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.

Spencer’s Hot Springs and the Toquima Cave

August 20th, 2014

I make my way to Spener’s Hot Springs, not far at all from Austin, in the Big Smoky Valley. But when I drive up to the springs, what do I see but this contraption:

30_young and old

And I think, aha, these people are going to Burning Man. The contraption in question is an art car. This one is disassembled, of course, to be transported to the festival in the Black Rock Desert. I chat with its owners as I, too, have been to Burning Man. That was in 2006. You can learn more about Burning Man here.

 

The main spring at Spencer’s looks like this:

4_main pool bis

There are other springs nearby, here and there among the sagebrush, such as this one:

11_nearby pool

With a second, and much cooler pool nearby, full of goldfish:

12_with gold fish in the runoff pool

 

I had a nice soak (several, in fact) and interesting conversation with the usual interesting collection of hot springs fans present, and a nice morning walk in the vicinity.

True to the spirit of the hot springs community, someone has made this maze:

6_someone has made this maze

…which leads to this offering:

7_that leads to this offering

 

But the best part is the tranquility of this place, and the view over Big Smoky Valley:

8_the view out across Big Smoky Valley

As I walked I took a few pictures of the local inhabitants…

10_jack rabbit, lower left, Katie...

…such as this jackrabbit that you can see on the lower left, if you look hard.

But it was soon time for me to go on to my next destination, up in the Toquima Range, in the Toiyabe National Forest, just a few miles distant:

13_on my way to my next destination

As I said, this forest demands a new definition of the word “forest”.

The road behind me and the road in front:

15_behind me 16_before me

 

But we soon meet the trees:

14_forest

 

And I arrive at my destination:

19_I soon arrive at my destination

Shooting practice appears to be a big sport in these parts.

I find a campsite:

20_I find a campsite...

It’s a small, primitive campground, only four or five campsites, probably frequented mainly by hunters. I like it here, it’s so calm and peaceful.

 

Now I head off to the Toquima Cave and its drawings, a fifteen-minute walk away along an easy trail. As the trail progresses I like this forest more and more:

23a_as the trail progresses 23b_I like this forest more and more

We now approach the cave…

24_as I approach the cave..

… up these few steps…

25_the final steps

…we can’t go in…

26_but we can't go in

…but I can take pictures:

27_but I can still take pictures 28a_and pictures

28b_and more pictures - Copie 28c_and even more

From the information signs posted we learn that these drawings were intended to summon the spirits to bring good luck for the hunt and that no other message was intended.

 

28d_it is explained that...

Today this cave is a sacred site for the contemporary Shoshone people. You may want to zoom in to get a better view of these pictograms. Or look them up on Wikipedia here.

 

On the way back to the campground I take an interest in the trees, both young…

29_on the way back... 29b_I get interested

29c_in the different 29d_trees of this forest

…and old.

30a_young and ol 30b_as the old are sculptures

The old are like sculptures.

Back at the campground the evening is beautiful:

32b_closer up

As I said, I like it here. I have the whole place to myself.