a shot anyway. I guess I made about 10-20 feet vertically for every rest stop. (It took longer to rest than to climb) My brother decided he would document the occasion by taking my picture while I was gasping for breath. ha ha ha (even little old ladies were passing us on the trail – it was embarrassing)

Much to my surprise, I made it to the top! And then realized there was nothing there to keep from from taking the “gravity express” back down! Notice the uneven sloping ground, headed for that impressive drop-off I took pictures of from below. Sheesh!

After making it INTO the caves, I collapsed in a gasping heap. The friendly Park Ranger (stationed AT the caves) pointed out that I could NOT collapse there as I was leaning against one of the walls. I was to move my carcass to a bench located just out of my sight. My brother explored the site while I attempted to locate my lungs. The Ranger advised me to drink my water. “It will help re-oxygenate your lungs, I promise!” And she was right!

Finally able to explore a bit on my own, I made it over to the other side of the caves where my brother was. The Ranger showed us some of the pictograms that were visible from where visitors could get to. This little guy is one of just 17 pictograms in this room, and the only one visible from public view. She told us that National Geographic had been given permission to enter that room to document all the pictograms.

Take note how the walls do NOT touch the ceiling. This was to provide some excellent ventilation throughout the caves. One of the storage rooms actually used a “venturi” system to cool the air (the walls forced the air into a tight passage and then let it expand inside the storage room) Crap, I didn’t even know about “venturi” systems. Gotta wonder about those Indians 800 years ago. Some pretty smart cookies!

I COULD have gone back to the way we came in to exit, BUT there was this really picturesque “original entrance”. A couple logs with holes drilled in them for sticks that served as stairs. (an early version of a ladder) I climbed down the ladder. I could easily see how taking the ladder up would effectively stop any invasion attempt.

Back outside, I was stepping carefully again (so as not to start the trip over at the beginning) That’s where we met this hungry lizard (also totally unconcerned about us, except maybe us taking his food)

We worked our way back down the other side of the cliffs and miraculously made it back to the start of the trail!!! Woohoo! What an adventure! And I lived! it’s ALL good!

* Extra Pics *


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