September 10th, 2014
I’ve promised you a more detailed visit of cliff dwellings. About two hours north of Silver City, in the Gila Mountains, lies the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. Captain and I drove up there in Van to camp over night with Dirk, another friend from our days at Sonoma State University in California. We meet up at Gila River Hot Springs where we set up camp and then drive a short way to the cliff dwellings.
Captain and Dirk head up the trail towards the dwellings:
We’re very careful as we walk. At the trailhead they tell us that many black-tailed rattlesnakes have been sighted lately.
It’s a pleasant trail through a green forest along side a creek:
…and in a close up.
After a short walk we arrive at the dwellings. The caves are in fact a series of alcoves carved by the action of water on the stone.
In some cases only the barest foundations remain…
…whereas in others the structures are quite intact…
…though sometimes reinforced for safety and equipped for accessibility…
The view from within:
Information panels help us to understand both the dwellings…
…and the numerous pictographs found here:
Some of the wall paintings… The one on the right isn’t very clear, but it’s a hand. We’ll see this again later:
An inscription from more recent times:
One of the big mysteries in these cliff dwellings is the exact use of the different structures. The smaller rooms were likely used for food storage.
Smoke traces on the ceiling are evidence that these caves were occupied for thousands of years:
But the remaining wooden beams in the houses are from trees felled between 1276 and 1287. The inhabitants of these cliff dwellings were only here for about thirty years.
There is much speculation as to why the inhabitants of these impressive structures stayed for such a short time:
Some have advanced the theory that this was an agricultural outpost for a more southerly tribe and that when drought made it no longer viable the people move elsewhere.
The view across the canyon from the dwellings:
Later in the afternoon Captain shows us some other pictographs at another site on the way back to camp:
We also stumble upon a rattlesnake here, but a diamondback and not a black-tailed. We have surprised it and it begins to coil, but we back off and luckily the snake decides to move on. They don’t like us any more than we like them.
And we locate this depression in the rock, likely used for grinding corn:
At yet another site Captain shows us this little-known structure:
Dirk inspects the workmanship:
At a last stop Captain shows us more pictographs…
Here the hand is much clearer.
I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get these:
It’s late now and we head back to our camp at the hot springs.