We wake up early and I put the small fashionable but leaky teapot my brother lent me on the camp stove to boil water for our coffee. Miraculously, we are alive without incident that night. This is to the amazement and confusion of my travel partner who was sure that the lone fifty something and somewhat pudgy male camper a quarter mile away on the other side of Upper Scorpion would have slit our throats by now and taken my brother’s tea pot and camp stove and used our skins for a garment. We make a meal out of coffee and fresh fruit and pack our camp into the back seat of our stylish convertible Mini.
Expert navigators, we of course are in no need of a map and we do not purchase one. It should also be noted that the Gila National Forrest provides no cell service or even water. So it is understandable that a disagreement might manifest in a fork in the road as it did that morning. My travel companion was sure that we must go back to the junction and travel straight, while I was equally sure that we were on the correct road. She relented because, she said, that if we did go her way and it was wrong that she would never hear the end of it and it would somehow find its way in a post on the Internet. The cynicism surprised me. As a progressive and humble companion, I would never do something like that. It’s just not in me.
We travel a short distance in my choice of directions and two minutes later come upon the parking lot and our destination, proving that I was right and my travel companion was completely and categorically wrong.
We make for the trail, she a bit sheepishly, and after an easy half mile we come upon the prehistoric Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
The first European contact with these dwellings was not until 1878 when Henry Ailmen and his friends who lived in Silver City escaped jury duty by going on a fishing trip. When he came upon them, they were completely untouched with bowls filled with food still on the tables and paintings and pottery left intact. He must of really not wanted to be on jury duty as this site is a two hour car ride from Silver City and impossible to find deep in a stream gully.
The last inhabitants were the Mogollon Indians and carbon testing of the original timber dates to the 1276’s. Excavations in the cave have shown that the caves were used as early as 500 AD.
Each dwelling housed a family of 6 or more and the 40 rooms housed some 15 families. There are also common areas and an indoor plaza with an adobe floor. The hand strokes are still evident on some of the walls. In one of the rooms the ground is littered with small corncobs that ground squirrels have excavated from below the ground and brought up to the surface.
In one room, presumably a religious area, archeologists found a mummified macaw that implies contact with Mayans in Central America.
We are fascinated and our guide Donna explains to us the rich history and living conditions of these ancient people. We ponder together why they left so abruptly and around the same time the Mayan culture disintegrated. The two cultures were very different. The Mogollons were very peaceful and were run as a matriarchal society. There was a mummy found close by of an infant boy they left behind.
As amateur archeologists, we cried painful tears upon hearing that the roofs were burnt down by the Calvary during the Apache Indian wars for fear the Indians would use the dwellings as a defensive sanctuary. Fortune hunters took most of the paintings and pottery before the dwellings were turned into a monument in 1906.
After hours of study, we took to our Mini and drove the two hours back to Silver City. We have lunch at the Curious Kumquat, where chef Rob Connoley prepares modernist cuisine. I had a gyro and my travel companion had a vegetarian burrito outside in the beer garden. Both were very good. Flying among the flowers collecting nectar were about 5 small striped hummingbirds. We saw these hummingbirds all throughout New Mexico and were amazed to learn later that these are actually moths. You must check this link out: Hummingbird Moth. They look like and fly like the bird they are named after. And yet they began as caterpillars, not hatchlings.
We travel along highway 180 through Eager, Holbrook, and Winslow, Arizona where we stop to get groceries. We are in a hurry because we learn that our next camp which, like the others, is first come first serve and only has two campsites left at Ten X camp near the Grand Canyon. We finally get there about 8:30 pm and drive past three vans of Germans reading the instructions and we find the perfect camp. This entire campground is a hidden gem and I highly recommend it.
We put up the tent and our new air mattress that has a new hole in it from my packing job and an errant tent stake and we prepare pasta vongole in my pan Betsy. I found these frozen clams in the shell at the Winslow market. I first cook the noodles, then the garlic, chili peppers, and cilantro in the pan with a half bottle of white wine. Once the flavors were infused, I put the clams into the liquid and cooked them for a while before putting the noodles back into the cast-iron pan with some salt and pepper. It was absolutely fantastic, more so because we cooked and ate under the open warm night sky with a few bottles of Argentinian wine.