Monday, August 27, 2007

(14) Gila, Forest, Wilderness, Cliff Dwellings New Mexico

Gila National Forest NM
Gila Wilderness NM
Gila Cliff Dwellings NM
Silver City NM

After getting all my chores done while in Las Cruces, I’ve headed west on I-10 to Deming NM then north to my campsite on Rogers Lake. There are two campgrounds that can handle bigger campers like mine in the National Forest and I’m staying at the one called Mesa. It’s high on a flat plateau overlooking the lake. I’ve hit the campground at a fortunate time, in that they’ve recently installed water and electric on all the inner loop sites, and they are still charging only $7.00 a night. They’ll eventually go up to about $14.00 for the electric sites. I love a bargain and the area is surrounded by beautiful mountains covered with pine and cedar.

I took a hike down the switchback trail leading to the lake and happened upon an older couple who lived in the area. They were setting up for their family to arrive later for a picnic next to the lake. The cattleman was born in Minnesota, but moved at a young age with his family to New Mexico. He and his wife have been farmers for over 55 years and until recently, he owned about 150 head of cattle and had a life-time lease on forest land for grazing rights. He talked about being of the earth and only knowing ranching for a living. A couple years back, the environmentalists got in the way and he lost his lifetime grazing rights. Had to sell his cattle at a loss and now has no livelihood. These are the kind of people that don’t know how to “retire” and don’t ever want to. Says it’s good to want to preserve the land, but taking someone’s livelihood away from them, when they were doing no damage to the land just isn’t right. The old gentlemen, hard of hearing, went on to say that we live in the greatest country in the world, but Bush has gone too far. Said, we have no reason to be over there fighting. Said at his age he just doesn’t care what happens anymore, but I could tell from talking to him that he cares deeply for this country and is discouraged by what our “politicians” are doing to the country. One voice from the true heart of America speaking.

My goal coming to this area of course is to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Pronounced “HEELah”. From my campsite it’s about 35 miles, but will take me about an hour to get there. We’re talking mountain driving, sharp hairpin curves, climbing along the sides of mountain ranges, through forests and rock outcroppings and finally down steep twisting put your vehicle in 2nd gear driving.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings are deep in the Gila National Forest and I feel like I’ve entered into an undiscovered land surrounded and part of the Gila Mountain range. The road dead ends at the park entrance giving that feeling of being at the end of the world. It’s a mile circle route hike to the cliff dwellings, up a steep incline. The hike begins along the canyon floor, following a stream that is artesian fed from deep within the mountain itself. The sound of the water splashing against the rocks, the smell of the willow, cottonwood trees and evergreens mingle with the dry dusty air. Climbing the stair stepped path, the views begin to expand and I can see the cliff dwelling along the south facing canyon wall. There are six caves in all. A total of 40 rooms have been identified and we are allowed to walk through the largest of them. The stone structures are in good shape and show how the Mogollon tribe lived in these dwellings. The first thing I noticed was the large expansive ceilings completely covered in soot from years of fires burning.
One of the interesting stories that the guides told me about were the two holes in one rock, that short poles would be inserted into that would then be used to determine the summer and winter solstice. The other bolder had what is believed to be round indentations that formed the star pattern of Pleiades. The bolder contained other indentations that could be related star groupings. The guide said, it is believed that the Mogollon’s may have believe, as many tribes throughout the world believed, that we came from the star group Pleiades. A search on the computer will suggest the many web sites discussing these ancient beliefs. Interesting mythology and beliefs…

This area has also been designated the first Wilderness Area, back in 1924. That means it is being preserved in it’s wilderness state. Oh, and there are numerous hot springs in the area that can be enjoyed, many are free with a bit of a hike to get to them and foraging across a couple of rivers, or a few sites that are commercially owned, with easier access and charge a few dollars to enjoy the hot mineral springs.

Today was my day to travel into Silver City. A true western mining town. The original main street was destroyed by a major flood back in the 1800’s due to stripping of the forests in the area for mining purposes and building. Main street buildings and mansions all being swallowed up by the raging torrent of water. Without the protective cover of the trees, the water could not be absorbed into the ground, leading to the devastating flooding. The deep trench, now with just a trickle of water and trees growing along its banks is a park through the heart of the town. And a great reminder that we are stewards of this land.

The town has a university which would be it’s main business, as the two large open pit copper mines are closing in the area. Tourism is spotty at best and the town is gradually attracting retirees to the area as the weather and location are pretty cool. The downtown area is tired at best with many empty stores. The rest trying to survive on tourists and the college crowd.
Another almost Ghost town a couple mile north of Silver City is Pino Altos, population 310. Gold was first discovered hear and about $10M extracted before the quick decline of the area. The original Buckhorn Saloon (1860) is here and in continuous operation, but wasn’t open at the time I came through town.

Quite a shower came through last night, washing the dust off of the plants and making everything sparkle. With a bright sunny morning, I’ll spend one more day here at Mesa campground then head into Arizona. I’ll finish my book, The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman. A famous western author from New Mexico. Reading books by authors in the area your visiting is a great way to absorb the flavor and culture of a region. He’s a great author so if you get a chance, pick up one of his books at the library and enjoy reading him along with me.
Camper Doug, signing off.

PS, talk about a small world. I met a guy named Jerry, hair now white and in a pony tail, two cats and living in a small class C camper, who went to college at UCF and worked there for 30 years. He’s now retired for about 10 years, but had to have lived in Orlando while I was also living and working there, not more than a half a mile away.

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