On our way to Gila National Forest, we passed by the City of Rocks State Park. Thousands of years ago a volcano erutped and ash and soot fell in this area. Over years that layer of rock has been eroded to make what look like a city of rocks. The rocks are like buildings and there appears to be streets between them. It was a fun place. We also saw a huge cat slinking around between the stones that we believe was a largely overgrown pet of one of the RV’s staying in the ara, but we weren’t sure. We had already seen a coyote and several deer run down the road along with our slowly moving car (on separate occasions). We saw lots of great wildlife on this trip. You can see our pictures of the City of Rocks here.
After City of Rocks, we traveled on to Silver City, New Mexico, the jumping off point for Gila National Forest and the Gila Cliff Dwellings. We were also near the Santa Rosa pit/strip mining operation which we stopped to see. It was an unbelievably huge hole in the ground. I’m glad they plan to fill it back in some day when the mining is done, but it’s gigantic now! It is so big that it swallowed up the entire town of Santa Rosa. Pictures of the mine are here.
The Cliff Dwellings are also very interesting. They were the first we’ve seen. To get there, you have to travel a narrow mountainous road that goes up over 7000 feet above sea level. It is twisty, treacherous, full of switchbacks, hairpins, and lots of sharp twists. It goes on for about 30 miles, but it takes more than an hour to travel. It was very challenging and, luckily, we encountered very few cars on the road. In fact, this entire trip was perfectly timed to avoid crowds but still take advantage of great weather. We were really lucky. We’ve decided that we will plan all our trips to National Parks in April or October.
Anyway, to reach the cliff dwellings, we had to hike about a mile over a great paved trail with lots of bridges over the stream that formed the canyon. It was a beautiful walk, but a little strenuous.
The dwellings themselves were amazing. They were well organized, well built, and took advantage of every natural resource available. All alcoves in sandstone cliffs are formed by seep springs, so there is a water source right in the back of the cave. The cliff dwellers also stored their food by placing it in rooms that were made of rock, plaster, and part of the cave. Once the food was sealed in, insects and rodents couldn’t get to it. They could store dried corn for several years if necessary.
Another interesting feature was the kiva. It is where the Native Americans worshipped. Basically, it is a large circular room that is sunk into the ground. There is a roof over the kiva and the top is flush with the ground outside so you could walk over a kiva and not even know it was there. The only entrance is through a hole in the roof that is directly over the fire pit. It was accessed by a long ladder. Kivas are found everywhere throughout Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. In addition, some of the cliff dwellings had 6 or 8 of them.
It’s clear the cliff dwellers were very resourceful and it was so interesting to walk in their footsteps, if only briefly. By the way, in the past it was believed that the Native Americans, called Anasazi, who occupied the cliff dwellings, mysteriously disappeared. We now know this is not the case. Rather, the Anasazi are actually ancient Peublos who simply migrated on to other destinations as required by their faith, their religion.
I’ll probably mangle this, but, basically, as a people, the Indians believed they are required to live in many different areas that they are lead to by the spirits. Over generations, they learn about each area, how to survive and grow crops in different locations. That knowledge becomes part of their oral tradition and then they move on to the next challenge. Once they have lived and learned all there is no know about each location, they have reached “center” and they are no longer required to migrate. Of all the indian tribes today, only the Hopi Indians feel they have reached “center.” Maybe that’s why they’ve lived on their plateaus for literally thousands of years.
You can find all our pictures here.