Last Update: 2/07/2017

Gila Cliff Dwellings – Native Survivalist Fortress

View of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico, from west. They’re a perfect survivalist prepper fortress when SHTF. –
Saw the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument this winter. Archeologists won’t admit, but it’s clearly a 13th century shit-hits-the-fan (SHTF) prepper / survivalist stronghold.

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SHTF Mid-13th Century Drought

Follow my thinkin’ here … In the mid-13th century, SHTF in the form of a 24 year drought. Lots a area Native American peoples were on the move. Some Mogollon (muggy-YON) survivalists ended up here, in a canyon at the headwaters of the Gila River. This is in present-day southwest New Mexico.

Why? Why did they choose this place? Think about a SHTF drought situation. Water is scarce. Food is scarcer. Roamin’ bands are hungry, desperate, and ready to do each other in. To survive, you need water, food, and a secure base. Basic prepper rules.

Reliable Water, Food, Climate

First off, you got food and water better here. The Gila River runs true just beyond this little ravine. It’s got lotsa good bottomland for growin’ crops and attractin’ game. This little ravine in the picture also has a small, spring-fed creek, so you got reliable water nearby.

You got timber and firewood close by, too. Also piñon nuts and acorns in the hills. Deer, rabbit, and fish are in the valley. Elk and bear are just a bit higher up in the mountains.

It ain’t so high up that snow’s a big problem, but it ain’t so down low that it’s scorchin’ hot in summer.

The caves also have some natural coolin’ and heatin’. They’re south facin’, so the low winter sun comes in to warm ya. They got a little ledge over ‘em, like a hat brim, so the high summer sun can’t come in. The caves stay shady and cool then.

Defensible Cliff Caves

So with resources settled, you gotta hang on against bandits.

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Well, if anyone comes up the ravine from east or west, you can throw down rocks on ‘em. If they try to come up the cliff-side trail, it’s uphill to the caves from both directions and only one man wide – easy to defend.

If bandits sit overhead on the clifftop, they can’t get rocks into the caves. All they can do is pin ya down for a while.

From the clifftop opposite, it’d be real hard to get arrows or slung rocks into the cave and over the walls. Can’t quite tell that from the photo, but trust me, the target is small from a distance and at an awkward trajectory. It’d be more luck to lob somethin’ in. Best ya could do is pen 'em in.

Besides, I don’t see that small hunter-gatherer bands could hold up a siege long. How the hell would they keep themselves fed? And the Mogollon inside would have food, fuel, and some water. Limitless water if they could hold the ravine and its spring-fed creek.

I think the only vulnerable time would be when their crops came in down in the river valley. Worst case, they lose a harvest and have to rely on more wild foods. Best case, their band of 40-60 people could hold off a similar-size or larger band in a free-for-all. With such even odds, it’s to everyone’s advantage to trade instead.

And Then the Mogollon Left?

Here’s the weird thing. This group of Mogollon only lived in this survivalist fortress about 40 years, according to the archeologists. Then they moved on. Why? Not sure. But people was on the move like crazy about then, all over North America. Some SHTF for sure! We don’t know what, though.

From stories, we know some Mogollon married into what’s now the Zuni and Hopi tribes. Maybe living in bigger settlements attracted them for even better prepper defense and standard of living. It’s a mystery!

Also See ...

Stealth – Van Life Tricks to Avoid Hassles
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (US NPS)
The Mysterious Migration: Ancient Puebloans Abandon Their Pueblos (DesertUSA)
Ancient Southwest (summary of A History of the Ancient Southwest by archaeologist Steven Lekson)


  1. When I was there (and at other cliff dwelling sites) I thought, "Man, they must've had some serious incentive to haul all these stones and all this mud all the way up here." Survival would be incentive enough, I suppose.

    1. Can't prove none of it, but seems likely.

  2. My visit:

    1. Great photos! One of these days I need to take some pointers from you. :-)