Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

September 10th, 2014

I’ve promised you a more detailed visit of cliff dwellings.  About two hours north of Silver City, in the Gila Mountains, lies the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. Captain and I drove up there in Van to camp over night with Dirk, another friend from our days at Sonoma State University in California. We meet up at Gila River Hot Springs where we set up camp and then drive a short way to the cliff dwellings.

Captain and Dirk head up the trail towards the dwellings:

1_Captain and Dirk head up...

We’re very careful as we walk. At the trailhead they tell us that many black-tailed rattlesnakes have been sighted lately.

 

It’s a pleasant trail through a green forest along side a creek:

2_the trail...

 

Our destination…

3_...towards the cliff dwellings

…and in a close up.

4_...cliff dwellings zoom

 

After a short walk we arrive at the dwellings. The caves are in fact a series of alcoves carved by the action of water on the stone.

5_We approach the dwellings

 

In some cases only the barest foundations remain…

6_In some of the alcoves... 7_only the most foundations remain

…whereas in others the structures are quite intact…

8_...but in others... 9_the structures are quite intact...

…though sometimes reinforced for safety and equipped for accessibility…

11_...and equipped for accessability...

 

The view from within:

12_accessability2

13_from inside an alcove

 

Information panels help us to understand both the dwellings…

16...and the reconstruction...

…and the numerous pictographs found here:

15_...as to the mural paintings...

 

Some of the wall paintings… The one on the right isn’t very clear, but it’s a hand.  We’ll see this again later:

16b_a wall painting 16c_another wall painting_hand

 

An inscription from more recent times:

16d_inscription from a much later period

 

One of the big mysteries in these cliff dwellings is the exact use of the different structures. The smaller rooms were likely used for food storage.

17_one big mystery is the use of...

 

Smoke traces on the ceiling are evidence that these caves were occupied for thousands of years:

18_signs show inhabitation going way back...

 

But the remaining wooden beams in the houses are from trees felled between 1276 and 1287. The inhabitants of these cliff dwellings were only here for about thirty years.

There is much speculation as to why the inhabitants of these impressive structures stayed for such a short time:

19_but these dwellings were only...  22_there is speculation that it was an outpost

23_of more southerly tribes for...  24_agricultural purposes...

20_inhabited about 30 years...  21_about 700 years ago...

Some have advanced the theory that this was an agricultural outpost for a more southerly tribe and that when drought made it no longer viable the people move elsewhere.

 

The view across the canyon from the dwellings:

25_across the canyon from the dwellings

 

Down canyon:

26_down canyon

 

Up canyon:

27_up canyon

 

Later in the afternoon Captain shows us some other pictographs at another site on the way back to camp:

30_...some pictographs at another site...

30b_pictograph, where we also find a diamondback

We also stumble upon a rattlesnake here, but a diamondback and not a black-tailed.  We have surprised it and it begins to coil, but we back off and luckily the snake decides to move on. They don’t like us any more than we like them.

 

And we locate this depression in the rock, likely used for grinding corn:

31_...where we find this...

 

At yet another site Captain shows us this little-known structure:

32_...near this little known dwelling...

 

Dirk inspects the workmanship:

33_Dirk inspects the workmanship 34_workmanship2

 

At a last stop Captain shows us more pictographs…

35_at yet another site we find... 36_more pictographs

Here the hand is much clearer.

 

I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get these:

39_...these bis

40_...these ter

 

It’s late now and we head back to our camp at the hot springs.

Capitol Reef National Park

August 28th, 29th & 30th

As I drive out of Richfield in the morning I stop to take a picture of this imposing mountain in the morning light:

1_leaving Richfield

It was much more beautiful yesterday, in the evening light, but I didn’t have my camera with me when I was out and about. Live and learn.

 

We go east over the mountains and are no longer in the Great Basin. Here is another green farming valley near the town of Loa…

2_green valley of Loa

…when suddenly, near the town of Torrey, this red rock formation appears:

3_when suddenly

And closer up:

4_up close

 

We’re now in the Fremont River Canyon:

6_Fremont River canyon 6b_Fremont

We arrive from the west, but the next day I take a drive from east to west…

7_canyon opens up 8_farmlands and fruit orchards

…the canyon widens and we find fruit orchards planted by the Mormon pioneers.

More orchards and Mormon irrigation ingenuity:

9_more orchards 9b_Mormon irrigation ingenuity

We can pick and eat as much fruit as we want, but if we take any away we’re asked to pay a modest price.  Peaches are in season so I get about 5 pounds.

Up and down the canyon there is no lack of impressive rock formations…

11_and all around...

12_fantastic rock formations

12b_no lack of impressive formations

From my campsite the rock formations are also striking:

14_from my campsite 15_also from my campsite

 

Near the orchards there are these petroglyphs carved by the Fremont People who once inhabited this canyon:

26_...as are the petroglyphs

26b_petroglyphs2 26c_petroglyphs3

But you can see much better photos of these petroglyphs here. More on the Fremont People in a later post.

 

Later in the day I take a long hike up this canyon known as the Grand Wash.  Signs indicate that flash flood risk is at a very low level today:

22_earlier that day...Grand Wash

There has nevertheless been some rain recently and some strange specimen has left a print in the mud:

23_some strange local speicment left...

 

In the late afternoon I take another hike, further up the canyon, and we get a good view of what was once the Mormon pioneer settlement called Fruita:

10_took a hike one afternoon

The last private residents of Fruita left the area in 1968. Today only national park employees live here.

Fruita’s schoolhouse:

27_the local schoolhouse from Mormon... 27b_schoolhouse bis

The last remaining house and barn…

28_barn from pioneer times 29_last remaining home, now a store...

…the house is now a museum and store where they sell homemade pastries, jams, jellies and salsas.

 

Back at my campsite, after a hard day of tourism, I treat myself to a nice cold local Utah beer:

16c_a nice cold beer bis

Take a look at the caption on the six-pack carrier:

16b_why have just one

And I kid you not, in the Richfield supermarket where I bought it, there was a little sign that said Take some home to the wives. This beer, and others, are made by Wasatch Breweries located in Park City (of Sundance fame), Utah. You can read more about Wasatch Breweries here. Their beer is only 4%, but that’s better than the 3.2% beers you find in most Utah grocery stores. And at least the name shows a sense of humor about polygamy. Yet, as we’ll see in an upcoming post, in Utah today this subject is no laughing matter.

 

One morning in camp, Olsen gets down to work.  I’m currently working on: Sewage sludge application in a forest plantation: effects on trace metal transfer in soil-plant-snail continuum.

17_in the morning, hard at work...

But one of the locals does not appreciate my efforts:

18_but one of the locals...

Generally the local residents here are unimpressed with our presence:

19_generally the locals... 20_...are not impressed...

 

The little I have shown you here does not do justice to Capitol Reef National Park.  The park gets its name from a geographical formation that the early pioneers here called a “reef”. It is some 95 miles long and extends far to the south of the campgrounds near Fruita.  I drove down the scenic canyon drive, but took no pictures.