Out of Silver City we head north on a road that is a mere 50 miles to Cliff Dwellings, but takes 2 hours to drive. It is just that scenic.
We opt to camp short of the Gila River canyon on top of a high grassy hilltop where the solar panels can do their best.
It is a short drive to the canyon - though still twisty enough to provide time for enjoyment of los pinos altos. The hike up and into the cliff dwellings is nothing short of beautiful. The little creek provides musical accompaniment. The smells of forest and water are beautiful. We look for the snowy white Mexican owl who lives midway up the trail…but miss a sighting.
|View from the trail
Ranger Molly provides a guided tour for us. She tells us that the caves were formed by the river over time - lots of time. Volcanic activity, topped with a conglomeration of sediment...and then water and weather erosion = nice caves. Dendrochronology (tree rings) set the dates of construction for the cliff dwellings at the 1280s. The favorite question seems always to be: why did they leave? Ranger Molly suggests that they had good friends in the Pueblo People and likely married and moved to town.
As we reach the end of the line of caves, the sign invites us to return to the stairs to the trail, but the ranger gives us permission to exit via the steep ladder.
In our slightly out of date (1999), reprinted in 2014 guide book we find that another hike will take us to ruins rarely seen - except in the meantime, the forest service has paved a road, built a campground, Lower Scorpion, and added signage to both pictographs and formerly rarely seen cave ruins. Time warp note: There may yet may be another ruin to discover - as referenced in the book. Lower Scorpion may just be one not mentioned - or discovered when the road was paved.
Time warp notes: we will discover software, D-Stretch, which will allow a more intense view of the above pictograph.
And another example without D-Stretch and with:
After the two hikes exploring ruins we find a perfect recovery activity - if you can call it “activity”. Along the Gila River there are several hot springs available for $5 a soak. They are well maintained and cooled to a fine temperature. Before we reach the hot springs we meet Robert who moved from Southern Calif to the Gila River canyon ~20 years ago. He seems pleased to tell us that he has found ways to make a living here. He maintains the garden, but also guides river trips into canyons that are otherwise inaccessible. He says that this February is unusually warm. He admires Q and tells us about his trip to the Quigley Co in Manchester, PA.
While we are soaking in the hot springs, we see a young eagle flying along the canyon walls. It seems a lovely place to live. It is true of our campsite on a bluff above the Gila River.
We drive riverside before leaving in the morning - to see if there are some giant Gila trout in the Gila River. Alex first holds up one finger, seeing one large trout. And then 2 fingers…and then flashing ten fingers. The big fish are in a deep pool in the bend of the river.
From the Gila River canyon we head south again to Silver City, stopping by an inconspicuous roadside taco truck for breakfast. The number of cars coming and going from the truck are a recommendation for the California breakfast burrito…which is what we hear most everyone ordering. The recommendation proves true. If you get to Silver City be sure to stop by Fidnencio's.