Our final day of touring around the beautiful state of New Mexico had arrived. We would begin the long drive home the following day. Bobby had read of the amazing National Monument, the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Tucked into the cliffside along the Gila River are the stone structures where a group of several families from the Mogollon Tribe, roughly 20-30 people according to the volunteer ranger we spoke to, lived in the late 1200s.

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Bobby was drawn to this site for multiple reasons. Primarily, things like pictographs and ancient dwellings are intriguing, mysterious, and wonderful to view. Secondly, the road to the dwellings has a bit of a reputation of being a harrowing journey that he was anxious to experience for himself. The winding forest road takes you to an incredible vista within the Gila National Forest (Home to the first wilderness area in the U.S.).

The beautiful vista from the roadside.

The beautiful vista from the roadside.

Sections of the road have no center line and though only 44 miles long the Park Service recommends you allow 2 hours for this section of the road. The steep grade and tight curves definitely make this a drive to remember!

After our long drive, nearly two hours, we stopped in at the main visitor center and received further directions of where to go and what to check out from the helpful rangers therein. We hopped back into the car to drive just a tad further to the parking area for the dwellings. The hike into and through the protected area is about a mile long. The trail was under some construction while we were there but small detours allowed us to see everything.

As you hike up a narrow canyon up to the cliff dwellings you cross a small creek multiple times. After all of our desert hikes, it was really exciting to have a change of scenery as this trail wanders through a much more forested landscape, plus the fact that there was actually some water was exciting after all of the sand and cactuses we’d seen! The trail gently ascends the canyon until you get closer to the dwellings and it steepens slightly as you ascend a few switchbacks. You get good views from a distance of the dwellings which makes them all the more exciting as you get closer and go inside.

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On the day we were there one of the rooms was open for exploration. Small wooden ladders allow visitors to sneak peaks into the closed off rooms.

Taking a look at one of the closed rooms.

Taking a look at one of the closed rooms.

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It was remarkable to wander through and around these ancient dwellings and wonder what the lives of the residents had been like. We imagined what it had been like to build these remarkable structures. It also made us thankful that this area is protected by the National Park Service. This truly is a treasure that should be guarded from any form of destruction.

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Some of the sections of trail were a little harrowing. Particularly the steep ladder that led visitors down, off the cliffside and back onto the trail that loops back to the parking area.

This was kind of scary!

This was kind of scary!

There was an alternate route back down but we wanted to be adventurous, so took the wooden ladder! You can definitely bring children here but, if they are small enough, and amenable, I would definitely recommend bringing a carrier. If they are a little too large for that but still a little unruly, I would seriously consider a harness and  leash. There are several sections with steep drop offs and you want your children to be safe. Remember to keep a close eye on your kiddos to ensure they don’t inadvertently damage the area.

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The hike is a loop which means new views on the way out!

The hike is a loop which means new views on the way out!

We had been on the road for nine days by now and Jack was definitely feeling the strain of so much travel. We weren’t sure if he was sick or simply exhausted but, sadly, on this particular day he wasn’t up to much. He was shaky, clingy, and pretty sad. Though the drive had taken us several hours from our campsite at City of Rocks State Park, we didn’t stay at the cliff dwellings long. Such is the case when traveling with young children. Days don’t always go as planned and, as parents, we need to be okay with that. We really didn’t want to push him.

We headed back down the windy road and into Silver City to find some lunch. We found an amazingly delicious cafe, The Curious Kumquat, that served farm to table fresh meals. Jack had spiked a fever at this point and I only had infant Ibuprofen with me. I had given him some before his meal came. We had ordered him a rice and bean burrito which he ate nearly half of before projectile vomiting it over himself and the table in front of him.

We were stunned and shocked. He had never done anything like this before. I was terrified. I scooped him up and took him to the car to change his clothes and shoes. Bobby tried to eat his meal quickly while I cleaned Jack up. I asked our kind waitress for something to clean the table and floor with. I was mortified at having my child puke in such a public place but the waitstaff was incredible. They gave me everything I needed and I set to cleaning it up while Bobby and Jack stayed outside in the fresh air in case he had a relapse.

After leaving a sizable tip we left. I called my Mom to get her opinion on Jack’s health. Should we be concerned? Do we look for a doctor? Again, he had been shaky all day and had never puked like that before. We had never given Jack Ibuprofen before and the bottles instructions indicate that it should be given with food or it can cause an upset. I had given it to him a solid 10 minutes before food had arrived, so we all agreed it was probably just a side effect of the meds. Jack ended up getting three of his eye teeth while on this trip and I felt around in his mouth and a new one had poked through that day. That explained away all of his symptoms.

We drove back to the camper and spent the day cuddled with our little man watching a movie on the bed. High winds howled and shook the camper as Jack napped and rested with us. By evening he was back to himself and managed to eat some supper. I’ll say it again, when traveling with small children you never know what to expect!

The next day we would be packing up and heading north. We knew we needed to winterize the camper before leaving New Mexico and had a long drive ahead of us. The day of mainly rest was probably a good thing!

We couldn’t believe our trip had come to an end. We had seen so many incredibly things in the course of two weeks and we can’t wait to go back and explore more of such a remarkable part of our country.

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About the author


I am the youngest of six daughters and spent my childhood vacations camping in the beautiful State Parks of MN. In 2009 I married my best friend, Bobby Marko. We have embarked on numerous adventures along with our Golden Retriever, Latigo, our son, Jack (born 7/26/2014) and our daughter, Rowan (born 10/25/2016). When not adventuring in the great outdoors I spend my time as a stay at home mom and volunteer. I am a Branch Lead for the Twin Cities Hike it Baby branch. My favorite pastimes include dog training, eating chocolate, reading mysteries and crappy romance novels, and creating paper crafts, my passion lies in writing.

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