At Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument the mystery of the Mogollon (muh-gee-yohn) people's short-lived occupation of the deeply recessed caves high above the canyon floor may never be resolved. But the finely detailed stone dwellings they left behind stand in silent testimony to the challenges as well as the beauty of the surrounding Gila Wilderness. Built and inhabited for a span of barely two generations, from 1280 to the early1300s AD, its 42 rooms are tucked into six natural caves that are reached via a rugged one-mile loop trail that ascends 180 feet from the trail head. Constructed from the same pale volcanic stone as the cliffs themselves, the rooms are all but camouflaged until you are about.4 mi along the trail. You can contemplate, from a rare close-up vantage point, the keyhole doorways that punctuate the dwelling walls and gaze out upon a ponderosa pine- and cottonwood-forested terrain that looks much like the one the Mogollon people inhabited seven centuries ago.
The wealth of pottery, yucca sandals, tools, and other artifacts buried here were picked clean by the late 1800s—dispersed to private collectors. But the visitor center has a small museum with books and other materials about the wilderness, its trails, and the Mogollon. It's a 2-mi drive from the visitor center to the Dwellings trail head (and other nearby trails); there are interesting pictographs to be seen on the wheelchair-accessible Trail to the Past.
Allow a good 2 hours from Silver City to the Cliff Dwellings via NM 15 or via NM 35; though longer in mileage, the NM 35 route is an easier ride. If you can spare the time, spend the night at one of the mountain inns close to the dwellings to maximize your time in the park.
EOff NM 15, 44 mi north of Silver City88061, United States