Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ruins and an Alligator

Today our plans included some ancient ruins and a big tree. We were up early this morning because we had plans to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Yesterday on our drive on NM 35 we saw a sign that said it could take up to two hours to reach the park. We had also been told by some friends that the drive takes at least an hour and a half. We started our drive in Silver City and took NM 15 (we didn't see a sign on this road). There is incredible scenery along this drive and there is beauty around every curve (and there are quite a few curves).
View from NM 15
The road winds its way through mountain terrain and is narrow in some areas. You get fantastic views of the valleys below, you pass through pine forests and there are impressive rock formations as you make your way north. New Mexico highway 15 is also part of the Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway. As we drove I asked Thomas to pull over and stop so I could take pictures. We also made two stops along the way to find letterboxes and you can read about that part of the trip at Boxing NM 15, Trial of the Mountain Spirits and Big Tree Trail. There is a scenic overlook with a short trail and interpretive signs at Copperas Vista (Senator Clinton P. Anderson Scenic Overlook). We stopped here long enough to read all the signs and take some pictures. Then we continued along the road and made another stop at a pullout with an interpretive sign for Alum Mountain. This spot also has some fantastic views. From this point we weren't too far from the Cliff Dwellings so we didn't make any stops until we reached the Visitor Center.

At the Visitor Center we got information from a woman working there, I collected my National Park Passport Cancellation Stamps and bought a couple of post cards, a patch and a small book about the Cliff Dwellings. Then Thomas and I watched the 15 minute video about the Mogollon Culture and looked at the exhibit of artifacts. Before we left the Visitor Center to head to the trail I asked the woman about their Senior Ranger program. She handed me a photocopied booklet and told me that when I finished it I could give it to any Ranger to get my patch. The trail to get to the Cliff Dwellings is not at the Visitor Center. You have to drive about two miles from the Visitor Center to the trailhead. There is also a small museum at this area.
Gila Cliff Dwellings
When we got to the trailhead we were handed a map and given a short orientation and then we could head out to the dwellings. The trail starts after you cross over a bridge. As we reached the end of the bridge a javelina ran across the trail and down a hill. Then we saw movement off to our left and saw three more javelinas. The trail starts out easy and you cross a few bridges over a creek and then the trail follows along the left side of the creek. This part of the trail is level and easy as you walk along the creek on your right and the cliff wall on your left. Eventually you reach some steps that take you up to the cliff dwellings. Once you reach the top of the steps the dwellings are just a short distance ahead. There are Rangers there that can guide you and answer questions. We had a great guide. Her name was Kess and she was volunteering as part of her college credit. She took us through the dwellings and answered all the questions we had. When we finished walking through the dwellings we headed down the trail back to the trailhead and museum. While on the trail and at the dwellings I filled out some of the Senior Ranger booklet and when I got back to the trailhead I finished it. When that was done Thomas and I walked through the small museum. Before we left the park we returned to the Visitor Center so I could turn in my booklet and get my patch.

After that we drove back down NM 15 to Silver City. In Silver City we went to the historic downtown area and walked around and the got something to eat. Now that we ate and were rested it was time to continue with our day.

Our next stop was past Fort Bayard at the Fort Bayard Administrative Site Trailhead. The goal for this trip was to see the Fort Bayard Big Juniper Tree.
Big Alligator Juniper Tree
This tree is the second largest alligator Juniper Tree. Its diameter is 70.2 in, circumference is 18 feet 4 inches, crown spread is 62 feet, and height is 63 feet. We took the Big Tree Trail and walked between two and two and a half miles to get to the tree. The trail is relatively easy. Along the trail we walked through a gate and crossed over the Wood Haul Trail and passed the intersection for the Sawmill Wagon Trail. During our walk we went through stands of oak and maple trees and saw beautiful meadows full of wildflowers. Actually there were wildflowers all along the trail. We finally reached the Big Tree and it is pretty impressive and worth the hike. We spent a little time hanging out at a picnic table next to the tree. After about 30 minutes we made our way back to the car. I guess we walked around five miles and it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

We returned to Silver City and decided we had earned the right to get ice cream. So we made a quick stop at Dairy Queen and got blizzards to take back to the hotel. Now that we have taken showers we are relaxing and discussing our day. We had a fantastic time at the Gila Cliff Dwellings and enjoyed the Big Tree.

Silver City – Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument – Silver City – Fort Bayard Administrative Site – Silver City
113 miles | 3 hours 52 minutes

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