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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is a U.S. National Monument in the Gila Wildernessmarker of southwestern New Mexicomarker. The national monument was established by executive proclamation on November 16, 1907, by President Theodore Roosevelt. It is located in the extreme southern part of Catron Countymarker. Tourist can access the site by traveling from US 180, from Silver City, New Mexicomarker, to NM 15.


The first European contact with the Gila Cliff Dwellings was by Henry B. Ailman, an emigrant to New Mexico who was residing in Silver City at the time. In the summer of 1878, Ailman found himself, along with a bunch of friends, on a jury list. To avoid serving, they organized a prospecting trip to the Gila River where the site was discovered.Throughout the following years, many visitors would study the dwellings. In the next couple of years, the site became more accessible. In the 1890s the Hill brothers had created a resort at the nearby Gila Hot Springs. The Hill brothers would take guests on tours to the nearby cliff dwellings. In June 1906, Rep. John F. Lacey of Iowa and chairman of the House Public Lands Committee introduced a bill for the regulation of prehistoric sites. The Act for the Preservation of Antiquities, also known as the Antiquities Act, the president was authorized to set aside land that contained prehistoric and historic ruins by executive order.
Looking out from one of the cave dwellings
reservations were called national monuments and were to be managed by the Interior, Agriculture, and War departments, depending on which agency had controlled a particular site before it was withdrawn. In December 1906, Gila Forest Supervisor R. C. McClure reported to the chief forester in Washington, D.C. that the Gila Cliff Dwellings warranted preservation by the national government to avoid further removal of artifacts by hunters and other prospectors.

A couple of mummified bodies had been found at the Gila Cliff Dwellings location. Most were lost to private collectors. In 1912, a burial ground was found and the mummy was named “Zeke”. The body was described as an infant. This discovery gained national attention and increased visitations to the monument. This lead to additional improvements in the next couple of years. This was the only mummy to reach the Smithsonianmarker from the site.

Administration of the monument was transferred from the U.S.marker Department of Agriculturemarker to the National Park System on August 10, 1933, by Executive Order 6166. President John F. Kennedy signed Proclamation No. 3467 that added approximately 375 acres containing an additional archaeological site, known as the TJ site, as well as additional wilderness. In the spring of 1975, the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service signed a cooperative agreement whereby the Gila National Forest is responsible for administration of the monument.

Cliff Dwellings

A view of one of the dwellings
The monument is on a location of 553 acres. The cliff itself was created by volcanic activity. The cliff contains the ruins of interlinked cave dwellings built in five cliff alcoves by the Mogollon peoples. People of the Mogollon culture lived in these cliff dwellings from between 1275 and 1300 AD. Archeologists have identified 46 rooms in the five caves, and believed they were occupied by 10 to 15 families. It is not known why the dwellings were abandoned.

The dwellings were a perfect place for human living. The caves provided adequate shelter, while the wooded area concealed the homes. The nearby area also provided for growing and finding food.

Visiting the Dwellings up close requires hiking a well-traveled, one mile trail loop with several foot bridges over a stream. The entire walk takes about an hour. The hike begins at an elevation of 5695 Feet (1736 Meters) and ends at 5875 Feet (1790 Meters).


A museum and visitor center is located at the monument. The visitor center is jointly operated by the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service. Volunteers provide guided tours of the cliff dwellings and share information about the area's cultural and natural resources.

Other nearby attractions include hot springs, more ancient sites, national forest trails and fishing along the Gila River.


  1. National Park Services official site for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Retrieved December 16, 2008
  2. National Park Service official site for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
  3. National Park Service - Antiquities Act
  4. National Park Service official site for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

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