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Posts Tagged ‘Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument’

On Thursday, we said farewell to City of Rocks and returned north to Silver City. Our first choice of campground didn’t turn out – no spaces available for 3 nights or more. So we ended up at the Rose Valley RV Park, a large, nicely done campground that is off of Memory Lane; we are right next door to a cemetery. Haven’t visited it yet, but will before we leave. Thursday afternoon was devoted to chores.

Friday, we got up early and headed into the mountains to go to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. It’s only 44 miles away, but it is all winding roads going up and down mountains. I was surprised at how green it is – lots of grasses and wildflowers. We reached Gila Cliffs around 10:30 and after making sure we had water, but no food (they actually have a receptacle for you to dump your gum) we were sent onto the half-mile trail up to the cliff. They warned us about “aggressive” rattlesnakes which makes you apprehensively look at all the rocks nearby. It was a beautiful trail, protected from the sun by trees and running by a little brook. Then you begin to climb and get the first view of the caves.

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We happened to arrive when a guided tour was starting, led by Megan, a park volunteer. We spent the next hour with her, learning a lot about the caves. For all the cliff dwellings we have seen, Gila Cliffs was home to the Mogollon people, with no connection to the Ancestral Pueblans that inhabited Bandolier, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, etc. Unfortunately, between looters and inept archaeologists, not much is left in the way of artifacts that might help define this group of people. Megan told us that rodents digging at the site have actually revealed a few artifacts (mostly corncobs). To top it off, someone set fires in each of the five caves and destroyed everything that would burn. It is sad. But the caves and remnants of the buildings are spectacular, one of the most impressive that I’ve ever actually walked through.

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After spending two hours peppering Megan with questions and photographing, we finally headed back down the trail. The few little puffy clouds had grown into large thunderheads and we could hear thunder in the distance. Megan had told us that there were good pictographs near one of the campgrounds, so we ate lunch there and then walked a short way to see some nice images of frogs, of patterns and something that looks like a confused squirrel. Meanwhile, much of the sky was now a threatening deep gray and the thunder was getting closer.

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The rain and lightening began as soon as we were driving those 44 miles back, through crests and valleys in the Gila National Forest. The lightening was amazing. I saw one flash that made a U curve and another where 3 diagonal strikes happened one after another. The rain varied from a light pitter-patter to very heavy hail. I began to worry about flooding after we crossed 3 small streams of muddy water, but there was only one big puddle we had to cross.

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Silver City’s special weekend attraction was Pickamania, a bluegrass (sort of) festival in their small city park. We decided to go over on Saturday afternoon. We brought several layers of clothing and our chairs. It was one of the best music festivals I’ve been to in a while. The size of the crowd was ideal (maybe 200 or 300) and the music was eclectic, to say the least. The two groups we heard were hONEyhoUSe and the Fishtank Ensemble. hONEyhoUSe is a group of women soul singers, who harmonize nicely and write a lot of their own songs.

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Fishtank Ensemble is a quartet that started in Oakland, CA. They mostly play electric violin, guitar and double bass. Ursula Knudson, the lead singer, plays the saw, theremin and other instruments. Her voice is quite an instrument, occasionally going into the stratosphere. Their music is almost indescribable; a mix of gypsy, jazz, klezmer and I don’t know what. Songs veer from one thing to another. They must go through dozens of sets of strings per show. What was really fun to watch was the area by the stage that the dancers took over. I haven’t seen a Deadhead event in years, but a lot of this group was dressed like a 60’s pipe dream. Long skirts, gypsy shawls, bare feet and the obligatory guy in a sky-blue sarong. What was really amusing was watching the dancers try to syncopate to Fishtank Ensemble. Their music could start out slow and gradually speed up to Nascar velocity. The dancing varied from shit-kicking to belly dancing, but on a few songs, everyone eventually gave up on the beat and were reduced to watching.

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We ate some okay truck food and didn’t try a delicacy new to us: ribbon fries, that look like small potato chips all glued together willy-nilly. The alcohol setup was weird: They checked everyone’s ID and glued on a wristband to get into a fenced off area where the two options were to buy and drink your booze (no food stands there) or use the only 3 PortaPotties in the park. There was a raffle but we didn’t win the electric guitar, the handmade mandolin or the Google tablet (an odd prize for a music festival). It was a nice afternoon in a small town.

Since the weather was a little cooler, we went on a Sunday hike to view some dragonfly petroglyphs. We had to finagle somewhat to figure out where the trailhead was (3 miles west of Silver City on NM-180 didn’t get us anywhere). But Google came through and we found a more precise set of directions. The Dragonfly Trail is almost totally flat, passing over grasslands with a few cacti thrown in. After passing the petroglyph area, we backtracked a little and found rock art spread all around the Gila River (dry right now). We arrived there just as another family did. There was a teenage couple, suitably grouchy at having the old folks around. They had music going, but not too loudly. I had to laugh, they snuck downhill from Mom to smooch in private. Only their location was right below the Dragonfly petroglyphs. I chose not to capture their amorous moment.

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We trudged back towards the car but had a few exciting moments. At one point I looked up to see an elk lunging towards me. She was enormous! Then she saw me standing there and did a very clumsy, noisy 180-degree turn and shot off. A little later on the trail, Dave found a little snake (a garter, I think). It stood still for us a while. And we saw some iridescent beetles, suspiciously close to piles of horse dung.

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Finally, we stopped at the cemetery right next door to our RV Park. We stopped in for a survey and found many highly decorated gravesites. But the winner was the one with a white Teddy-Bear angel with wings, a little bedraggled, but his intentions were pure.

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