Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings was on my top four tourist destinations for our instate travels while living in New Mexico.  It seemed to get pushed further down the list of travel priorities, as we found so many other interesting things to do, so it was January before we headed there. 

Mapping the route was cumbersome because snow had already hit the mountains and one route had a low bridge we wouldn't fit under. We decided to play it as safe as we could and drove south to Deming and then back north up the winding roads to the Mesa Campground. We decided to stay here because of the steeper road grades closer to the Gila National Park and after driving there in the jeep - it was the right decision. Turns out we timed our trip just right as the snows from the previous day had melted off roadways and remnants lined the shadowed forest.  When we arrived, we disconnected and set up camp.  There were only 3 other campers in the campground, which overlooks a beautiful reservoir. 

Turns out we timed our trip just right as the snows from the previous day had melted off roadways and remnants lined the shadowed forest.  When we arrived at the park, we disconnected and set up camp.  There were only three other campers in the campground which overlooks a beautiful green reservoir.  

Our site had one small issue. When we turned on the water, the knob got stuck on and we could not shut it off.  I hopped into the jeep and drove to the camp host site.  No one was there and hadn't been there for some time.  It spooked me a little.  I drove back to the site, got the tool box out and ended up fixing the spigot ourselves.  The valve ball had become rusty and got stuck.  

That evening we took a family walk around the park, which we had to ourselves.  Keila, our thirteen year old Labrador, was tired and walked slowly while Frances, our four year old toy poodle, wanted to run through every site and sniff everything.  

We had an early campfire and the dogs enjoyed staying outside with us, as the air was cool and crisp.  As we headed in for bed, Frances freaked us both out.  As Kathy was trying to come into the door, Frances saw a raven that she decided was going to kill us all.  She lept out of the RV and started to chase the raven. She ran about a block in the blink of an eye. Kathy went after her, trying not to show any hint of panic, even though she was.  We knew Frances was a runner and that once she locked onto a target her hearing suddenly became disabled.  Luckily, after becoming satisfied that the raven was no longer a deadly threat, she to Kathy's calling voice, quite pleased with herself.  It was the first time since leaving Houston that Frances had sprung herself.  Unfortunately, it would not be the last.  

After a big breakfast, we headed north to the national park in the jeep.  While driving the winding roads, we realized it was good that we didn't try to camp closer.  The roads were magnificent motorcycle roads except for the culverts on the corners but would have been treacherous in a 31-foot motor home. The drive was absolutely beautiful and the photo opportunities numerous.

After passing through the little location of Gila, we finally got to the park headquarters.  We went inside and got Kathy's Passport America stamp and information about the park.  A guided tour of the caves started in an hour or so but we could climb the path on our own and walk through the caves and explore.  We did just that.  

The climb was moderately strenuous and we took several breaks.  We chatted with one of the volunteers as we climbed.  He was an older man who told us he lived in the park's staff and had just completed training.  He would be helping the ranger on the guided tour and invited us to join him as he rushed ahead of us on the steep incline.  

The trail turned across the river and the temperature changed as we moved from the cool snow covered ground to warm, and then hot, barren rock walls.  When we finally saw the man-made pueblo in the natural cave openings it was awe inspiring and I felt I had come home.

I have always had a connection to Native American culture and the dwellings seemed familiar and the comfortable to me.  The southern openings allowed warm winter sunshine to heat the cave where early man had lived.  I looked through stone portholes and imagined life with a hundred or so neighbors.  Soot from long forgotten campfires stained the ceilings and rear wall while handmade bricks walled areas for rituals and privacy.  I really do think I could live in a place just like this but convincing Kathy might be a challenge.   

After our mental time travel, we made our way down and found the warmth had melted more snow and the stream was running fast and cold.  In the little town of Gila, we visited the local store and shopped for local jams and jellies.  Of course we bought green chile jam made by local native americans.  We learned of hot springs in the area and made our plan for the next day.  

Our second night in camp we skipped the fire and played cards.  We'd become avid Spades players thanks to our friends Fay and Mary, fellow volunteers at Bosque del Apache NRW. We needed to practice, though, because they had been winning too many games.  We played a few hands and discussed playing strategies before bed.  

The next morning, we grabbed our swim suits and headed back up to Gila.  This time we turned toward the Gila River.  We knew we found the right place when we happened upon naked man putting on a pair of jeans next to his motorcycle.  Luckily, he and his friends had finished their soaks and were leaving.  

We checked out the self pay box, found the restroom to change, and selected a natural stone-lined hot spring pool to soak.  The temperature was about 105 while the other two pools were a little cooler.  We stayed in the pool closest to the road, where signs asked people to be family friendly, aka WEAR CLOTHES.

It was a wonderful pool except it needed to be cleaned.  The algae on the river rock bottom released with our movement and began floating in the water with us.  After realizing this, we tried to not stir anymore up.  After a long warm soak while watching the Gila River amble by, we were refreshed and ready to head back to camp and then home. 

We saw several javelinas scramble up the rough terrain on one corner of the road and wild turkeys on another as we drove back to the campground.  We decided to stop at a historical marker which boasted of an native american camp in the area.  We actually found many pieces of ancient broken pottery just laying in the grass.  It was nice leaving them for others to come and discover as well.  

The drive down the mountain seemed easier than the one up, but the sky was clouding up and we needed to watch for an incoming winter storm. We decided to stop in Demming for lunch.  It was just a mile or two off our route home and gave us time to check the weather. Kathy found us a little restaurant in a historical old downtown building. In fact, it was a garage in an alley that advertised soul food.  Sure enough, it was real southern cooking with ribs, greens, and pecan pie.  Yummy!

Back on the road, we opted to go back through Hatch, the route we had come.  The storm seemed to go south, but as we got to Hatch it was obvious the snow had come through this area too.  Luckily, the roads were not icy and the snow was light.  We made it back to the refuge to find a wonderful white blanket of snow.  

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