Tag Archives: Sacramento Mountains

White Sands and Gila Cliff Dwellings

We left the Living Desert State Park in New Mexico on July 14, 1985 around noontime to travel to Alamogordo, also in New Mexico.  We drove through the Sacramento Mountains along our way.

The scenery was quite beautiful driving through the Sacramento Mountains.  We were suddenly seeing a lot of trees and grass, which we hadn’t seen in a long time.  We also came down a 7 degree grade for 16 miles which brought us through the Lincoln National Forest.  We did like driving through pretty scenery along the way, and we routed our traveling days to encompass the best scenery available.

The old motor home rolled down the steep grade quite well.  Laurie was in the passenger seat (remember she didn’t drive the motor home as she couldn’t reach the clutch), and she had white-knuckle syndrome the entire way down that windy, steep grade.

Upon arriving within the borders of the Lincoln National Forest, we started seeing cedar trees, apple orchards, beef cattle, alfalfa, and corn.  The National Forest travels through five life zones ranging from cacti in the lower elevations of around 4,000 feet to the sub-alpine zone as high as 11,500 feet elevation.

Lincoln National Forest

After leaving the Lincoln National Forest, we happened to drive through the area of White Sands National Monument which lies 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico.  White Sands National Monument is an area of 275 square miles of white sand dunes made up of gypsum crystals.  It’s an awesome sight!  Miles and miles of white sand out in the middle of nowhere!

White Sands National Monument

We arrived in Alamogordo around 3:30 that afternoon.  We mustered up some energy to go swimming, grabbed some groceries, ate dinner, and went to bed early.

We woke early the next morning to set out on our travels to Silver City, New Mexico.  Actually our destination had intended to be Apache Junction, Arizona, but the drive was too far to make in one day; so we decided to stop off in Silver City to spend the night, then continue on the next day to travel to Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains.

We arrived in Silver City quite early (10:30 a.m.) so we decided to check out the scenery while we were there.  The lady who was working at the KOA campground became our tour information center.  She handed us brochure after brochure of the many wonders that Silver City had to offer.  Shucks!  We wish we had known there was so much to see within driving distance of this little town.  We had only allotted one night’s stay in this beautiful area.

We poured over the brochures of the area.  There were brochures on the Gila desert, the silver mining ghost town of Silver City, the Gila Cliff Dwellings, the City of Rocks, the ghost town of Pinos Altos, Bill Evans Lake – we could list a lot more, but well, just so you all know – there was a lot to see in this little place.

We decided to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  The cliff dwellings lie within a cave-like area that Mongolian people inhabited over 700 years ago.  They actually lived inside the cave-like area of the cliff.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

The National Monument is surrounded by Gila National Forest and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness Area.  This particular wilderness area has one very special feature:  it was the nation’s first designated wilderness area.

A trail wanders over to the dwellings which is about 2 miles in length.  It takes approximately 30 minutes to hike out to this beautifully preserved home in the cliff.

Another view of Gila Cliff Dwellings

After the invigorating hike, you step into the area of the cliff dwellings; and you are transformed back in time.  The dwellings are protected from the weather as they are set back into the cliff; therefore, they appear today very much as they did when they were built by the Mongolian tribe that lived there.  There was even a corn crib of sorts that still had corn in it from 700 years ago, or so they told us!

Bill inside Gila Cliff Dwellings

Notice the blackened roof of the cave.  That’s from the cooking fires inside the cave all those years ago – all of 700 years ago!

The Mongolian people who populated this area were farmers.  They grew squash, corn, beans, and probably amaranth and tobacco.  They supplemented their diet with animals that they hunted or snared.  The surrounding forest supplied them with an abundance of wild berries and nuts.

Laurie outside the Dwellings

The national monument holds seven natural caves, but only five contain the ruins of cliff dwellings with a total of 40 rooms.  We were amazed to be told that all the timbers in the dwellings were the originals.  Tree-ring dates obtained from these timbers range through the 1280’s.   Absolutely amazing!

Laurie at Gila

See the timbers in the above picture.  They are estimated to be 700 years old.  Now, the ladder in the picture before, we know wasn’t 700 years old.  We know that because it held Laurie’s weight.

“Bill, you stop that!  I didn’t weight *that* much back then!”

“Yes, my dear, Laurie!”

By the time we arrived back to our campground we were wore out from the hot sun, but it was a “good tired” as we went to bed early to start the next day on our mission to complete our miles to Apache Junction, Arizona.

Come back next time as we tell you what our days were filled with at Apache Junction which lies within the Superstition Mountain range.



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