Thursday, June 21, 2007

Exploring the Gila, Part 2

We've had a great time here in Silver City, and before we leave wanted to share some more of the places we've explored. One of the most well known sites in this area are the Gila Cliff Dwellings passing through canyons, forests, and descending into a beautiful valley of the Gila River where the visitor center and trail to the cliff dwellings beings. Getting there is not half the fun, as the trail climbs over a mile up a small canyon and then up the cliff into the dwellings. Fortunately, our stylish yet functional hats kept us from sunstroke, and with lots of water and patience we arrived at the dwellings in time for a tour given by one of the volunteers. This is a fascinating place and you're able to walk inside the rooms and see some of the artifacts, such as small petrified corn cobs and the wooden support beams, all over 700 years old. Not much is know about the Mogollon (Mug-ee-own) Indians who lived here or why they left after only a few years, but it's easy to see why they chose this location. Overlooking a year long stream high above the heat of the valley, this was also an easily, located 35 miles north of town on a paved, winding forest road. The road itself is an adventure, defensible area and view provided an advance warning of an approaching enemy. The caves stay cool in the summer and we enjoyed the escape from the sun, but knew that sooner or later we had to head back down to the valley. There, we stopped at the visitor center, which offers a lot of information on the ruins and an informative movie. The cliff dwellings are remarkable and it is truly worth the trip to see them. Lodging and meals are available on the way at the Grey Feather Lodge (great green-chile cheeseburgers), and the Spirit Canyon Lodge and Cafe (good German food on Saturdays). The cliff dwellings has a volunteer program and furnishes RV sites; but after considering it decided that the remote location and lack of cell phone service was not something we'd be interested in for now. Our next trip was to the catwalk in Whitewater Canyon, the ghost town of Mogollon, and a drive into the high mountains. The catwalk, constructed of metal, follows Whitewater Canyon for almost a mile into the mountains above a clear running stream. The climb is fairly easy, shaded by trees, and we could see trout in the stream below. It's a beautiful place to visit and picnic and not far off the main road. Traveling up a road a few miles, we turned off on a nasty paved road to Mogollon, a sorta-ghost town with lots of mine ruins and run-down houses with yards full of rusting cars and appliances (where did the miners get all of those washing machines?) It was here that one of the worst-ever spaghetti westerns, "My Name is Nobody" was filmed, somehow starring Henry Fonda. Today it's a mix of semi-restored buildings and decayed ruins, with abandoned mines along the road. Continuing past Mogollon, the road turned to dirt and started to climb. Our goal was to reach a lake high in the mountains, but the road was washed out and instead our 25-mile backroad trip to us to the fire lookout at Bear Wallow Mountain, 9950' up and with fantastic views. Throughout the trip, we were amazed at the deep forest and beauty of the green meadows; wildflowers were everywhere, and the fields of Silvery Lupine were in full bloom. Along the way, we saw elk and heard wild turkeys in the canyons - what a great day! A few days later, we decided to take another long trip into the mountains, this time from the other (sorta east) side. This was an especially long backroad trip, 40 miles on way through some very rugged country. The road followed a pattern; straight along a ridgetop, then switchbacks down into a narrow canyon, then switchbacks up out of the canyon......repeat seven or eight times. Our destination was Wall Lake, which turned out to be worth the trip. Just past the Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch, this little lake sits at the end of a green meadow surrounded by sandstone bluffs. If you wanted to see the one perfect representation of the beauty of the Gila, this is the place. On the way home, we stopped by historic Fort Bayard, now owned by the State of New Mexico and housing a veterans cemetery and hospital. We toured the historic buildings and grounds, and I found the Golden-spurred Columbine in full bloom that beings this blog. There has been so much to see and do here, and not enough time or space to tell you all the places we've visited; but it's been a month and we're getting "hitch itch". We'll be moving north tomorrow, and will keep you updated on our adventures. Thanks for visiting!

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