Tag Archives: Native American

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Overview

Archaeological evidence suggests indigenous farmers lived around the Gila River dating back thousands of years, but the cliff dwellings were only briefly inhabited between AD 1270 and 1300.  After their initial discovery by Anglo-American settlers in 1878 heavy looting occurred, prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to establish Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in 1907.  It is not an easy part of the country to access, but offers two incredibly scenic drives through the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.  Plan to spend at least a couple days in the area, maybe hiking or backpacking to some hot springs.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins, scenic views, hot springs in area

Must-Do Activity

The Gila Visitor Center is jointly managed for the 533-acre National Monument and 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness (which in 1924 became the world’s first designated Wilderness).  From the National Park Service (NPS) contact station located just down the road, a one-mile loop trail climbs 180 feet to a well-preserved collection of cliff dwellings.  If you find that you enjoy climbing ladders up to cliff dwellings, then check out Bandelier National Monument and Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park.

Best Trail

The trailhead also provides access to the Gila Wilderness, so watch for backpackers on the road and black bears along the West Fork Gila River.  Lightfeather Hot Springs is less than one mile from a different trailhead located closer to the Gila Visitor Center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are about 40 rooms in the cliff dwelling ruins, which housed approximately ten families.  The south-facing cliff dwellings received the sun in the winter and shade in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gicl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but narrow and curvy, especially Highway 15 that heads north from Silver City, New Mexico.

Camping

Upper and Lower Scorpion Campgrounds are located just outside the National Monument boundaries in Gila National Forest.  No permits are necessary to backpack in the Gila Wilderness.

Related Sites

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – The people who built the cliff dwellings were part of what culture, with pottery designs unique to the Tularosa phase (AD 1100 to 1300)?

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Overview

Not as well-known as the parkway it parallels, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is one of only three National Scenic Trails officially managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  The trace (or trail) started as an American Indian footpath.  Some of the mound builder sites protected here were inhabited when Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans into this area in 1540.  The Natchez Trace was heavily used in the 1800s by “Kaintuck” flatboatmen returning from New Orleans who left the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi and continued on foot north to Nashville, Tennessee.  Today you can follow portions of the “sunken” trail worn down by travelers for centuries.

Highlights

Rocky Springs, Owens Creek Waterfall, Tupelo-Baldcypress Swamp, Grindstone Ford, Witch Dance Horse Trail, War of 1812 Memorial

Must-Do Activity

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail does not follow the entire 444-mile parkway, but exists in five segments totaling 67 miles in length.  The two longest sections are near Leipers Fork, Tennessee (Miles 408-427) and north of Jackson, Mississippi (Miles 108-130).  There are many other places to go hiking along the Natchez Trace Parkway, including one of our favorite spots, Tishomingo State Park (Mile 304) in Mississippi.  Near Tupelo, the Parkway Visitor Center at Mile 266 is another must-do stop to learn the history of the trace.

Best Trail

There are eight miles of the original trail around the Rocky Springs Campground near Mile 58 in Mississippi, which provides access to Owens Creek Waterfall and a historic town site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

In early April the dogwood trees bloom along the Natchez Trace.  At Mile 275 is Dogwood Valley, which also has a short section of “sunken” historic trail.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/natt/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entire 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway is paved from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, but not all trailheads are RV accessible.

Camping

There are three NPS campgrounds along the route, as well as those in sites like Mississippi’s Tishomingo State Park.  The three NPS campgrounds are primitive and free, plus there are also five bike-only campsites along the route.

Related Sites

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – The Natchez Trace Parkway officially joined the NPS system in 1938, but when was construction of the road finally completed?

Fort Davis National Historic Site

Overview

The base of the Davis Mountains is the wonderfully scenic setting for Fort Davis National Historic Site, originally active from 1854 to 1891.  It was manned by U.S. troops except after Texas seceded during the Civil War, which is ironic given that it was named for Jefferson Davis.  Confederate forces obviously saw this as enough reason to occupy the remote frontier fort for a year.  The park preserves its 1867 layout, when the fort was rebuilt following five years of abandonment.

Highlights

Museum, film, historic buildings, Davis Mountains State Park

Must-Do Activity

After the Civil War, Fort Davis became famous for posting African-American “Buffalo Soldiers.”  Maybe this is why they chose to cast 7-foot-2-inch tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the cowboy hat-wearing narrator of the park’s introductory film.  That in-and-of-itself is worth the price of admission.  The dry Chihuahuan Desert air has preserved the 21 remaining buildings well.  Throughout the day, bugle calls on the loudspeaker will hearken you back to frontier days. 

Best Trail

A self-guided trail leads around the 523-acre property and enters six buildings: the commanding officer’s quarters, lieutenants’ quarters, barracks, commissary, hospital, and officers’ servants’ quarters.  There are other trails here and in neighboring Davis Mountains State Park, but be aware that the fort sits at 4,900 feet of elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The morning we visited, mule deer were feeding on the lawn in front of the restored buildings.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/foda/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved

Camping

If you enjoy spending time at this beautiful spot, consider camping in adjacent Davis Mountains State Park, which offers good stargazing.

Related Sites

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Explore More – Who was the first black graduate of West Point military academy briefly stationed here (before a controversial court-martial later overturned in 1976)?

Canaveral National Seashore

Overview

When NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) prevented this portion of Florida coast from development in the 1950s, surely they did not imagine it would soon become one of the last long stretches of wild coastline left on the Atlantic seaboard.  The area north of John F. Kennedy Space Center was set aside as Canaveral National Seashore (in 1975) and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (in 1963).

Highlights

Eldora State House, shell mounds, wildlife, fishing, kayaking, beaches

Must-Do Activity

About 310 avian species have been spotted in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Other than birds, we were excited to see our first living armadillo and manatee outside of a zoo.  Despite its unappealing name, Mosquito Lagoon is a nice spot for fishing and paddling.  We hope someday to return to witness a rocket launch from John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Best Trail

Human activity in Canaveral National Seashore is evident in Timucuan shell mounds that date back thousands of years, with a separate trail to Eldora State House preserving more recent history.  At the southern end of the park in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you will find Oak and Palm Hammock Trails, as well as Cruickshank Trail that leads to an observation tower.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park ranger told us the most likely place to see a West Indian manatee was at the boat launch in New Smyrna Beach, Florida just north of the park boundary.  There were also dolphins, great blue herons, anhingas, great egrets, ospreys, brown pelicans, and royal terns.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cana/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle day use or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but the six-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive and some boat launches are not.  Unlike at other National Seashores, there is no driving on the beach allowed, but you can bicycle or walk to remote Klondike Beach.

Camping

Inside the park boundaries there are no campgrounds, but backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

Related Sites

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Explore More – What did engineers build in the 1950s to limit the breeding area for saltmarsh mosquitoes?

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Overview

Cliff dwellings were built in Walnut Canyon around the same time another group of Sinagua was living at nearby Wupatki National Monument.  These cliff dwellings were only occupied for about a hundred years and abandoned by AD 1250.  Since 1915, they have been protected within Walnut Canyon National Monument, a 3,541-acre park on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Highlights

Museum, ruins, scenic views

Must-Do Activity

To get up close with the ruins requires a hike down 200 stairs on the one-mile Island Trail loop.  At 6,690 feet in elevation, downhill is easy, but getting back up is another matter entirely.  It is well worth the effort to get a feeling for a life spent inside the shallow limestone recesses in the canyon walls.

Best Trail

The paved Island Trail drops 185 feet and takes you right up to the 25 rooms built into the cliffs.  Above the canyon, 0.75-mile Rim Trail is handicap accessible and provides views of the ruins.

Instagram-worthy Photo

October is a great time to visit to see changing leaves in Walnut Canyon, especially the bigtooth maple trees.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/waca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access road is paved

Camping

There is not a campground at the site, but dispersed camping is allowed down the dirt road that turns off to the left just before entering the National Monument.

Related Sites

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – There are multiple Arizona sites in the National Park Service system dedicated to the vanished Sinagua people; what does their name mean in Spanish?