Gila Cliff Dwelling Photos

Inside Gila National Forest are many interesting things to see.  There are cliff dwellings, the catwalk, the Santa Rosa mine, among others.  Its a beautiful mountainous area and worth a visit.


This is me walking down the trail after visiting the cliff dwellings. It’s a little out of order 🙂


Santa Rosa strip mining operation. You can see how big it is by comparing it to the car on the road.


It was unbelievably huge. It swallowed the entire town and they plan to fill it in once the mining is finished.


This is where we started the walking part of our explorations.



Bob by a little house we passed on the trail. It’s a tiny room made up of the wedge in the rock. The door only goes to Bob’s hip. This place is very tiny compared the dwellings in the pictures to come. Maybe it was a hunter’s outpost, or something.


The view from the little house.


Petroglyphs. There were walls of them.  They’re faded, but they were everywhere.


I liked this little guy.



View from the beginning of the trail that leads to the more substantive Gila cliff dwellings.


The dwellings are in this rock around the corner on the left


Entrances to the dwellings


More entrances. There were 7 caves of dwellings here. If you click on the picture, you’ll be able to see the structures inside the caves.


Steps to the dwellings. Mostly, the path was uneven and rocky.


Some of the dwellins. Many have T shaped doors.


No one knows why the doors are T shaped.


This is the same picture as the one above, but this one gives you an idea of how big it all is.


Smokehouse? Storage? 2 story house? Who knows? I can’t imagine living, sleeping, and raising kids in such a precariously placed home. It’s rock solid, but one slip and fall and you have a big problem.


Bob looking over the wall. These dwellings originally had roofs, even inside the cave.


Lots of the dwellings rely on ladders to get around.


Another of the ladders. These were provided by the Park Service, but the Indians who lived her would have had their own.


Another view of the dwellings.


The view from the cliff dwellings.


The road to the dwellings is curvy and full of switchbacks and other driving challenges. This view gives you an idea of just how curvy. At times, even going 20 m.p.h. felt too fast. It was like a fun house ride.


City of Rocks Photos

City of Rocks is a fun, almost whimsical, place.  There were lots of people camping in and among the rocks, so it felt even more like a little city.  We wandered around for awhile and really enjoyed the fine Spring weather.


Some of the cactus were blooming.  They are shockingly colorful.


The entrance to the City of Rocks,


Bob on the trail.


Lots of fun rocks were everywhere. This one was about 20 feet tall.


More of the rocks. These are building-sized rocks.


Here’s Bob climbing on one of them.


More rocks 🙂






View of the rocks from a distance. It looked like a little city.

City of Rocks and Gila Cliff Dwellings

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.

Solar Observatory and White Sands National Monument

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We woke to a beautiful day, the winds had all died down.  However, I could barely walk because my muscles were so sore from our caving adventures.  I managed to hobble to the car and we headed up into the mountains to the National Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak.

It was pretty quiet on a Sunday morning but we did take the self guided tour.  It was interesting to see the equipment used to map the sunspots (the town all the scientists live in is Sunspot, NM, by the way), monitor solar winds and the sun’s corona, etc.  This location is one of only a handful worldwide that keeps track of solar weather.  It was built in the 1950’s. Some of the pictures I took are here.

We found a really fun local bar and grill for lunch. We figured it was good because it was so crowded we had to park about a block away along the edge of the highway.  I hobbled in.  They were playing twangy Christain music and everyone was dressed up, probably just coming from church.  I loved it.  The food was great, too.   One thing about food in New Mexico, EVERYTHING has chilis or peppers in some form.  Even for a simple hamburger or eggs, you have to request “no peppers” when you order.  I never get to eat food like that because Bob can’t eat peppers.  While he struggled a bit on this trip, I got to really enjoy food I normally wouldn’t.

Next, we headed to White Sands National Monument.  The picture above is of some picnic tables there.  It is an area of NM where the winds blow gypsum down from the mountains, which is pulverized on the way.  By the time it arrives at the bottom, it is as fine and white as talcum powder.  There is just enough moisture there to anchor the sand, so it doesn’t blow away.  Over about 10,000 years, quite a bit of the white sand has accumulated over about 250 miles.  It is so distinct from the surrounding areas that it is visible from space.  It blows around in huge dunes that move a couple inches a day in some places.

It was really strange to see great white dunes that looked like snow, but there were people sunbathing everywhere.  To make it more visually confusing, people were also sledding down the dunes.  In fact, the visitors center rents disc sleds for that purpose.  Also, instead of evergreens, the sand was punctuated here and there with cactus and yuccas.  It was amazing and lots of fun.  We didn’t do any sledding, but we did walk over the dunes.  The sand was hard packed enough that it was like walking on sand at the waterline of a beach.

If you’re ever in the Southwest, add White Sands to the list of things you must do. It’s a unique and interesting place. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth making a detour to see.  Take your kids, you’ll all love it!  See all our pictures here.

Solar Observatory and White Sands Photos

National Solar Observatory

There wasn’t much going on during our visit, it was a Sunday morning, after all. But the buildings were impressive and they let us into a couple of them.  The cool part of this visit is saying that we were there.  Also, some of the views along the way were wonderful.  It was also freezing cold!


One of the observatories.


Another observatory.


Bob at one of the overlooks along the road up the mountain. The Observatory is at the top. See White Sands in the distance?


Another view of White Sands in the distance.

White Sands National Monument

What a fun place!  It was definitely one of my favorites.  If you ever have a chance, take your kids there.  It is worth a day of your time to expore this amazing natural wonder.  For those who love biology, the native species have evolved to live on the white sand in record time, less than 10,000 years.  Its quite the wonder.



About the sands. Another interesting fact is how fast the dessert creatures adapted. Spiders, lizards, and other dessert animals have lost their pigment and blend in with the sand, and it all happened over just a few thousand years of evolution. That’s pretty quick.


Sled marks on the dunes.


It’s a fine powder. It doesn’t stick or get in your shoes.


It’s a very beautiful place.


Bob at the beginning of the boardwalk trail.


Bob along the boardwalk over the dunes.


The scenery was very beautiful. I wish the pictures did it justice.


Little dessert plants living in the sands



Our car in a sea of white.



View from the top of one of the dunes.


A family of sledders. Notice they’re in shorts. It was a beautiful day.


Many people were sunbathing. It was so strange to see all that white and then see people running around in shorts and swim suits. In my brain, white means snow, so it took a bit to adjust.


One of the picnic tables.


I think they’re designed to protect picnickers from the wind.


One of the dunes. It was a reasonably calm day, so the wind wasn’t a problem for us.



More of the scenery.


The sleds at the visitor center that were available for rent.

Carlsbad Cavern Photos


Love this! I tried to buy a bumper sticker, but they were sold out.


Along the way, we ran across several Ocotillo plants. They’re indigenous to the American Southwest, and one of my favorites. They’re just so weird–a bunch of stems sticking out of the ground with leaves growing out of the bark. These ocotillos were blooming and they were beautiful.



Interesting, right?


This is the entrance to the cave. The amphitheater in the foreground was built for those who want to watch 100,000 bats leave the cave on summer evenings. Apparently, it’s quite a show. However, during our visit, the bats hadn’t returned from their annual migration to Mexico.


From the amphitheater, there’s a winding path that leads down into the cave. Here’s Bob on that path.


A view of the path from above. It’s steep. It twists and turns quite a ways.  Here and there are plaques to explain what you see along the way. Mostly, it’s barren rock.


At the bottom, there’s a gift shop and a restaurant. It’s surreal to all of a sudden come upon these things. At times it’s quite noisy here because the pumps have to bring in water and expel all the waste.  Also, there are generators for the electricity.




On the tour, we saw many interesting formations. If you come, definitely go for the ranger-led tour. It was fascinating and we saw many things we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

This formation is called Queens Curtains.


There were lots of blooming cactus in the area.


More ocotillo.  Love this stuff.

Carlsbad Cavern

After dropping Abby off at school, we headed West.   We spent another day in Kansas City with the family and got the car serviced.  As much driving as we do, the 5000 mile oil change comes around often.  In fact, after the years of traveling, the dealership in Kansas City knows Bob by name!  We also made a quick stop in Wichita where we visited with Grandma again before meeting Mom, Donna and Bill for dinner. After doing so much research on the family history, I had lots of questions for Donna and she had all the good gossip — even though that gossip was from a generation or two back!

We left Wichita just in time to miss all the tornadoes.  We got all the way to Carlsbad, New Mexico in one day of driving and woke up the next morning to all the news reports.  We were lucky, we didn’t even have much rain during our drive.

Our first official day of vacation we spent at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  It was really interesting.  We chose to walk into the cave from its natural entrance and it was well worth it.  However, we walked down the equivalent of 75 stories in about a 3/4 of a mile.  The path was at a pretty steep angle.  When I was walking, it wasn’t a big deal, but the next morning I could hardly move.  Bob said I looked like Tim Conway’s old man character from the Carol Burnett show.  Once I got going and warmed up, I was ok, but if I sat down for a couple minutes, I had to warm up all over again.  It was ridiculous 🙂

Anyway, the cavern itself was very interesting.  We spent hours down there on the self guided tour and a ranger-lead tour.  We learned quite a bit about the caves, the bats who live in them durig the summer, etc.  We really enjoyed it.  I put the pictures here. We also wanted to see Guadalupe Mountains National Park just over the border in Texas, but the wind was so bad, visibility was down to a block.

In fact, the wind was so bad, we couldn’t really get around. There was so much dust in the air, visibility was low. We went to the Denny’s near our hotel for dinner; going any further was dangerous.  As we walked into the Dennys, there was a notice on the door asking patrons not to ask the staff questions about the “unfortunate event” and that the police investigation was ongoing.  Hmmmmm.  After we ordered, I did a little digging on my iphone and found that a waitress had been murdered there only days before.  It was a horrible story, she was killed at random by a stranger who then shot himself and later died.  I wished I hadn’t looked.

Why We Sent Our Daughter to Boarding School

Our Reasons

Alan's BD party
Angie and Bob Shiroff in Nov. 2009

Since Abby was a toddler, we talked and joked about the possibility of her going to boarding school. It was always part possibility, part dream and part joke. That dream got a little more concrete in 5th grade when we began to wonder what effect home schooling would have on her chances of getting into a boarding school. I looked at several school websites and found cryptic notes about home schooled students needing to provide special information, but that information was never explained. I wanted to make sure the records I was keeping contained the information the schools would need. So, we contacted Paula Feldman, an educational consultant.

One thing lead to another and before we knew it, we were driving to Corona del Mar to meet with Paula. She loved Abby and she opened our eyes to many of the possibilities that she had to choose from — that is when we got the idea to go to Switzerland for a year. We all got a little more excited about the prospects.
A couple years passed and Abby began 7th grade and her first year in the Clark County School System. She did really well, but she was repeating alot of material she had already learned. Math and science, in particular, were way behind her skill level. In fact, she began spending her lunch period in her math teacher’s room to help that class to understand the concepts. In other classes, Abby got her work done so quickly that she was sometimes given the opportunity to actually teach a class here and there. In others, she sat and read, graded papers, did filing, and other assorted things to help the teacher. She was really bored. We were concerned because she was already in an advanced program and all advanced classes. Where could we go from there?
We also began reading stories in the paper about the appalling test scores earned by high school kids in Clark County schools. They were the lowest in the nation and there wasn’t one high school that had better than an F. We got very concerned. We also began seeing more and more evidence of violence in our local schools. Abby came home with stories of fights and serious injuries inflicted on some of the kids in her school. We got even more concerned.
So, we called Paula. It was already too late to get Abby into a boarding program for 8th grade and we were not even close to being ready to accept that anyway. However, she wanted Abby to have more academic experiences and she suggested Emma Willard’s summer program. Abby liked the idea of a writing course, so we signed her up.

Emma in May, 2013

The day we dropped Abby off at Emma Willard, all three of us were in awe of the campus. It is stunning — with big gray brick buildings, buttresses, gargoyles, ornate architecture and ivy everywhere! The dorm rooms had beautiful molding, big windows with comfy window seats, and built-in closets and desks that looked like beautiful old-world furniture. As I walked around and met the staff, I could easily see Abby going to school there. It felt like a good match. That was the first time I began to think I could bear to let Abby go to boarding school, possibly even before 11th and 12th grades. Of course, Bob and I planned to move to wherever she went so she could come home on weekends with her friends. Every time we talked to Abby during her 2 weeks there, she was overflowing with enthusiasm for the school, the staff, the traditions, even the food!
We already knew we didn’t want Abby to go to our local public school. Our friends reported that their kids had good experiences at Green Valley, but it would require a zone variance. Even Green Valley had lousy test scores. We also were very skeptical about our local private schools. Our experience with Sarah at Meadows was awful. Also, it’s  20 miles away. We would be driving with all the morning rush hour traffic. We decided to keep all our options open.
That meant another call to Paula to get a list of boarding schools to visit. We flew East and visited/interviewed at 3 schools in 2 days. One was co-ed and we all disliked it. We didn’t even apply. The other 2 were all-girl schools — Emma Willard and Miss Porter’s. We loved them both and Abby was accepted to both.
Both schools have structured their classrooms to enhance the learning opportunities for girls. For example, they have class rooms with no desks, only a big oval table that everyone sits around. The class sizes are small, usually only 8-12 students. Both were completely integrated with cutting edge technology — white boards in the classrooms, everyone required to have a lap top in class, wireless internet everywhere, etc. Mostly, we noticed the students. They were friendly, happy, active, excited, and loving life. They were healthy, well-fed, and it looked like they actually had on clean clothes!!! All the girls we talked to were enthusiastic about their schools and loved dorm life. Both schools have dorm parents who are johnny-on-the-spot for melt downs, teenage drama, illness, etc. They make sure the girls are well cared for.
We also noticed the faculty. At Emma Willard, almost all the faculty have masters or doctorate degrees. Many have taught at the college level. The Physics teacher we talked to used to teach college kids, but prefers the girls at Emma Willard. He said they are sharper, more engaged, better behaved, and really interested in his class. He said he covers more material in a year with the girls at Emma Willard than he ever did on the college level. The girls just “get it.” We saw evidence of that in the classes we sat in on. They were full of discussion, debates, and questions. The girls were definitely engaged and well prepared for class.
We also liked that almost all the faculty live on campus and are available in the evenings for extra help. They and their families also eat in the same dining room with the girls. There are required study hours every night and the faculty are proactive in pursuing girls they think may need extra help. They don’t wait for someone to fail before they jump in. We also liked the fact that because the classes are so small, the faculty can address each girl’s needs on a more or less individual basis.
Emma Willard has several long breaks during the year that will allow Abby to come home. They get a full week at Thanksgiving, a month at Christmas, and 2 weeks for Spring break. There is also a parents’ weekend early in the year to meet all of Abby’s teachers, friends, and their parents. That is helpful should Abby want to go home with a friend for a weekend. I’d feel better about it if I knew the parents involved.
Overall, Bob and I finally realized that we will live if Abby goes to boarding school. It is a fantastic opportunity and we know she will be challenged and will excel. We plan to get iphones for all of us so we can keep in close contact and text often. Abby has promised to let us know about her classes every day, just like she does now. We also plan to ichat regularly. I wish Bob and I could rent an apartment in Troy and live nearby, but in this economy, we just can’t do it.
Throughout the entire process, Bob and I kicked around the idea of being dorm parents. We want to be near Abby, we can’t afford it. That would be a way to do it economically. In addition, it would help alot with tuition. We will see!
Overall, the decision to send Abby to boarding school has been years in the making. As parents, our thinking on the topic has ranged from “no way” to “yes” and back again several times. Very gradually (and with alot of prodding from Paula), Bob and I have come to realize that it really is the right thing. What we want has to come second to what is best for Abby.

Update October 21, 2015

Abby on Graduation Day

So much has happened since I posted about our decision to send Abby to Emma. She attended Emma for four years, graduating in 2013. While at Emma, she had many ups and downs, as all high school-aged kids do. There were things about Emma I loved, especially the challenging academics and the close-knit community. There were also things I hated, like the idiot nurse who refused to send our daughter to a doctor on several occasions and required our direct intervention to get medical issues taken care of. Also, we hated not being there, especially for the low points when I wanted to hug Abby so badly my arms ached. We never did pursue becoming house parents. Our daughter is a very independent young woman and she wasn’t thrilled by the idea.

Overall, Emma was the right decision for us. Abby learned so much–both in class and out. She had so many good friends and she grew close to several faculty members and their families. She still keeps in touch with many of them. She’s continuing her education at Boston University where she’s studying biology.

If you are thinking of sending a child to boarding school, and Emma in particular, I’d be happy to discuss it with you. Please send me an email at, and I’ll be happy to share our experiences. Some were good, some weren’t, but I’ll share them all so you can make the right decision for your family.

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