Thursday May 17, 2012 -
We were up early for us and on the road by 9:00. We headed north on NM 15 to visit Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Travel guides and people often “hype” some things so we were not certain what to expect but the road was indeed some of the most crooked we have ever driven. Ben said for me to say he got blisters on his hands from turning the steering wheel! We climbed into the Gila National Forest passing through Ponderosa pine forest – often the floor of the forest covered with purple lupine and yellow hawkweed. There was some dampness in the forest – something we have not seen for a day or two. It was a beautiful if rather difficult drive.
Most of the
rivers we have crossed the last two days have been virtually dry river beds but
now we could see evidence of some water.
As we climbed further we had some fantastic views where you could see
for miles and miles. At the highest
point, Copperas Pass, we were at 7,740 feet. We began decent, passing Gila Hot Springs. We
considered camping here last night but were tired and stopped in Silver City–
glad we did not try NM 15 late in the day when tired!
|Lupines covering forest floor|
We traveled a total of 44 miles to the Visitor Center and then another mile to the trail head for a hike to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The ranger made certain we understood it was about a mile round trip – with first half mile on the floor of the narrow valley, then a steep climb with switchbacks up to the level of the caves, with the final part of the hike through the caves and then back down.
The valley floor was not too difficult but the switchbacks were VERY difficult and Jane took advantage of each and every bench they kindly placed strategically along the climb. Probably the most difficult part (for Jane) was walking along the path from cliff dwelling to cliff dwelling as there were no railings. We were able to walk into the caves and see all the various rooms. There was a large room or the common plaza room used for meetings or ceremonies. Off of that large room were numerous sleeping rooms and storage rooms. The literature states there are 40+ rooms here and we probably were in or looked into 25 or more of them. We spoke with two National Park Service volunteers who really enjoyed their jobs as interpreters in the cliff dwellings.
Then after about 45 minutes exploring the cliff dwellings we began the rest of our hike – the down part and there were nearly as many steps down as there were up! But we made it and had a lovely picnic lunch on the banks of the Gila River before we began our trip back to Silver City. We came back partly on NM15 and partly on NM35 which traveled through the Mimbres Valley. This was a much different trip as we followed a small river through a beautiful valley with farms and vacation homes.
Nearly back to Silver City we passed by a huge open pit copper mine. The pit was over a mile deep and 1600 feet across. Or maybe it was the other way around! Anyway it was huge. They moved the earth, partially separated out the copper and moved the concentrate to another location for processing. This mine has been operating as an open pit mine since the early 1900’s but had been mined even before this area was part of the US.
Back in Silver City we explored the downtown area a bit, looking at all the great restaurants and shops. This is a very arts oriented community. We considered the favorite restaurant of Julie and Sarah; but Ben was really in the mood for a steak – so we selected Diane’s. Trip Advisor did not let me down either on a recommendation. Ben’s steak was excellent. Jane had a steak salad - greens with steak slices, cherry tomatoes, white beans, red onions, and feta cheese with a spicy vinaigrette dressing – it gets a 10 out of 10!
|Steak Salad at Diane's in Silver City|
Back at the campground we had a quiet evening with a little TV and reading. Tomorrow we should make it to Arizona – but will be back to New Mexico a bit further north in a few weeks.