Sunday, June 13, 2010

June 13, 2010 On the Trail of the Mountain Spirits & Gila Cliff Dwellings

Today I’d ride out to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings. My planned route would take me through the old mining town of Pinos Altos and then into the Gila Wilderness area via highway 15.

I began the day with the usual repacking of all the gear on the bike. I don’t know why but it never seems to go the same way, all those little bags of stuff don’t seem to want to fit into the same space.

Once loaded I checked out of the motel and headed for breakfast at McDonalds, conveniently located just a few blocks away. After that it was gas up and get going.

I crossed the Continental Divide and now water would run down the drain in the opposite direction as my home Oregon. Clever how that works.

Pinos Altos was a small mining town located about 10 miles north of Silver City. Today it's an interesting attraction for tourists. I stopped to look around and shoot some pics.

Since it was Sunday morning none of the stores were open and I had lots of privacy for photo taking.

The Buckhorn Saloon....

The Opera House stands empty....
The old Norton Store, circa late 1800's

                                  Check out the bicycle hanging in the tree

As I was preparing to leave a small herd of deer were spooked by something and I tried to capture them using the telephoto on my little cheapie camera. Sometimes I get lucky but this morning wasn’t one of them, none of the four shots turned out.

Leaving Pinos Altos I started on the ride known as The Trail of the Mountain Spirits. It follows a very twisting and winding route on highway 15 all the way to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Many of the switchback corners are so tight that vehicles with long trailers are not allowed. You won’t see any huge motor homes either which is pretty nice for a change.

The scent of pine was everywhere and the bright morning sun began to take the edge off what had been a crisp beginning. For awhile I’d been tempted to put on my light weight jacket but being a manly man I toughed it out. Right.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road which I appreciated very much. I was able to stop often in the manner of a true tourist without causing any delays to other drivers. The topography along the way is special; the colors in the rocks and cliffs are vibrant. At times like these I wish I was a better photographer.

When I stopped to visit a rest site it was disheartening to note the vandals had been at it, destroying whatever they could and making miserable attempts to shoot holes in the signs. I’m a bit of a gun nut and it really ticks me off when I see that sort of thing. Judging from the damage to one sign I can only hope the shooter caught a bit of ricochet, maybe put his eye out.

This is one tough tree... Check out the bark on it.

I arrived at the Cliff Dwellings a little after noon and a park ranger was greeting visitors and handing out small maps with explanations of the seven dwellings. I like to make things as challenging as possible so I’d left my reading glasses in Green Girl’s saddle bags. Good thinking LL.

It didn’t really matter as I was too busy gawking at everything and taking pictures.

The trail leading to the dwellings is easy to navigate
right up to the beginning of the stairway.

At that point you begin a 150 ft climb in a fairly short distance. In the rising heat and wearing my motorcycle boots (again!) I found the climb, uh, interesting.

Given there were a number of snake warning signs I appreciated the extra protection they afforded so maybe it wasn’t so bad. At least there were few others on the trail so I was able to make brief rest stops and practice making loud gasping noises. The park people have things pretty well figured out and there are lots of small benches for old geezers to park on.

When I arrived at the top of the climb I was greeted by a sight that would fill anyone with wonder, pueblos dating to A.D. 1400. The park ranger at the entrance had told us they are nearly 100% original with only a slight amount of restoration having been done to either wood supports or masonry.

My timing turned out to be lucky as the party of hikers ahead of me were just leaving which meant I had the guide all to myself. As would be expected she was a wealth of information on the dwellings and the Mogollon people who had lived there. A fire was set and burned quite a lot of the structures in the 1800’s but there are documents that depict how the dwellings looked. No one knows for sure who the arsonists were, some accused the Apaches and others claimed settlers had been responsible.

The park service has built ladders you can climb to view the interiors of the homes and they encourage you to look but not touch. This policy helps preserve the texture of the masonry and original wooden supports.

It’s fun to try and imagine what it must have been like living there; everything had to be carried up including water from the stream at the base of the cliffs. The guide said the people gathered food from areas above and below the dwellings and during rain storms most likely collected water in jugs. She said she had been in the dwellings during hard driving rain and there were places where that would be possible.

The ceilings of the caves are blackened with the smoke from thousands of fires burned over hundreds of years. It must have been something to see.

I stayed far longer than what I’d anticipated and all too soon it was time to go. The walk back down was relatively easy but you still have to watch your step; there are lots of loose rocks and small patches of gravel that would be easy to lose your footing in.

The ride back to Silver City left me pooped and ready for a rest so I checked back into the motel, even got my same room back. This is neat as I know which outlets don’t work. The girl working the front desk vaguely remembered me and asked if anything was wrong when I arrived. I could have had fun with that but decided she might not get it. One of the questions she asked during the re-check in process was “How many in your party?” I responded “One. Just me. Same as yesterday.” Then she asked “How many adults?” You can see where this is going, right? OK, so I’m Mr. Nice, I let it pass and responded “Just one, me.” That pretty well satisfied her and the mandatory form she was filling out so I was admitted without further fan fare.

A quick trip to Walgreen’s to buy AAA batteries for my mouse and a stop at Burger King for dinner supplies completed the day’s ride. All told it was great and tomorrow for sure, it’s off again on the trail to Roswell and the Mother Ship.

1 comment:

  1. The normal claim for water running out of a bathtub in the opposite direction is linked to the equator rather than the Continental Divide. It's said to be a result of the Coriolis force, however this force is so small that the theory doesn't hold: insconsistencies in the vessel account for differences in direction of the swirl.

    Great new use for boots though - anti-snakebite garb!