Find us on Google+ Rick and JoAnne's RV Travels: Trail of the Mountain Spirits to Gila Cliff Dwellings - Part 1

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Trail of the Mountain Spirits to Gila Cliff Dwellings - Part 1

Rick Morgan

From City of Rocks State Park and just east of Silver City, we began our journey on the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway, which itself was an amazing, picturesque drive through historic places, over the Continental Divide, along a creek, and spectacular vistas through deep, old forests ending at the remarkable Gila Cliff Dwellings. This is going to be a long post, so I am splitting it into two parts. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

We made an unfortunate quick stop at Ft. Bayard.  It was one of those typically great and unexpected “quickie stops”. However "I say unfortunate because on this day they were not open to visitors.  So, the best we could do was read about it and take some photos.  The Fort served as a U.S. Army post during the Indian Wars between the years 1866-1899, and then as an Army Sanatorium from 1899 – 1920. It was home to Native American Indian Scouts, Buffalo Soldiers, and during WWI and WWII Veterans were rehabilitated, and German POW’s were housed here. So, you can readily see how it would have been so interesting to visit and learn more about the history of this place. Many of the buildings, old hospital, and barracks still stand…in disrepair. Sad - yes, but still hauntingly magnificent!

Our next stop was Pinos Altos (Tall Pines), an old mining town at an altitude of 7067’ that was developed in 1860 as a result of a gold strike. The town hosted 49ers, outlaws, as well as Judge Roy Bean. This town, once abandoned is now a place for summer residents and tourists. It reminded us of Jamestown, CO. But beware, they are very, very serious about trespassers with several signs posted “NO TRESPASSING – VIOLATORS WILL BE SHOT AND SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.”

As you travel on NM15, you will go on a mountainous road through ponderosa pine country of the Gila (HEE-la) National Forest, which was set aside in 1924 as the first wilderness area in the USA. It definitely was not the terrain one would think of for New Mexico. Yet, here we were in the midst of winding roads, stunning vistas, thick forests and mountain lakes. We made a stop at the Ben Lilly Park which was established to honor the mountain man lion-hunter. You would never know about the “honoring part” since the plaque describing his life and philosophy is unreadable due to graffiti.

Passing other areas of interest, the slow, two hour journey made us even more excited to finally get to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The road lead us right to the visitor center for the dwellings. They had an informative, well done movie on the Mogollon Puebloan peoples and some beautiful artifacts. The staff was most helpful and directed us to a petroglyph site as a first stop.

More pictures here.

Tomorrow we will post about our experience and impressions of the Gila Cliff Dwellings.