Thursday, August 6, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico, May 2009 (VI)

Indian rock art from a cliff face near Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

A Short Detour

I'm reading Edward Abbey's
The Journey Home: Some Words In Defense of the American West. It's a collection of essays and short memoirs published in 1977. In the first memoir, "Hallelujah on the Bum," Abbey recounts his introduction to the West during a three-month hitchhiking and train-hopping circuit of the West when he was 17 years old in 1944. Here's his description of passing through New Mexico aboard a railroad boxcar:

Brightest New Mexico. The sharp, red cliffs of Gallup. Mesas and mountains in the distance. Lava beds baking under the sun. Old volcanoes. Indian villages, cornfields, antique adobe churches, children splashing in a stream, an enchanted mesa. And over all a golden light, a golden stillness, a sweet but awesome loneliness--one old white horse browsing on a slope miles away from any sign of man; no fences; one solitary windmill standing in a grove of junipers, cowpaths radiating toward the horizon; a single cottonwood tree, green as life, in the hot red sand of a dry riverbed.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

From The Nature Conservancy's Mimbres Preserve, we drove north on NM 35 to its intersection with NM 15, then north on NM 15 to its terminus at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Though the drive was only about 30 miles, it took us 1-1/2 hours because the road is tortuous and simply can't be driven fast.
Besides, it was very scenic and there was no reason to hurry.

As we approached the Visitors' Center, the sky became increasingly dark and we heard rumbles of thunder. We went into the Visitors Center, where we got oriented, bought some postcards, and a tiny bowl painted with Mimbres-inspired artwork created by a contemporary Arizona artist.

We left the Visitors' Center and got back in the car for the 1-mile drive to the trailhead for the cliff dwellings. As we were driving, the heavens opened up. We got to the trailhead parking lot and waited in the car for the rain to slack off--a good 30 minute wait before we were confident that the worst had passed. The trailhead is located on the east bank of the Middle Fork Gila River at the end of a suspension bridge over the river. We paid our admission fee and crossed the bridge into the mouth of Cliff Dweller Canyon. The trail rose slowly up through the lush canyon, winding through riparian vegetation alongside a beautiful mountain brook, and then emerged onto rocks just below the caves containing the cliff dwellings.

There were several volunteer docents stationed throughout the dwellings, but visitors were allowed to wander freely through the partially restored and stabilized ruins. The structures were much the same as we had seen at Chaco Canyon, except that these ruins were located in protective caves high above the canyon floor, which added an additional element of intrigue to the site.

View of the Gila Cliff Dwellings and Cliff Dweller Canyon from the trail leading up to the cliff dwellings

View of a portion of the Gila Cliff Dwellings looking up Cliff Dweller Canyon into the adjacent Gila Wilderness

A ladder leading down from the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
The route through the dwellings requires the use of this ladder.

The Middle Fork Gila River looking south (downstream)

1 comment:

Linda said...

Scott, I was just at the Gila Cliff Dwellings on Sunday - -you give a wonderful description, thanks! I particularly like these Indian Dwellings because we are allowed to walk through them. If you go on a quiet day, you can sit and contemplate how these people lived 750 years ago. Puts our frivolous lifestyle into perspective! - Linda Ferrara