Thursday, April 3, 2008

Gila Cliff Dwelling Adventure!

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I am totally enjoying my time in New Mexico! I drove up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings yesterday…boy!!! was a long drive up and a long drive back! But, I’ll admit it was worth it! Ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to go and see those dwellings. I’m a firm believer in making my dreams come true and today I did just that!

From Silver City I drove straight up Hwy 15 into the Gila National Forest. It’s a 2 to 3 hour drive depending on how many times you stop to take pictures (I stopped constantly)…to get there. I suggest you not go more than 20 mph in most places. The road is extremely twisty and there are no guard rails. If you take this little trip, drive slowly. Obey the speed limit or you may find yourself diving over a cliff, falling helplessly into a canyon far, far below. No one will be able to help you. I doubt they will even know you’ve just made a horrible blunder. I rarely saw another soul on the way up Hwy 15…maybe 5 cars at most. If a car crashes over the cliff in the forest and no one is there to hear it…well, I think you get the picture. Not pretty!

But you’ll be fine…trust me! I made it up and back, so can you! Just take your time. Oh, and by the way…DO NOT drive your RV, 5th wheel or travel trailer up Hwy 15 if it is over 20 ft. in length. They do not allow vehicles over 20 ft. long to drive on that road…too narrow, too many tight switch backs. If you want to camp up there, take Hwy 35…which by the way is still twisty, but much more manageable. The same rule applies: If an RV crashes over the cliff in the forest and no one is there to hear it…just don’t even go there!

The views are spectacular! There are several places to pull over for photos, so take plenty of batteries and a memory card with lots of storage. I shot about 500 pics on the way up and about another 500 once I finally made it to the dwellings.

Oh, I forgot to mention…you should pack a lunch and take it with you. You can picnic along the way. I stopped at the Lower Scorpion Campground and had lunch under the trees. Afterward, I explored the cave dwellings and pictographs there to wet my appetite and prepare myself for the “big” dwellings at Cliff Dweller Canyon about a mile further up the road.

I arrived in the parking lot where I found a small nature center containing artifacts and information about the people who inhabited the dwellings roughly 800 years ago. You may think the ancient cave dwellers may have been unsophisticated, but quite frankly, they were genius in many ways. For instance, they had a written language in the form of pictographs that survive to this very day….still found of the walls and faces of cliffs 800 years after they were written there. They had to survive in harsh conditions, so they developed tools and methods of survival to sustain them through good times and bad.

The trail to the dwellings is a 1 mile loop. It’s a half mile up and a half mile back. It’s a gradual climb until the very end…I had to sit down and rest. Be sure to take a bottle of water with you and a walking stick if you have one. Just carry a back pack…and stow your gear in it. It works out well!

The scenery is amazing! I felt a connection with this serene, spirit filled place and found it hard to leave…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Once you get to the top, you’ll be greeted by a very friend park ranger who will give you a little background and answer any questions you might have…and then, you ascend up the stairs into a completely distant work…far removed from the modern day world you and I inhabit. I met folks who had visited 20 and 50 years ago…long before major excavation had taken place. Most of the ruins have been rebuilt and much of the structures are new, but made to look and feel authentic. Never the less, the dwellings are magnificent and awe inspiring!

As you climb deeper into the womb of the dwellings you get a real sense of what it must have been like to live there 8 centuries ago as an inhabitant. It amazes me that people walked by foot from Mexico to live in the middle of a canyon next to a stream. Apparently the dwellings were ceremonial in nature…used as a “church” to worship the native people’s creator. It was also used as a day care center…the grown ups would leave their smaller children who were too young in one of the dwellings with no way out while they worked all day. Now that’s a concept in child care! But, the ranger told me these people were not war-like, but there were peaceful…so that made me feel better about the whole “leave the kid behind all day” train of thought! They did it out of necessity!

In one dwelling I saw corn husks that were still there…after almost 800 years! In another dwelling I saw what looked to be the remains of an oven…there were doors and windows and many interesting things to look at.

As I said before…it was very difficult to leave this sacred, holy ground. I could almost feel the spirits of the Native Americans who lived there. As I finally turned to leave, I saw the wide expanse of the wings of a gorgeous Golden Eagle soaring just over head. Perhaps the spirits are still there…reminding us of a different time and a different place where there were no worries about ever escalating gas prices, getting the kids to soccer practice on time or the constant interruptions of our hectic "modern" life.

I sighed and walked back down the path and back into the year 2008.

Until next time!

~Barb :-)

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