• Visitors hike along the base of the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

    Gila Cliff Dwellings

    National Monument New Mexico

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  • Thunderstorm Safety Closures Possible

    When thunderstorms are nearby, the trail to and from the Gila Cliff Dwellings is closed. Please check local forecasts before you visit. Thunderstorms are typically more likely in the afternoon. On some afternoons it is not possible to reopen. More »

  • Guided Tours Currently Not Available on Many Days

    Due to a current shortage of volunteer staffing, guided tours of the cliff dwellings are offered only infrequently. Self-guided tours remain available from 9 am to 4 pm MDT daily.

Feast or Famine? Introductory Essay

Introduction essay:


Houk, Rose. Mogollon. Western Natl Parks Assoc, 1992. Print.

The Mogollon (Muggy-own) were mountain and desert dwellers, whose homeland was a huge territory stretching from the Little Colorado River in Arizona to Chihuahua, Mexico, and from the Pecos River in New Mexico west to the Verde River in Arizona.

These boundaries enclose the stupendously broken terrain south of the Mogollon Rim in Arizona, the Sierra Ancha, and the little-known and inaccessible land around the Black, White, Blue and Salt Rivers. Eastward into New Mexico, high mountains alternate steep canyons whose streams drain into the great Gila River. Here, a wilderness of hundreds of thousands of acres still appears much as it did in prehistoric times.

This new culture was named after the wild Mogollon Mountains that rise up east of the San Francisco River Valley. The mountains were named for eighteenth-century Spanish Colonial governor Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon. A geographic appellation was chosen for the prehistoric people because archeologists did not know of and did not wish to imply any affiliation with living Native Americans.

The Mogollon people grew out of a long tradition of hunters most likely from a Desert Archaic culture known as the Cochise who had lived in the Southwest B.C.E. 5,000 or 6,000. Though they mainly supported themselves on the animals they hunted and the wild plants they gathered, the Archaic people also ate domesticated corn and squash.

A simple people in many respects, the Mogollon first lived in pit houses and molded a plain brown or red pottery. As with corn, pottery was an invention in which the Mogollon acted as conduits, transmitting the idea to their southwestern neighbors. Later the Mogollon built aboveground pueblos and manufactured black-on-white ceramics. Other characteristics set them apart as well: they grooved their stone axes three-quarters of the way around the surface and built large rectangular rooms for ceremonies or communal gatherings.

One of the last places inhabited by the Mogollon in New Mexico is protected in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. In Caves in the cliff walls of a small canyon emptying into the Gila River, immigrants from the Reserve area lived for only about twenty years, from C.E. 1270 to C.E. 1290. Besides the attraction of the shelter of the caves, they settled here because of a permanent spring.

Did You Know?

Cliff Dwelling Vigas

Stone axes made it challenging for the ancient Puebloans of the Mogollon area to cut down trees for vigas (roof beams) in the Gila Cliff Dwellings. So, before chopping the tree trunks, they would burn a small fire around the base of the trunk to weaken it so their axes could cut it down more easily.