Part 5: Mogollon Rim, Gila Mountains and Cliff Dwellings


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The Trip

We left our remote camp in the forests of the Mogollon Rim and headed into the small town of Show Low, AZ for chow, supplies and fuel.  From Show Low, we headed toward Springerville, AZ and the east to the New Mexico boarder.  The border area was hit by a large (500,000 acre) forest fire and we were not sure what we would see there. But, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

From our route east toward New Mexico we spotted a mine for vocanic lava used as landscaping and in your BBQ.

After a supply stop in Show Low and Springerville, we headed south east toward New Mexico.  Near Springerville, we encountered the edge of the large fire.  Unlike what the news reported, the fire seemed spotty and did not "crown out" everywhere.  So, what we saw was that the floor of the forest burned, but in many places the trees did not.  Above, you can see a section of a ridge where the fire did reach the crown of the trees.  Those trees are toast, but the ones to the side and below are just scorched.

Above, the spotty nature of the crowning can be seen.

Near the highway we passed this structure that was collapsed.  I assume it was due to the weight of snow since there is no other really easy explanation.  We didn't stop to check.

We did another remote camp on a side trail of the main road.  We traveled in several miles before an adequately flat location presented itself.

I had seen no "closure" signs, and when this fire rig showed up while we were setting up camp, I was curious.  So, I walked the 100 meters to their location to ask "what's up".  They stated that they had a report of smoke north of our position and needed to hike in and check it out.  They stated that there was no reason to be concerned (yeah, right) and off they went.  They left by 2100 that night but were back the next morning.

Our dirt road travel dislodged a rubber snubber on one corner of the camper, so we came up with an expedient fix.  Robust rubber heater hose and a hose clamp should do the job until we can come up with a better solution.

We headed south and east on the flank of the Mogollon Mountains.  The distant peaks are over 10,000 feet in height.  As you can see above, the thunderheads are building (as they always do in the afternoons this time of year) and they would produce heavy rain later in the day.

We got lunch and fuel in Silver City and then headed north into the Gila Range.  During a heavy rain storm, we came upon a forest fire burning across the canyon from the ridge we were on.  Unlike the burn outside of Springerville, this was caused by lightning.  Springerville was caused by a campfire.

We camped at the Gila Hot Springs and the host there pointed out a tree to the west of our position that had been killed by large nesting birds.  I think he said that these are herons, perhaps Blue Herons.  It was near sundown, but we were able to view a pair of the nesting birds from the camp.

Next morning when the sun was brighter, we got a better view of the birds.

We broke camp at the hot springs and headed to the Gila Cliff Dwellings N.M. for a tour.  There was a mile+ hike to get to the sight and the photo above was our first view of the caves.

Shooting photos into the sun always produces haze in the photo, but the sun worked against us.

The volunteer docent is visible above.

The ruins were better preserved than most, but it has been many hundreds of years since they were occupied (last known: mid 1200s).

The Park Service has rebuilt some of the walls.  The lower walls are original, the upper left wall is new.

They constructed their dwellings in the shelter of the cliff alcoves.

Logs were used to provide the strength for the roof.

A view of the canyon from the "living room".

The stairs were part of the original site.

There were a few pictographs on the walls.

A snake pictograph.

Another pictograph, likely a man or shaman.

One of the better views of the site.

There is only one way in and out of the ruins and we ended up traveling up the steep ridge to the south.  Above, you can see the faint smoke left from the fire the day before.  The rain helped put most of the fire out.

Taking no chances, the Forest Service is sending a crew in by horseback to fully contain the fire.  The animal with the packs is the mule which is used to carry the equipment.

From the ridge, we got a great view of the Gila Range to our north.

We continued south, then east through Sapillo, NM where we encountered some nice bedded cliffs.

Enroute to Mimbres, NM we encountered this biker on an extended road trip.  He smiled when he saw the 1017, but was busy chugging up the steep hill.

The Gila Mountains rock, pun intended.  We will surely return as there are many hundreds of miles of dirt roads and trails to explore.  The mountains are rugged and you must go prepared.  The ruins were worth the trip and the hike.  There are only a few of these ruins in the west that are really well preserved.

Next, toward Grants, NM through the Montecello Box canyon.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2011, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.