Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Top choice in New Mexico

A relatively small site, these remarkable 13th-century cliff dwellings were only occupied by a small Mogollon group (30 to 80 people) for 20 years. Perfectly situated in six alcoves (some of which are enormous), it is unclear why they were suddenly abandoned, but today the buildings remain relatively intact. It's a long and winding road from Silver City (average time two hours), but pictographs, hot springs, endless hiking opportunities and superb vistas combine to make this a Gila highlight.

Rangers recommend the short hike to the mesa above Woody's Corral, but there are quite a few other trailheads on the drive up. Across from the visitor center is the Middle Fork of the Gila River – follow this for about half a mile to reach Lightfeather Hot Springs in the backcountry (you'll get your feet wet, so wear suitable shoes). Another ranger-recommended day hike is the 11-mile Little Bear Canyon/Middle Fork Loop, which offers a mix of mesa top and canyon hiking, with stream crossings. For trail summaries, buy the Day Hikes & Rides Near the Gila Visitor Center pamphlet ($2) at the visitor center. And be sure to check with a ranger about stream levels before setting out. Water crossings can be hazardous in spring,when runoff from melting snow can be heavy.

There are plenty of free campsites up here.

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