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trip report! part three: cliff dwellers and pot hunters

December 4, 2009

The last installment of our epic tale left us at the Gila Wilderness visitor center, after a story-worthy drive down from northern Colorado.

It turns out that we had arrived in perfect time, about an hour before the only guided tour of the nearby cliff dwellings that was offered that day.  So, after grabbing some contraband snacks to eat for lunch on the trail (food isn’t allowed, as rodents are apparently one of the biggest problems at historical sites like this one) and abandoning the mutt in the thoughtfully-provided kennel at the trailhead (apologizing to the attendant in advance for the hour of whining that was sure to ensue), we set out towards the cliffs to meet the tour group.

View of the cliff dwellings on the hike up to meet the guide.

The cliff dwellings at Gila are pretty cool.  Nothing on the scale of Mesa Verde, I’m told — I’ve never been there — but definitely interesting.  Their builders certainly picked a scenic site for them, overlooking quite a nice canyon.

Cliff Dweller Canyon. Apparently they farmed the rim -- seems like a nasty commute to work if you ask me.


The cliff dwellings there were inhabited from about 1270-1300(ish), we’re told.  They’re nestled into some perfect caves, carved out (naturally, not by the cliff dwellers) of really cool rock.

Aforementioned really cool rock. Very desert southwesty.

Not much is really known about the folks who lived there, and what they were doing while they lived there.  Part of that’s due to the simple passage of time, but part of it is apparently due to “pot hunters” who came and ransacked the place in the 1800s.  Either way, not many artifacts are around, and even many of the things painted on the walls have faded.

The only real remaining artifacts: some 700-year-old corn cobs in a basket.

Anyhow, here are a few more shots of the cliff dwellings.

Sealed-up dwelling with unknown purpose. The T-shaped thing is the door (apparently the Anasazi did the same thing, so the two cultures had some contact).

The folks who lived here were the Mogollon people.

The partner looks down into the kiva-like room (used for religious events, researchers think). He doesn't like this picture, but I think it's kind of cool. It's obvious why his back often hurts.

This is what the partner is looking down into, the cliff dwellers' church, as it were.

The way in (or one of them). Luckily, the ladder is park-service made, and not original. I was a little scared of using it anyway -- it's a bit wobbly.

After the tour dispersed, we headed back down to the trailhead to release the mutt (she was quite grateful) and start getting our gear organized to set out on the west fork trail.  We made quite the sight, I imagine, with all the car doors open, gear spread out all around us in the parking lot, and a dog lounging on a blanket in the midst of it all.

Stay tuned for the next installment, when we set out down the trail…or so we thought.  *cue ominous music*

Continue to trip report!  part four: on the trail at last…or so we thought

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