May 5, 2006—We set out a little after nine this morning from City of Rocks State Park, NM to drive to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The day was splendid: warm in the sun and cool in the shade, with a pleasant breeze.
On the way, we had to pull over several times for hordes of bicyclists. The "Tour of Gila" is underway, and hundreds of identically clad men, furiously pumping on their high-tech pedals, swept past with a whir that reminded me of a swarm of bees.
With a whoosh they passed us and dwindled rapidly in the distance, trailed by innumerable cars and motorcycles with flashing lights to warn motorists.
After a 75-mile drive over winding mountain roads that carried us up to more than 7,000 feet (crossing the Continental Divide twice in the process), we reached the Gila cliff dwellings. A really excellent video in the visitor center prepared us for what we were about to see; then we set off on a long upward hike that soon had us all panting. The caves are in a towering rock face that is approached by a steep, winding trail. The higher you climb, the more beautiful the views are!
Finally we reached the level of the caves and joined the guided tour that had just started. There were only two other people besides the volunteer guide, but half a dozen others joined us over the ensuing half hour.
The dwellings here were built nearly 800 years ago by the Mogollon people. Surprisingly, they stayed here for only about thirty years before moving on. The quality of construction was quite good. Then again, I found myself thinking that a visiting European might have a rather different viewpoint. After all, in 1200, while the Mogollon were building strong but rough stone walls so they could live in caves, Europeans were building elaborate castles and even more elaborate cathedrals.
Nevertheless, I was impressed by how well the Gila dwellings were put together, considering the stone-age technology available to their builders. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and gave us a good feeling for what it was like to live in these seven caves.
As we emerged into the afternoon sun's glare and climbed warily down a wooden ladder to the trail, a half moon hung in the pure blue New Mexico sky over the cliffs.