Tag Archives: ancient buildings

The Streets of Rome

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Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij

Getting lost was the goal today and we managed that within blocks of our hotel. I swear, navigating Rome’s streets, alleys, and even pathways, is like trying to find your way in a rabbit warren.  No rhyme or reason, certainly no grid pattern, and no map to be found that has all the streets labeled.  I thought that was a problem with the maps, but I think it’s because those streets have no signs at all!  But I have to say, getting lost was the best thing that happened to us because we happened upon many really great things.  I think the story is best told in pictures, so here we go!

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The Palazzo Doria-Pamphilij wasn’t the first place we found, but it was one of our favorites.  We stumbled off the hot, crowded street, into this beautiful, cool courtyard.  We also needed a bathroom, so buying an entrance ticket was a no-brainer. I think it turned out to be my favorite thing in Rome, so far.

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The Palazzo was built by the Doria-Pamphilij family in the 1600s and its been in the family every since.  It’s a huge building and even though part of it is open to the public, the family still lives here.  The room above was the first we entered (after the bathroom : )  The ceiling must be 20 feet, or more, so the room feels enormous.  The walls are completely lined with paintings that were commissioned for this room.  You can get an idea of just how big everything is in this room by looking at the chairs and sofas up against the walls.

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This is the only galleria where there are windows on both sides.  Instead of paintings, they lined the walls between the windows with mirrors, so light is reflected everywhere.  The incredible ceilings are well lit and absolutely mind boggling in their beauty.  It was a magical corridor.

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This is one of the many galleries.  They are hung with paintings collected by members of the Doria-Pamphilij family for centuries.  Many were purchased directly from the artist or commissioned by family members.  Somewhere in the past, an ancestor found a way to prevent a member of the family from inheriting the art if he/she didn’t agree to keep the collection together.  The current owner says it is both a blessing and a curse because the responsibility for keeping the collection is huge.

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I loved this room because its the ballroom.  It is actually two rooms, both covered in beautiful silk wallpaper.  The floor is parquet wood, perfect for dancing.  On the far left side, you can see the little area where the orchestra would have sat.

We saw many other incredible rooms of the Palazzo (which means “palace” in Italian), but taking pictures wasn’t allowed.  Most I’ve included here came from the web.  If you ever get to Rome, you must plan a visit here.  It’s well worth a couple hours of your time.

 

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Next was the Pantheon, or as it’s known today, the Church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs.  It is the best preserved building of Ancient Rome because it was converted to a church during the 2nd century.  If you were curious about where all the bones from the catacombs we visited the other day, many were moved here.  It was thought appropriate at the time because they believed many of the bodies buried in the catacombs were martyrs.

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This is the alter inside.  It’s one of the few churches we’ve been in that actually has pews and a posted Mass schedule.

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The church is also the burial place of Raphael, yes, THAT Raphael.

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Here’s my attempt to show you just how big this building is.  Its either the largest dome, or the second largest, in the world.  It’s an engineering marvel that the Emperor Hadrian was said to have personally designed.  The scale is huge and the opening at the top, known as the oculus, is 9 meters wide and completely open to the elements.  When it rains, it rains in a perfect circle in the church.  Yes, there’s drainage that appears to work well, because it doesn’t seam to be a problem.

The second photo above is actually three separate photos, all hooked together. It was the only way to get everything in one shot.  If you overlap them in your mind, you can get an idea of what the inside of the Pantheon looks like.

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This is the fountain outside the Pantheon.  As you can see, it is another Egyptian obelisk.  These obelisks are real.  They were made in Egypt about 1300 B.C. and brought to Rome around the time of Christ.  You can tell that this one was “exorcised” of any demons because a Christian symbol has been added to the top. But up close, you can still easily see the Egyptian markings. I think this one used to be in Helios and was also at Circus Maximus for centuries.

When Christianity rose in Rome, many of the obelisks were removed from the city’s older buildings and put in front of churches. It was sort of an ancient map quest device. It let pilgrims know which buildings were important to visit.

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Here we are!  And yes, that’s a horse-drawn carriage behind us.  I can’t even begin to imagine taking a carriage ride through Roman traffic.  It’s completely horrifying.  That’s also the entrance to the Pantheon behind us. We are standing on the steps of the fountain in the pictures above.

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This is Piaza Navona.  It has several fountains by Bernini, a very famous sculptor and architect.  It is said that in his lifetime, Bernini created over 3000 sculptures, including the Tevoli Fountain.  He also had something like 11 children, so he was a busy guy.

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Another fountain in Piaza Navona.

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This is the famous fountain in Piaza Navona.  It represents the four great rivers of the world.

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We found a little goofy gladiator fun along the way.  : )

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Okay, this one had me in hysterics.  Only in Rome would hot priests make it in a calendar!

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We saw signs for McDonalds everywhere.  They always had an arrow and “3 minutes” if you walked that way.  But we could never actually find one.  Well, we discovered why.  The one we stumbled on by accident was just a doorway that lead down steps, like you were walking into a subway.  The McDonalds was way under the building and way back off the street.  It was also enormous — like the size of a high school gym.  There were many walk up counters and I couldn’t see the end of the seating area.

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There were also about 20 of these self-order stations.

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And what’s up with the menu?  We only get cruddy fried apple pies.  I want what the Romans get!

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The Spanish Steps were more involved than I originally thought.  I thought it was a staircase.  No, it’s actually a series of staircases.  At the end of a long day, it about did me in.

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So I stopped on one of the landings to take a picture.  My favorite part is the father patiently letting his son wear himself out by climbing and climbing and climbing.  I predict that kid will sleep well tonight!

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This is Piaza Del Popolo.  It’s huge and was full of people, but there wasn’t much else here.  Well, except for another obelisk.

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Bob meets Barbie!  She invited him to her house.

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Apparently not all Italians are known for their pride.

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When I took this picture I thought “Italian Westie!” but after chatting with the owners, this is actually a Swiss Westie on vacation.  We got it on good authority that he really hates Rome and is looking forward to going home.

The Vatican

Well, what a day.  We started out about 8:30 am on a tour of the Vatican Museums.  We didn’t even begin to see it all, but we saw all the best stuff, I think.  The ceilings, walls and tapestries were incredible.

My favorite story is of Michelangelo and the Pope.  Michelangelo didn’t want to paint the Sistine Chapel and even left Rome and tried to hide from the Pope to avoid it, but he was eventually cornered.  So, one of the panels on the ceiling is an image of God, both front and back.  Michelangelo used the Pope’s face for the face of God, which really pleased the Pope, but in the view from the back, his toga doesn’t cover his backside, so he’s mooning everyone.  For that, the Pope was really ticked.  Here’s the panel I’m talking about:

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There are many other examples of such “jokes.”  Like how Michelangelo used the face of his mistress, whom he’d just broken up with, for one of the damned souls.  In another, he used the face of one of his critics for one of the inhabitants of Hell.

After the museums, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was huge, and quite beautiful.  The burial areas were interesting.  We saw the tomb of Saint John Paul II, and the preserved body of Pope John XXIII, who is also now a saint, I think.  In his case, he was one miracle short, so they couldn’t make him a saint.  But, when they opened his tomb, they found his body was uncorrupted, so they considered that his final miracle for sainthood.  They have him on display in a glass coffin.  I know, it’s a little weird.  Other popes were also in glass coffins, but their bodies decayed, so the body you see was coated in bronze to preserve them.  Again, a little weird.  I only viewed them from a distance.

After lunch, we took a tour of three other basilicas in Rome.  The first was St. Paul’s, which is a new (completed in 1930’s) replica of the one that was built by Constantine, restored a couple of times, and then and then burned down in the 1800s.  There, we saw one of St. Paul’s relics, the chains that bound his hands when he was beheaded.

Next was St. John Lateran.  It was built in honor of the two St. Johns (Baptist and Apostle) and it was built by Constantine on land formerly owned by the Laterani Family, thus the name.  It’s been restored several times. It is actually the most important church in Christianity because it is the home church of the Bishop of Rome, aka, the Pope. Up until the 1300s, the Pope lived at this church.  The popes didn’t move to St. Peter’s until a hundred years later, after they moved the papacy back to Rome from France.

Interestingly, after a Pope is elected and introduced to the world on the balcony, he isn’t yet the pope.  It isn’t official until he says Mass at St. John Lateran, and sits in the Seat of Peter (a chair more than 1000 years old).  Traditionally, the pope leaves the balcony after meeting the crowds and heads right to St. Johns to complete the process.  Pope Francis did it differently.  He told the people of Rome he wanted to get used to being their bishop before he took on the job of Pope, and it was about a month before he went to St. Johns to complete the process.  The Romans really, REALLY love Pope Francis.

Across the street from this church is a building that holds the original stairs to Pontius Pilate’s house that Jesus had to climb after he’d been crowned with thorns.  Supposedly, his blood stains the marble.  Today, it is a place where people climb the stairs on their knees and they have to say at least three prayers on each stair.

The final church was St. Mary Majore. Interesting here is a relic of questionable authenticity.  It is claimed that there is wood from the original nativity under the alter here.  Even the Church says it’s highly questionable, but it is interesting.  The basilica was built in honor of Mary when the pope declared that Mary was indeed the mother of God.

Tomorrow, we have a papal audience (with 80,000 of our closest friends).  Stay tuned!  It should be a circus!

Okay, the pictures loaded out of order, so bear with me : )

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This the exterior of St. Paul’s Basilica. It was quiet and peaceful and the grass was cool in the heat. I could have spent the afternoon here.

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This is the sacred door at St. Paul’s.  Every Basilica in the world has a sacred door that is only opened during the Jubilee Year.  That’s a year that happens every 25 years (the next is 2025) when lots of things happen, but one of them is the plenary indulgences.  Anyone who passes through a sacred door during the Jubilee Year receives the indulgence.  Believe it or not, the idea of the Jubilee Year was adopted from the Jews in the 1300s.

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This is the inside of St. Paul’s Basilica.  It’s about the size of a football field, maybe a little shorter.

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This is the alter in St. Paul’s.

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This sunken area in front of the alter displays the holy relic.  In this case, the item on display is the chain that bound St. Paul’s hands when he was beheaded.  The authenticity of this relic is very good, and scholars agree that it is probably what it claims to be.

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This is a glass panel in the floor, right in front of St. Paul’s chains, that shows the excavation of the crypt below.  Based on carbon dating of samples taken, as well as an analysis of the color of the fabric inside the tomb, it is widely agreed that this is truly St. Paul’s tomb.  This has only been confirmed since about 2006.

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A portion of the walls that originally surrounded Rome.

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This is St. John Lateran Basilica.  Its been rebuilt many times since Constantine’s original church was built in the 300s.

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The sacred door at St. John Lateran.  Did I mention that touching the door when its closed (not a Jubilee Year) blesses a person?  That’s why parts of the door are shiny, its from thousands of people touching it. Of course, we touched them all!

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Inside St. John Lateran.  It is thought that the heads of St. John the Baptist and St. Paul are kept in the little room on top of the alter.  It’s just speculation, though the Church has apparently confirmed that it is in possession of both heads.  I’m just glad they aren’t on display.

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These are the holy doors of St. John Lateran, and they are fascinating for another reason.  These are the original doors to the Forum, yes, THAT Forum.  During one of the restorations of this church, they were pilfered from the Forum and installed here.  So these doors are about 2000 years old.  They are made of bronze, with wood interior, but they are very heavy and make loud creaking noises when opened.  It takes the strength of several people to open them.

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These are the holy steps — the marble steps that led up to Pontius Pilate’s house. They were removed from Jerusalem by St. Helena (Constantine’s mother) in the 300s.  We were allowed to kneel on the first step only and say a prayer.  I’ll admit, it was a moving experience.  Even Bob did it.

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The inside of St. Mary Majore Basilica.  According to our guide, Italian men are mama’s boys.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason why 89% of Italians report they prefer to talk to Mary when they pray, followed by St. Peter, then St. Paul (the patron saints of Rome).  Jesus was in fourth place.

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This is the knave in front (and below) the alter of St. Mary Majore.  In the window below the altar is a huge silver container that allegedly has wood from the original manger from Christ’s birth.  Even the Church agrees the authenticity of this relic is highly questionable.

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Here’s a close up of the container that holds the wood that was allegedly part of the manger.  It looks like a giant soup tureen.  It’s about 3 feet tall.

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The holy door at St. Mary Majore is clearly marked because it’s on the left side of the main entrance, not the right like all the other holy doors at all the other basilicas.  This is because Mary’s place is on Christ’s left, so the door acknowledges that honor.

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We found Saya’s car in Rome!!!

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This made me laugh.  But, if a new store opened with an exotic Italian name, even if the translation was “stop here,” I wouldn’t know the difference.  It might be hard to see, but it’s a clothing store.

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This was part of the breakfast buffet at our hotel.  Apparently Italians are a nation of people who hate crusts, because all the crusts were removed from the bread. : )

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The pinecone (symbolizing eternity) in the Pinec0ne Courtyard in the Vatican.  The lions at its base were “taken away” from Egypt during the time of the Roman Emperors.

In fact, there are many Egyptian artifacts in Rome.  There are obelisks everywhere.  Several hundred years ago, the pope put an obelisk in front of every important church so the pilgrims would know which ones they should visit.  Medieval GPS.  Of course, before he could do that, he had to exorcise all of them to remove any evil spirits.  Once that was done, a small symbol was placed on the top — a dove, a rose, a cross, etc. — to show it was purified.

In modern times, when Egypt came calling and asked for all its obelisks back, the pope said they were now Christian relics and besides, they had spent much more time in Rome than they ever did in Egypt.  Bottom line:  Egypt isn’t getting its obelisks back.

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Just one of the many, many, painted ceilings and walls of the Vatican.  It was overwhelming.

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A working courtyard at the Vatican.  Everyday, about 900 people go to work at the Vatican.  On the right you can see the vehicles of the Vatican’s fire department.

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I really liked this ceiling.  This is the center, and the ceiling is completely flat.  The depth, as well as the apparently molded dividers, are all paint and show the skill of the artist.  In this picture, a marble statue of a pagan god lies in pieces at the foot of the cross.

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica.  The crowds were incredible.

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This is the tomb of Pope John Paul II, now a saint.  His coffin is under the mantle with all the candles.

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This is the uncorrupted body of Pope John XXIII.  This was as close as I got, but you can walk right past, if you want to.

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The alter in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is directly under the dome, which is huge.  I love the fact that the four pillars supporting the dome (and thus, symbolically, all of Christianity) are decorated with the our relics of the crucifixion — the spear of Longinius, Veronica’s veil, the cross, and something else I didn’t understand when the guide said it.  (sorry!)

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Another of the popes, this one covered in bronze.

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This is what the outside of the Vatican walls looks like.

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Pastries we found at lunch. I only tried a tiny little one, and it was fabulous.

The Old Forts of St. Augustine

4500 miles traveled so far.


After Cocoa Beach, we stopped in St. Augustine and learned a little about the history of that area.  It claims to be the oldest continually occupied city in the US, dating back about 500 years. I know the Indians that live on Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico dispute that claim since they have continually occupied their city for 1500 years. You can see my post about them here.


Anyway, we explored a couple of very old Spanish forts and had lots of fun meeting people and talking history.  You can see my pictures here.


On Good Friday, we spent the day in the car driving from St. Augustine to Asheville, North Carolina.  It’s a really neat city, I wish we had more time to explore it.  I was really looking forward to visiting the Biltmore Estate—the home of the Vanderbilts— but it’s supposed to pour rain tomorrow and the tickets are $69 a person!  I think that’s the first time an entrance fee has really made me stop and consider whether it was really worth it.  It seems comparable to the Hearst Mansion and they only charge $25.


In any case, stay tuned because we’re venturing into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park tomorrow and I hope to have some good stuff to share with you.  Just in case you’re wondering: no, we don’t plan to stop in Dollywood.  Sorry.  : )

Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo is a very interesting place.  In the picture above, it’s hard to see the village, but it is sitting on top of the bluff.  It is inhabited by the Acoma people (pronounced Á-cō-ma).  In fact, the peublo has been continuously inhabited for about 1,500 years, making it the oldest city in the United States.  It even survived sieges by the Spanish in the 1500’s.


The Pueblo rises 350 feet above the desert floor and there wasn’t a road to the top until the 1960’s.  Before that, only 5 staircases (and I use that term lightly) accessed the top.  These stairs are so completely hidden from view (probably because they barely exist) that the Spanish never found them when they layed siege to the Peueblo.  Interestingly, they (and many other Indian tribes in the area) are matrilineal, with the youngest daughter in the family inheriting the family’s house on the Pueblo.


The only way to see Sky City (another name for the Acoma Pueblo), is by guided tour.  On the tour we were assaulted by little bugs (that luckily didn’t bite) that just wanted to land on us and hang on.  I’m not sure what they were, but they were about 1/4 inch long and very tanacious.  Whenever we would pause in the tour for the guide to point something out, Bob and I felt like monkeys picking nits off each other.  It was ridiculous!  The guide has lived on the Pueblo his  entire life and he said he’s never seen the bugs before.  Maybe they are the result of the really mild winter.


Only about 15 families currently live on the Pueblo.  There is no electricity or plumbing on the Pueblo so we saw many Port-A-Potties and outhouses.  Many more families routinely use their homes on the Pueblo during ceremonies and other special occasions.  Many occupy their homes during the day but have homes elsewhere for the night.


Pottery is a big thing for them and they have many very talented potters.  We saw some incredibly decorated pottery that took quite an artist to create.  Traditionally, the pottery from this area is white with black, intricate markings.  Fragments of this pottery have been found as far away as Maine.  The trade routes of the ancient indians were quite extensive.  On the Pueblo, they have found macaw feathers from South America and shells from the coast of Baja.  This is true throughout the region.


At the end of the tour, the guide offered to let us walk down one of the ancient staircases, or we could drive back down with him.  Bob and I decided to walk.  The guide explained that the stairs had been “improved” for use by the public, but that the stairs were much like they have been for over a thousand years.  Before the 1960’s, this particular staircase was the only route for anything the Indians needed in the Pueblo. Everything had to be hand carried up and down the stairs The guide warned that it was a quick 3 second descent should we fall.


Oh, My, Goodness, the “stair” was GROSSLY overexaggerated.  It was barely more than a suggestion in the rock.  It was quite a challenge and gave us a whole new appreciation for how agile the peole who lived her must have been.  If you ever visit Acoma Pueblo, don’t miss the chance to go down those steps, but be warned!  Bob and I were the first of our group to go down and we were followed by a family from Paris.  The mom and dad were very slow and the kids got ahead of them so we ended up helping the two kids down.  Of course, the boy (about 10 years old)  LOVED it!  It was quite an adventure (and thank God Bob could speak enough French to communicte with them!) Then again, the tone of voice used by a parent to convey danger and caution is universally understood.


Take a look at all our photos here. 

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.