Tag Archives: New Mexico

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)?

Petroglyph National Monument

Overview

Bordered by the suburban neighborhoods of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument is a nice place to take a walk and enjoy some intricate artwork.  The petroglyphs were chipped into the patina of volcanic rocks in a long-populated region of the Rio Grande Valley.  Some of these images may be up to 3,000 years old, with most believed to be carved between AD 1400 and 1700.  A few were added by Hispanic settlers and explorers through the 1800s, but the National Park Service (NPS) politely requests no aspiring artists add any more.

Highlights

Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon Trail, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, Volcanoes Day Use Area

Must-Do Activity

There are multiple areas of this National Monument established in 1990, some literally in Albuquerque residents’ backyards.  At Boca Negra Canyon, you will find interesting depictions of humans, snakes, and even parrots from Central America, as well as many puzzling illustrations.  Use your imagination to try to guess what the original carver was trying to display. 

Best Trail

Volcanoes Day Use Area offers loop trails around three volcanic cones on the West Mesa with incredible views of the Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande Valley (but no petroglyphs).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Rinconada Canyon Trail is 1.25 miles one-way and starts at a small NPS parking lot in suburban Albuquerque and accesses an area with thousands of petroglyphs.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but be prepared for stoplights, especially on the main connecting road Unser Boulevard.

Camping

There are private campgrounds around Albuquerque, New Mexico, or you can look for options in the Cibola and Santa Fe National Forests.

Related Sites

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

El Morro National Monument (New Mexico)

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – How many petroglyphs are estimated to be protected within this National Monument?

Boca Negra Canyon contains thousands of petroglyphs and fascinating volcanic rock formations.

Some petroglyphs are more difficult to interpret.  I think this one depicts a yucca fruit.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Overview

Aztec, New Mexico is home to the incredible Ancestral Puebloan ruins of a three-story, 400-room ancient apartment building near the Animas River.  Only partially excavated, Aztec Ruins National Monument has a variety of rock walls that display a change in building styles over the centuries.  Similar to Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona, Aztec was named for the Central Mexican culture mistakenly believed by earlier archaeologists to have had influence in this region.

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed great kiva, ruins

Must-Do Activity

Aztec Ruins National Monument boasts a great kiva that was rebuilt to appear as it may have 800 years ago.  We especially recommend a visit before or after seeing the extensive ceremonial structures at nearby Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  Reconstruction is not appropriate at all National Park Service (NPS) sites, but here it helps the past come alive.  It is easy to imagine costumed dancers coming down the stairs into the smoky kiva to celebrate a religious ritual. 

Best Trail

The half-mile self-guided trail leads through ruins where wooden roofs have been partially reconstructed.  Aztec Ruins also has the same T-shaped doorways you may have seen at Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Darker stripes in the walls were decorative, and evidence of several architectural styles are evident at this site.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is an NPS campground at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, but we recommend the free campground in Angel Peak Recreation Area run by the Bureau of Land Management east of Highway 550.

Related Sites

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – How far away from Aztec were the nearest Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and aspen trees used in the original roof construction?

Pecos National Historical Park

Overview

In 1540, Pecos (called Cicuyé by the natives) was a thriving trading center connecting Plains Indians and the Pueblos of northern New Mexico.  It was that year that Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led his army to the site during his futile search for the Seven Cities of Gold.  Today you can explore the fascinating ruins at Pecos National Historical Park not far off Interstate 25, which came to replace portions of Route 66, which itself replaced the original Santa Fe Trail.  All of these routes funneled through the mountains at 7,562-foot Glorieta Pass, one of the main reasons for the creation of Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area.  Glorieta Pass was also the site of a March 26-28, 1862 Civil War battle.

Highlights

Museum, film, Pueblo and Mission Ruins Trail, Glorieta Unit

Must-Do Activity

A massive Catholic mission with walls eight feet thick was the legacy the Spanish left behind, which was subsequently destroyed in the widespread revolt of 1680.  The church ruins seen today are a remnant of one rebuilt at a smaller scale in 1717, which interestingly includes ceremonial kivas adjacent to its lofty walls.  In the following centuries Comanche raids commenced, trade routes changed, and the pueblo abandoned in 1838.  At the main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, you can get the combination for the lock at Pigeon’s Ranch where a 2.25-mile trail passes through parts of the 1862 Battle of Glorieta Pass.

Best Trail

A 1.25-mile self-guided trail allows you to take a peek inside the mission and climb down into two reconstructed kivas to imagine what life was like when this was a bustling pueblo of over 2,000 inhabitants.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are two reconstructed kivas along the 1.25-mile Pueblo and Mission Ruins Trail, including one right outside the walls of the Catholic mission.  Climb down into a kiva for a trip back in time and a great photographic opportunity (once the dust settles).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is no NPS campground at the site, but there are numerous camping opportunities throughout Santa Fe National Forest.

Related Sites

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument (New Mexico)

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Fort Union National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – Who was the religious leader credited with organizing the 1680 Pueblo Revolt that drove the Spanish out of northern New Mexico (though they returned in 1692)?

Fort Union National Monument

Overview

Fort Union was a military outpost on the historic Santa Fe Trail first constructed in 1851.  An earthwork fortification was built during the Civil War before Confederate troops were pushed back into Texas after a nearby battle in early 1862 (see Pecos National Historical Park).  At its peak, 1,666 soldiers were stationed here, making it the largest fort in the southwest U.S.  This expansive post was abandoned in 1891 and officially became a National Monument in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, adobe ruins, wagon ruts on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Fort Union was not the most popular place to be stationed in the 1800s, especially for the military wives who bemoaned the constant winds and frequent dust storms.  That said; expect it to be windy during your visit.  The adobe walls here are smoothed by years of erosion and appear to be melting back into the prairie soil from which their bricks were formed in the 1860s.  If you line it up right, you can take a neat photograph where all the window frames are in a row.

Best Trail

Wagon ruts can be seen at Fort Union since it was located on the 1,200-mile Santa Fe National Historic Trail (like Fort Larned in Kansas and Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado).  Since there was no stockade around the fort, walking to all of its ruins covers quite a distance (like Fort Laramie in Wyoming).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The smooth adobe walls make a great backdrop for a wagon that looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint before it hits the Santa Fe Trail again.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The fort is not far off Interstate 25, but the last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

Storrie Lake State Park is 33 miles from Fort Union and there is also free camping in the summer at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge located just off Interstate 25.

Related Sites

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – When did Spain grant Mexico its independence, opening up commerce with the United States and starting the Santa Fe Trail?