Chase the Blue Dot

New Mexico: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is worth the trip. Despite what your GPS tells you, add an extra hour to the travel time. In miles, your GPS is correct. However, a good portion of the drive is on windy, twisty, turning roads, and is best taken at the speed shown on the plentiful speed limit signs. At times, this means you are down to 25mph.

This is a fee free national monument. No need to show your annual pass or pay for entry.

The hike

Once you arrive, head to the Visitor Center and pick up a park map. It’s also a good time to hit the regular restrooms – all other restroom facilities in the area are pit toilets.  🙂

Head down to the Gila River trailhead, which is where the trail to the cliff dwellings starts. There’s a ranger who will give you a trail map. Make sure you don’t have any food in your pack – the ranger will ask, and require you to put it back in your vehicle. Water is fine. Be aware that there is a switchback on the way up to the dwellings, the equivalent of 18 stories. There are plenty of benches along the way. The average hiker takes about 1 hour, but we took about 2 – 2.25 hours because we were taking photos and video, plus taking it easy on the trail.

The first view of the cliff dwellings gives you a hint of the scope:

The first view of the cliff dwellings from the pathway.
The first view of the cliff dwellings from the pathway.

A little farther down the path, there’s a sign indicating a photo viewpoint. This view is a much better view of the dwellings from a distance.

Photo viewpoint on pathway.
Photo viewpoint on pathway.

From here, you do the switchback part of the pathway until you get close to the cliff dwellings.

Almost to the cliff dwellings from here, just a little further.
Almost to the cliff dwellings from here, just a little further.
Just about at the stairs to go up into the cliff dwellings.
Just about at the stairs to go up into the cliff dwellings.

Inside the cliff dwellings

I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.

The view from the first cave area.
The walkway up to the other cliff dwelling areas.
The walkway up to the other cliff dwelling areas.
A view from the first dwelling area to the area on the other side.
A view from the first dwelling area to the area on the other side.
Room areas.
Room areas.
Looking over the top of one wall to see the outside.
Looking over the top of one wall to see the outside.
Taking the pathway to the other side. Note the stairs heading down from this area.
Taking the pathway to the other side. Note the stairs heading down from this area.
More interior rooms.
More interior rooms.
A closer look at some of the stonework.
A closer look at some of the stonework.
More stones and placement.
More stones and placement.
These are the stairs in the earlier picture. Pretty steep at points, and they end in a ladder going down.
These are the stairs in the earlier picture. Pretty steep at points, and they end in a ladder going down.
This is the ladder going down. Most people take this ladder down, but we opted to go back to where we entered because of my camera backpack. I would have had too much weight to carry down the ladder.
This is the ladder going down. Most people take this ladder down, but we opted to go back to where we entered because of my camera backpack. I would have had too much weight to carry down the ladder.
One last look at the pathway between areas. The dwellings are amazingly preserved.
One last look at the pathway between areas. The dwellings are amazingly preserved.

We took the pathway down slow, and eased over to the side a couple of times for larger groups on their way down. When we started up the trail, we only saw one person. By the time we headed back down and arrived at the trailhead, the parking was full.

The trail is a loop, so you will go back down on the other side of the cliff dwellings.

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