Silver City and Gila Cliff Dwellings

Thursday, September 11

Hummingbirds abound in the campground.

Hummingbirds abound in the campground.

We headed back to Silver City today. It’s just a 30-40 mile drive up Highway 180, so it didn’t take too long. We’d planned on staying at Manzano’s RV Park for 3-5 days, but when we arrived we found they could only give us 2 days. We stayed at Silver City RV Park for a night our first time here, but I didn’t really like the crowded sites. Our 3rd choice was Rose Valley RV Ranch. It turned out to be a good choice. It is a Passport America campground, and quite a nice one at that. Located about 1/4 mile off the highway at the end of Memory Lane. Also at the end of Memory Lane is a cemetery. This should guarantee quiet neighbors. The sites are well spaced for an RV Park, and each has a dividing fence for privacy. Mary was quite happy with the size of the laundry whereas Manzano’s had 1 washer and dryer. We got our 3 nights with the option of staying longer if we wish.

At the end of Memory Lane.

At the end of Memory Lane.

It is also much cooler here at 6000’. The last 2 nights were the first we’ve slept with a blanket and all windows and vents closed since we left home 3 week ago. Cooler weather is coming in as well. We are going from 90’s to 70’s over the next couple of days, with a good chance of rain/thunder showers.

Friday, September 122434_gila1First on our agenda was a trip to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The monument sits at the end of 44 miles of winding highway 15. It’s a slow go and took us a good hour plus to get there. We were taking a bit of a chance going at all because of the thunderstorms predicted for later in the afternoon, but we decided there would be enough time to get there, hike and return before (or if) the came in.
2440_gila2 2443_gila3 2447_gila4We got there around 10 AM and after talking with the volunteer at the visitor center where we were warned against bringing food on the trail – why, I don’t really know – also warned about the aggressive Black Tailed Rattlesnakes. The ruins themselves sit in the middle of a 1 mile loop trail up in several caves in the side of the cliff. The trail quite pleasantly rises up a couple hundred feet through a shady forested canyon. There are a few open spots to view the ruins from a distance. In the shade it was very nice, but as soon as we hit open ground on the cliff, it got hot again. Inside the caves, it was once again cool.2459_gila5 2470_gila7 2476_gila8We got to the ruins in time to take the tour with another volunteer. I tend to shy away from tours because I’d rather just wander around on my own, but since these dwellings were occupied by a group (the Mongollon) not normally seen in the area, I went along. Also because another group of 12 was coming up behind us and I figured they’d be in the way of photos for a while anyway. It turned out to be pretty interesting. As is usual for these kinds of places, 80% is speculation, but the interesting part for me is how this site was so neglected and under funded for so long. Early archeologists did such a poor job of cataloging artifacts, that much was lost in confusion. The full story of the site is unclear.2480_gila9 2497_gila10First discovered by a prospector in 1878, it had already been heavily looted and vandalized by the time the first archeologist had arrived in 1884. The site was proclaimed a national monument in 1907 to stem further damage, but it didn’t really help much, since it wasn’t really funded until the 1960’s. Even today the entire monument seems to be run by volunteers. I  never saw a park ranger the whole time there. Megan, our tour guide, told us the only archeology work going on now is by the rodents who occasionally dig up a corncob or two. Despite all this, what remains is a quite impressive set of structures.2498_gila11Once our tour ended, we were free to wander the site at will. Few other cliff ruins will allow this sort of freedom to roam. After finishing with the ruins, it was time to head back down the cliff. This part of the trail was in full hot sun by now, but soon wrapped around the canyon and back down into a burned tree area. Surprisingly abundant wildflowers lined this section of trail. We began noticing the afternoon clouds quickly building and the distant thunder suggested we should probably head back. But not before checking out another rock art site in a different part of the monument. There were a few interesting images of frogs and what looked like lightning. The real thunder and lightning was getting our attention more by now and we decided to make haste.2500_gila12 2502_gila13 2505_gila14As soon as we started rising back up the mountain road, the rain started. Followed by increasing thunder and lightning. By the time we were 10 miles in, we had reached the hight of the storm. Heavy rain, hail, thunder and lightning was all around us. My danger radar (Mary) was moving toward the red by now. What were bone dry stream beds on the way in, were now raging torrents. Streams of red mud laden water were flowing across the road in several places. Looking over to Mary, I thought I was looking at one of those Garfield suction cup animals you see stuck to car windows. She let out her first warning of “I dunno Dave”, and I knew she was pretty nervous. It was kind of bad, but I also was pretty sure we would be out of it soon, so wasn’t too worried. And we were. Just like that, it eased, then nearly stopped. A couple more showers here and there on the way back home and that was it. Back at camp, things were only just minimally wet. That is the nature of thunderstorms.

A rather sweet memorial along highway 15.

A rather sweet memorial along highway 15.

We watched the remnants of the lightning storm pass over the mountain from the LD over a couple fingers of whiskey. Tomorrow we get to attend Pickamania, a bluegrass festival for the weekend. Should be fun.

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