On the High Road from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico
What seems like ages ago now, we rolled into New Mexico after our week in Arizona. We took a circuitous route, heading southeast from Tucson instead of east. We drove through Tombstone, opting not to stop in the overly touristy town, and instead headed further south to the arty (and super cute) mining town of Bisbee and the border town, Douglas. We passed numerous Border Patrol vehicles and one checkpoint for cars heading the other direction a fair distance from the border. The highlight of our route was the gorgeous western scenery we drove through when we took much smaller roads northeast from the border towards New Mexico. We were one of the only non-pick-ups on the road, over half of which were marked Border Patrol vehicles. To say there was surveillance going on would be an understatement. In addition to the numerous trucks out on patrol, there were a number of small buttes that we passed on which a truck was parked next to portable surveillance equipment. The area was beautiful, but we could never escape the feeling of being watched at all times, even when there were no homes, cars, or people for miles around.
Our first stop in New Mexico was in Silver City. This was one of the places I was most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. We kicked off our New Mexico culinary tour with some of the best sauces ever (red and green enchilada sauce and red and green chile sauce) at The Jalisco Cafe. We weren’t sure which sauces we wanted, so they brought us generous cups of each of the four sauces to enjoy. We were in heaven! Besides getting our feet wet with some New Mexican cuisine and chatting up a fellow camper with a homemade camper trailer rigged up on a flatbed trailer with blue tarps, pvc pipe, a heater, and a tv, we spent a day each at Gila Cliff Dwellings and City of Rocks State Park.
Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico
City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico
The drive from Silver City to Gila (pronounced Hee-La) Cliff Dwellings National Park is best done during daylight in mild weather. It’s narrow and windy with crazy gorgeous views of mountain forests. One of the most magnificent roads we traveled, it reminded us of being back in southern Colorado, which given its location, shouldn’t be all that surprising. Once we arrived at Gila Cliff Dwellings, we were treated to a stunning hike through a canyon to reach the legendary dwellings. The scent of water was in the air and leafy trees provided shade. We hadn’t experienced this in quite a while! When we reached the dwellings, we joined in on a tour that was being filmed for training purposes. Now future park rangers and volunteers can see our shining faces peering into the cliff-side homes.
Gila Cliff Dwellings
View from Inside
Notice the soot-darkened roof of the cave, blackened from decades of fires from the ancient inhabitants.
Evidence of Ancient Fires
We were also able to spy a number of dramatic petroglyphs and pictographs in the main dwellings as well as in other areas of the park.
Pictograph on the Rocks in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park
The homes, like many other ancient sites, had been the target of looting and damage in the past. The park service has done quite a bit to shore up the structures, even rebuilding a few before that was frowned upon. There are now very sensible rules in place to help ensure that visitors don’t further damage the structures. We were disappointed to see a couple of long-distance backpackers balk at the rules and speak condescendingly to a park ranger, but I reminded myself that it was the first time we’d seen such disrespect on our trip. And we were extra nice to the ranger to try to make up for the difficult visitors that came after us.
While we were visiting the park, all three of us worked on ranger packets. Van worked on his special junior ranger packet geared towards pre-schoolers (the first park we’ve visited that had curriculum specifically geared to this age group) and Alan and I worked on a senior ranger packet (also the first park we visited that had this sort of curriculum). We were really impressed with the program and were happy to walk away with an enhanced understanding of the park along with patches, and a badge for Van, that certified our achievement.
Junior Ranger Van
After a chilly night in the tent, we spent the next day clambering around the boulders in City of Rocks State Park. The landscape we drove through to reach the park provided no clue that anything like this would even exist in the area. But then, out of nowhere, stood what can only be called a city of rocks. They are a jumbled mass of very large boulders in an otherwise flat desert-like area. In addition to the rocks and some fantastic camping spots, the park is known for its stargazing parties. We were there during the day, however, so we stuck to exploring and climbing up and around the rocks.
City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico
I could see how this place would be an absolute ideal place to explore with older kids who could spend hours (or maybe days) just climbing all over the rocks. Though we enjoyed the rocks, the mighty large grasshoppers were quite the draw.
“Can I touch it? Please, please!”
Especially the mating ones…
Enjoy a few final photos of our time in City of Rocks and the views of the beautiful New Mexico horizon.