We wander through a lush and shady canyon with grapevines and wildflowers before ascending into the drier, desert-like rock slopes that open up into a view of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The Dwellings begin as a gaping hole in the red volcanic mountain, but change form as the trail twists into new visual perspectives.
Soon, the seven caves (only six seem to have been used by humans) that make up Gila Cliff Dwellings are visible, the ancient rooms marked by walls and ladders.
In Gila National Park, archeologists have uncovered pit houses that date from AD 550 and surface pueblos that date to 1400. The wood used in the cliff dwellings have been dated from the 1270s to the 1280s, indicating that the Mogollon people who used these caves built the interior structures within that time.
32 species of plant remains have been found inside the dwellings. 24 of these were wild and 8 were cultivated crops. The cultivated species were varieties of corn, squash and beans, the "three sisters."
Cave paintings are found on walls throughout Gila National Park. No one knows their exact purpose, though story telling or boundary demarcations are common explanations.