New Mexico has 19 official Pueblo tribes. These groups have existed for hundreds of years, surviving war, disease, and colonization. Many other unfortunate tribes did not survive contact with European invaders. In a remote corner of northern New Mexico, one can find the legacy of a tribe that didn’t make it to first contact with Europeans.
The Nogales Cliff House, located on land belonging to the Forest Service, is a pueblo ruin built in the Rosa style between 1000 and 1300. It is believed to be one of the last remnants of the Gallina people. This group, while lending its name to a nearby village and several physical landforms, does not have any living members to tell its story. A tale passed down in the oral tradition from the Jemez Puebloans, however, may clear things up.
As the story goes, the ancestors of the Jemez people were searching for new places to live. The Jemez scouts came across the Gallina, who initially treated them well. Something caused the Gallina to turn on the Jemez visitors, who were then killed by their hosts. Unfortunately for the Gallina, the main group of Jemez came along and learned the fate of their scouts. The story goes that the entire tribe was wiped out in retribution. There is physical evidence to support this theory—most notably the fact that nearly every Gallina skeleton yet discovered died violently. Unfortunately, we will never know for sure what happened. Their bones, pottery shards, and the crumbling walls of their homes are all that is left.
Know Before You Go
This is an ancient archaeological site, held sacred by the native people of the area and invaluable to researchers studying the lives of ancient people. It is vital that sites like these remain intact. Do not climb, lean against, or even touch the walls. Dogs are prohibited on the short trail, and food is discouraged, as crumbs can attract rodents, which burrow into the walls and accelerate their decay.
The trailhead is at the end of a series of dirt roads, which may vary in quality. It is best to visit outside of the winter months, using a high clearance vehicle. Don’t plan on finding cell phone service.