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Chapter VII:

1963 to 1975

In March 1963, a few months before paving of the Copperas road reached the confluence of the East and Middle forks, James Sleznick was assigned to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument as its first ranger and its first professional interpreter. As the road improved, visitation to the monument increased. In 1963, 10,000 visitors toured the site—more than 12 times the number of visitors in 1955. [15]

In May 1963, a trailer for the ranger office was moved to the edge of the monument, replacing the field desk and tent-fly. [16] Years later, Sleznick recalled that he would greet visitors at the trailer, direct them to the trail up Cliff Dweller Canyon, and then run up a back way to the ruins. There he again met the visitors and interpreted the site. [17] The following summer a seasonal ranger was hired to help the undoubtedly breathless Sleznick. In December 1965, a second full-time ranger—William Gibson—was hired. [18] Sleznick reported that interpretation at the cliff dwellings was limited primarily to spontaneous talks by himself or the seasonal ranger at the ruins. [19] In the dwellings, Vivian's excavation the year before had cleared a room with several fire-pits, and these were used for interpretation. At the mouth of Cliff Dweller Canyon, Sleznick planted a demonstration garden of corn, squash, and beans—vegetables believed typical for the Mogollon. The TJ site was closed to visitors except by appointment. A single-sheet mimeographed leaflet provided additional information for visitors. This leaflet was a simple resource that could be amended as additional information became available. Sleznick noted that expansion of the interpretive program would rely on reports about the recent 1963 excavation. [20] Little new archeological information was forthcoming, however, because Vivian, who had excavated the ruin, died before his report could be written. The excavation at the cliff dwellings was not formally reported until 1986.

In 1966, Ranger Gibson developed a self-guiding trail and an accompanying booklet for the increasing number of visitors who came to see the cliff ruins. [21] Keyed to numbered stakes along the trail, the typed booklet briefly described likely prehistoric uses of the local natural resources, and it drew attention to interesting architectural features of the ruins. Still relying on the overviews of Steen and Reed, this written interpretation suggested 250 years of occupation for the cliff site (A.D.1100-A.D.1350), with two distinct components—both Tularosa but the second heavily influenced by Anasazi. The booklet suggested that most of the rooms had once been roofed and that the smaller rooms at the east end of the site may have been the first ones built.

All of the previous architectural inferences have been discarded or radically revised in the years since. Obviously, without a report on Vivian's excavation, interpretation for Gila Cliff Dwellings was difficult and still relied on insufficient information.

In 1968, interpretive policies were established for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument that are essentially guiding principles today for the deployment of interpreters and the display of exhibits. To interpret the cliff dwellings, Superintendent Lukens proposed in early 1968 the presence of a uniformed employee every day, starting in April and lasting through October—the peak visitor season. [22] Lukens' primary concern was still protection of the ruins, which were often unattended because the staff was too busy dispensing [23] information from the contact trailer at the mouth of Cliff Dweller Canyon. For the winter season, Lukens planned to initiate guided walks for groups of 20. [24] A year later, Lukens had abandoned the idea of guided walks, noting that twice as many visitors could be accommodated along the narrow trail and the close confines of the ruins by roving interpreters—350 visitors a day as opposed to 160 during the off-season, and 650 a day as opposed to 320 during the summer. [25] Lukens' system of roving interpretation is essentially the policy practiced today.

In 1968 the visitor center began operations. New brochures and other information previously dispensed from the contact trailer became available in the lobby, and exhibits for the 600-square-foot display room were installed in time for the 1969 dedication of the center. These exhibits reflected the dual nature of the visitor center as an instrument of the Park Service and of the Forest Service. Some of the exhibits were displays of archeological artifacts and specimens relevant to Gila Cliff Dwellings and the prehistoric Mogollon culture in general. Artifacts and information pertinent to the historic era of the Chiricahua Apaches were included, as well. Other exhibits comprised maps and photographs of the surrounding Gila National Forest and its wilderness. In addition, there were representations of local flora and a narrated slide show. After a very brief introductory summary of local geology and the arrival of miners in the 19th century, the slide show focused on wildlife typical to the forest, with a quick series of photographs depicting animals and their specific habitats. Archeology was not discussed in the slide show. With only a few minor exceptions, the exhibits installed in 1968 are those that inform the visitor today.

During the planning of the exhibits, it was noted that interpreting Gila Cliff Dwellings remained difficult given the lack of specific archeological information about the Mogollon people of the immediate area. The initial plan called for a very general archeological exhibit that could be filled out with artifacts recovered from the proposed TJ excavation. [26] For the time being, some employees found the display cases "stark and empty." [27] The sparseness of the display denoted an old problem, of course. The lack of substantive archeological research on the forks of the Gila still constrained interpretation of the monument's prehistory. Nevertheless, in 1968, shortly before the visitor center opened, an archeological research management plan was formulated that did at least outline an official theme for interpretation. This research plan was written by Superintendent Lukens and Don Morris, [28] who had just finished stabilizing the cliff dwellings and surveying archeological sites around the visitor center.

This survey identified 106 archeological sites, 33 of which occurred within the boundaries of the monument. [29] Based on these archeological resources as well as the new more sociological orientation in the discipline, Lukens and Morris identified the monument's principal archeological theme as "[t]he development of the Mogollon culture over time as a result of the complex interplay among the cultural and ecological factors of their total environment." [30] The theme highlighted changes in settlement patterns, improvements in subsistence techniques, progressive refinements of material culture, and the increasing complexity of Mogollon society. In short, it looked back to the reasons proposed in 1955 for expanding the monument—namely, to encompass a nearly 2,000-year sequence of cultural development.

Obviously, this theme looked forward, as well. The scale of interpretation anticipated formal analysis of the excavation that had already occurred, additional digging at the TJ Ruin, and the opening of more sites to visitors. Unfortunately, almost none of those expensive projects was financed—at least not for years. Although no sites other than the cliff dwellings were prepared for interpretation on the monument, in 1968 a two-room ruin was developed not far away by Gila National Forest staff. The ruin in Adobe Canyon was stabilized and included on a self-guiding "Trail to the Past" that began at the pictographs near Scorpion Corral.

The value of interpreting these pictographs and small ruins between the TJ site and the cliff dwellings had been noted in the revised 1955 prospectus, [31] but the land between the TJ Ruin and Gila Cliff Dwellings was not transferred to the Park Service during the expansion of the monument. On their own initiative, staff of Gila National Forest developed the self-guiding trail, and later the ruin was roughly stabilized with concrete mortar. In 1969, as an informal cooperative gesture, the southwest regional curator for the Park Service assessed the "Trail to the Past" project for Wilderness District ranger. [32] Ever since this initial and informal cooperation, the "Trail to the Past," its small ruin, and the large panel of red pictographs have been included in the monument's interpretive program as complementary sites and as alternative destinations for people arriving too late to see Gila Cliff Dwellings. These archeological sites are now part of the regular Park Service stabilization program, having undergone repair by that agency as recently as May 1991.

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Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001