DAY 29 – Field Trip to Gila Cliff Dwellings
One of my goals on our journey was a side trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings and this layover day was practically in the neighborhood. It is a 44 mile drive from Silver City to the National Monument up in the mountains north of town. More dramatic views at 7400 feet elevation with hairpin turns and unnervingly sharp drop-offs. A 2 hour drive with some photo stops along the way. After getting my National Parks Passport stamped at the visitors center, we drove to the one-mile loop hiking trail where the caves are located. They warn you that it is an uneven path that rises 180 feet. Not for the timid hiker, but worth the trek up a creek canyon to the trail along the bottom of the cliffs. Falling would be a bad idea & I almost expected to see some backboards and rescue stations.
The really neat thing about this site is that you get to go into the caves and rooms. I expected to be standing below and viewing them from a distance, so this was a great surprise. Instead you climb up into the caves and walk through the remains of the dwellings. There are volunteer guides located inside to offer information and prevent visitors from climbing on the walls or getting stuck somewhere in a cave.
A prospector discovered the dwellings in the 1870’s and artifacts were looted before an archaeologist got there in 1884. By using dendrochronology (studying tree ring growth) on the remaining timbers, he was able to date the structures back to 1276. Seven caves had 40 rooms. The inhabitants were the Mogollon people who survived by hunting, gathering and farming. By 1300 they had moved on. A lot of work for only one generation living there.
In 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt set aside the land as a national monument to protect it.
What strikes me when I visit a historical site like this is how recently our culture has developed and how young the USA really is! I have seen cathedrals in Vienna and Prague that were constructed in the 1200’s. We really are the new kids on the block.
After leaving the Cliff Dwellings, we drove further east back to where Dave would continue his climb of the highest peak so far in the ride. Our campsite for the night was another Forest Service camp, Lower Gallinas, that we had to ourselves again. Another lovely pine & hardwood site on a dry creek bed. It ‘s location is on the bike route at about 6700 feet. Translation: another really cold night.
DAY 30 – Leapfrogging over Emory Pass
It was 38 degrees when we woke up in the morning. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about leaving a warm sleeping bag & camper to start the day. But this was going to be the big day to cross over the 8238 foot pass and then down an 8 mile stretch to relatively flat (ok – rolling) terrain. The Rider was ready for the challenge. He took his time and made it seem not so bad. I enjoyed another day of staying nearby in case he needed to switch unicycles. The lookout at the top of the pass is worth checking out. The day’s ride was 32 miles, which I think is impressive given the extreme conditions in the first third of the route.
There was one little town that stood out as different than it’s surroundings. Hillsboro’s main street is mostly abandoned, but there’s an optimistic spirit about it that feels good. It has a post office, the Barbershop Café and fair trade gift shop and Hillsboro General Store Café. The buildings are painted brightly in whimsical colors and designs. People here are trying to make it a place where you want to stop and spend some time and they are succeeding.
I picked up Dave 5 miles out of town and we continued on the route to Caballo. We camped at Caballo Lake State Park, a bargain at $8.00 for a primitive site. Before we got there we spent some time at the Caballo Tavern, where they turned on the big screen tv for us. Another Marquette basketball game (that I really didn’t expect to be anywhere near a tv to watch). This game did not have a happy ending. They lost to Syracuse. And my friend Scott Dann, a dedicated alum, gets a lunch out of it in June.
DAY 31 – The End Of Our First Month of the Ride – Easter Sunday
This was the most unusual Easter Sunday I’ve ever spent. Our routine was like most days on the route, but I enjoyed talking to some friends on the phone while I had cell coverage. I also went for a short bike ride with one long hill so I could say I rode in New Mexico. I am running out of time because we are nearing El Paso, Texas.
Dave made 47 miles, his longest day. Most of the route went through pecan orchards and chili pepper farms. After checking into camp, we went over to the Blue Moon Café to get something to eat and get out of the sun for a while. This time we watched Duke lose to Louisville. I’ve watched more NCAA March Madness on this trip than I have in years. It’s been fun.
We camped in another state park for $8.00 – Leasburg Dam State Park. Just off the route and very quiet after the Easter barbeque crowd went home. I heard the coyotes singing in the distance. Great stars. And train tracks so close, the few trains seemed like they were going through the campground.
DAY 32 – April 1 – Fort Selden
Right outside the campground was a state historic monument, the ruins of Fort Selden. After dropping The Rider off, I returned there to check it out. A small museum and adobe ruins of an outpost created in the New Mexico Territory in 1865 to protect the settlers and later the railroad workers. The fort was made up of two regiments, one of which was the Buffalo Soldiers. These were the first peacetime all black regiment in the U. S. army. I stopped by because I was interested in learning more about them. To my surprise, there were no displays devoted to them and a conspicuous lack of any photos other than white soldiers. All were about daily life at the fort. Their claim to fame was that Douglas MacArthur lived there for three years as a child.
When the manager of the museum asked me what I thought, that started a really interesting conversation about what was lacking and why. No non-whites, no women, no Native Americans, no Latinos. The exhibits were created in 1974 & reflected the racism of the local community. He seemed like a good guy with lots of progressive ideas that he was slowly implementing to bring things up to current times. The conversation was more interesting than the actual museum itself. Plus they gave me a cup of coffee!
When I was walking around the ruins, I did a really dumb thing and went off the path. Soon I felt something in the bottom of my Crocs. Goatheads are little cactus thorns like tacks that look like little goat heads. I spent 10 minutes picking them out of the bottom of my shoes. And I thought rattlesnakes were the real problem.
Tonight we are at the Western Winds RV park about 30 miles west of El Paso. Don’t stay here if you can help it. It is a two star out of five and it’s only redeeming value is that it has Wifi.