“Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should — not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”
— Sen. Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico (1895-1975)
MIMBRES, N.M. — It’s a snapshot in time and in stone: For about 30 years, from around 1270 to 1300, a Native American people called the Mogollon built their dwellings in cliffs in the high mountains of what is now the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico.
The dwellings, built of stone and mortar, consist of about 40 rooms nestled inside six natural caves in cliffs above the canyon where three forks of the Gila River merge and ultimately flow into the Colorado River.
The Mogollon cultivated corn, beans and squash and hunted the abundant game in the canyon. They created a unique style of black-on-white pottery.
“After the Mogollon left, no one appears to have lived in this area for over 100 years,” says a National Park Service brochure on the cliff dwellings. “Apaches migrated to the upper Gila River about 1500, although some of their oral traditions claim it has always been their homeland.”
The legendary Apache leader Geronoimo was born near the headwaters of the Gila River in the early 1820s.
The 533-acre site, a national monument run by the National Park Service, is surrounded by the 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness, part of 3.3 million acres of public forest and range land within the Gila National Forest.
A pioneering ecologist, Aldo Leopold, persuaded the federal government to establish the Gila Wilderness in 1924 as the nation’s first designated wilderness area. The late Sen. Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico (quoted above) spearheaded the 1964 Wilderness Act, which now preserves the pristine wildness of more than 100 million acres of federal public land.