Sunday, December 2, 2012

Odometer 26,106

Trip meter 0 miles

Silver City, NM

December 02, 2012

What a GREAT day! We have been looking forward to going to the ancient dwellings of the Mogollon people of Gila River valley, and today was perfect for the trip. The skies were clear,
And the projected high for today was the upper 60's. The road from Silver City is only 42 miles, but the guide told us to allow 2 hours to get there. Two Hours? As it turns out they were not that far off. The road is paved, but it is steep and winding, going from two lanes with no shoulder to 1-1/2 lanes with no shoulder. The vistas were amazing! We climbed from 5900 feet at Silver City to 7080 feet at the continental divide.

On the way up to the monument we stopped often to oggle the amazing scenery. The desert landscape has melted away into first junipers and sage and then to grasses and Pinon and Pondarosa pines. Frequently we saw massive cliff faces rising hundreds of feet above the canyon floor.

We stopped in at the visitor's center where we watched a video that gave the background of the people and dwellings. The experts believe that the cliff dwellings were only occupied for a 20 year period from 1270 to 1290. No explanation as to why they left, or why the dwellings were not occupied by others afterward.

The site is accessed by a half mile trail that begins at the bottom of the canyon where a small creek flows, and winds up switchbacks to the cave level. Here is a picture taken from the trail below.

The NPS Ranger at the dwelling site, had just finished up with a large tour group when we got there and after chatting with us for a few minutes he offered to take us through caves 1-5. We jumped at the chance! No surprise, when the first people from the modern age found the dwellings, they took anything they wanted and burned and broke anything they didn't want
The rafters and joists used back then are called "vigas". Basically small poles fit into the walls supporting bark, leaves, and sometimes adobe for floors.
By sampling and dating the wood in what is left of the broken and burnt viegas scientists are able to date the dwellings to the 1280's. The doors and some small viewing ports would have been the only openings in the walls. Any large openings were made by pot hunters and natural deterioration. The walls were built short of the rock roof to allow the smoke from the fires to vent out.

On our way out of the canyon we stopped to look at a rock painted with pictograms.

The red color comes from ground and crushed hematite, mixed with plant or animal oils. Silver City is a town of about 10,000, and home to Western New Mexico University. This valley was once an Apache campsite, the Apaches were displaced by the Spanish, and with the discovery of silver in the 1860's prospectors from North America caused the population to soar. Mining is still a staple of Grant County, and Santa Rita Mine, 15 miles from here, is said to be the longest continuous mining claim in the western US.

We are off to Las Cruces and White Sands tomorrow.

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