After leaving Albuquerque, we headed up into the Mongollon mountains to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings. We overnighted at an RV park just outside of the monument but within the national forest. The drive to the Gila area was over a very scenic pass, although we were running behind and drove it after dark, so we did not get to enjoy the scenery. The RV park had hookups so that was really cool for our first night in the RV.
I have to say that so far on this trip, Gila Cliff Dwellings has been one of my favorite stops so far. It was a nice sunny day when we started out on the trail that went up into the woods. The climb was not especially steep despite the warnings of the park rangers who urged us to take more water than we seasoned hikers really needed. There were a few rest areas on the walk up that a person less seasoned with uphill hiking might use.
Even before reaching the top, the trail offered soaring views of the cliff dwellings and the valley over which they looked. I got really excited as I could see the dwelling walls. So that I wouldn’t be disappointed, I had lowered my expectation of what I’d see of the cliff dwelling remains, but as I viewed them from a distance, I got really excited because they appeared to be what I would have expected.
We came to the end of the trail to an open cave that no longer had a wall. A ranger immediately walked up to us to explain that we were looking at what was probably a single-family abode with a fire pit and sleeping area. She then explained that much of what we were about to see and what she could tell us about the place were mostly guesses based on what local people from tribes descended from these dwellers could piece together, and what historians can only surmise from the little evidence remaining. (We had missed the one guided tour they give per day, but this ranger really ended up practically giving us the information we would have gotten from a guided tour by answering our questions.)
Moving on from the first two caves (the second one was still walled and secure but they had it closed off because it’s dangerous to enter), the dwellings just got more interesting… Crow and I walked through every room we could get to and looked into every crevice. We must have been up there an hour or more. There were not a lot of people so it was very cool to feel as though we had the place to ourselves (and we could get shots of the dwellings without other people in them).
I found myself imagining what it would have been like to live in such a place as a native. Of course, these kind of thoughts generally lead me to want to do research and then… you know, it could end up as a story idea. I kept repeating aloud, “This is so awesome!” and “This is so cool!” as I walked around that place. This is definitely one of those moments in life where even a writer can’t find the appropriate words to describe just how magnificent a place like this is. Much of the structures were no longer intact in their original form, but there was enough there that it is very easy for me to imagine life in this “high rise” overlooking a beautiful valley (that unfortunately recently experienced a forest fire).
There was a little bit of restoration by the park to make the area safe to navigate around (I’m sure the steps below are not original). But the ranger was very good at explaining how the village may have looked. When the structures had roofs, it is believed the people walked on roofs to get from place to place. Additionally, they created ladders to climb from various places on the cliff into specific dwellings.
I can’t imagine the thrill of finding a place like this tucked away in the wilderness. What an awesome discovery that must have been to see this place in a more pristine state. I’m sure people came through before it was a part and contributed to the ruins or stole some artifacts that were still around. But, wow. What a place. My pictures don’t even do it just as the camera lens cannot capture all that your eyes can see. But I tried. And these are only the pictures off my roll; I imagine Crow’s are even better.
I admit that I felt a little sad to leave the cliff dwellings behind when we began our hike down. It was like I’d entered some alternate universe where for just an hour or two, I could connect with some phase of humanity’s past. The last time I felt this moved about a place was the Colosseum and Palatine Hill in Rome. I’m not directly descended from native Americans or Romans, that I know of, but I still feel a connection to the great chain of human existence when I go to places such as these. Maybe it’s the writer in me who always tries to put herself in those time periods and societies because I want to know what they were like. The part of me that wants to know what the daily lives of these people were like wants to research for answers… and then the writer in me wants to put herself in that time period through the characters of a story. But I’ll wager I’m not the only person who ponders human existence at places like these…
We will visit Mesa Verde on this trip so I’ll have a second opportunity to view cliff dwellings. We have a guided tour for that one. I look forward to learning more about native cliff dwelling people.