It seemed we were the first to get up and moving at the campgrounds. We quickly packed away our things as quietly as we could and made our way up the road. With a quick stop to pet the baby goats one last time, we were on our way to the Gila Cliff Dwellings four miles away. We swung by the visitors center and the artifacts museum before walking the road to the trail.
Once arriving at the trail up to the dwellings, we received a quick introduction from a very friendly USNP ranger and even grabbed a photo and a couple of jokes. With our packs stored away at the ranger station, we felt so weird and light hiking up to the dwellings. As we hiked up the trail, we saw a good amount of Banded Crevice Lizards sunning on rocks before making bee-lines into the cracks.
As soon as we began the ascent, the front of the cliff came into view. The darkness of the cave in which the dwellings were tucked made their shape pop in the sunlight. The trail took us up and then on a path around the seven dwellings and through three of them, which is unique to this particular park since most parks do not allow people inside the dwellings.
As we came around to the first dwelling, a large empty area with soot on the rock ceiling, a woman was sitting on a bench nearby. She talked to us about how fifty years ago to the day her and her husband visited these dwellings for the first time. They had come back to visit them, and she was taken back how nothing had changed. There is a lot to be said for how well these dwellings have been preserved in our modern age. Unfortunately, artifacts go missing and the drawings fade, but the fact that we try our best to protect this land's story is worth something.
The volunteer at the site showed us cave paintings high up on the rock ceiling as well as on the face of the cliff's wall. These paintings date back to the Mimbres Tribe, part of the larger Mogollon group, even older than the builders and inhabitants of the dwellings. Apparently, the most common painting to find are handprints, either outlined or in bold. We also do human shaped drawings and animals, such as deer. These dwellings were merely a temporary home for their inhabitants, barely one generation, before they moved on. Visiting the Cliff Dwellings was so amazing. We highly recommend visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings to learn more and to experience them in person. Here is a link to find out more!
After we finished up at the dwellings and ate a bite of lunch, we headed back up the road. Along the way, we stopped to check out more paintings on the rock beside the road. Then, just a little bit further was the trailhead at TJ Corral. This trail would take us on an alternate route, but a shorter route, back to the Gila River.
We followed the trail as it took us up onto a ridge and through rolling fields. We could see mountains surrounding us as we gained elevation and everything opened up. However, the trail would dump us out at the river, so we knew all the work we put in to gain elevation would be lost. Sure, enough we started heading down in a valley on the other side. Following a dried stream-bed we swerved from side to side as we descended. The side of the mountain we were on turned into large boulders surrounding us which turned into towering pillars of rock forming steep walls on either side. We started snaking through an incredible slot canyon, narrowing down as it funneled us to the river. The walls grew high and each bend in the canyon we took four walls of rock boxed us in until it opened up to the most beautiful section of river we had ever seen.
Lusciously green flora, the pop of the red rock walls against the bluest sky, and the Middle Fork of the Gila River flowing crystal clear through the most perfect little rapids and the generously colored rock bottom. What a sight. From the meadow turned slot canyon and now this sight, we were in awe. This place was heavenly. The birds sang a perfect melody. A large, six foot Gopher Snake did not even surprise us as it slithered across the trail, stopping on the other side to watch us go by. Everything was beautiful. We were surrounded by so much life. We practically skipped up the trail as schools of fish swam by, their golden color catching glimpses of sunlight. Around each bend in the river, we found more beauty.
The day ended at a natural hot springs. We threw our packs down on the other side of the river, and we ran up to the hot springs and jumped in. Solitude was the magic here. Tucked up a small hill and back into some trees was this little waterfall and a turquoise clear pool. The water was bath water warm, and the bottom of the pool was covered in small, rounded pebbles. We sat in the hot springs until we pruned, and then made our way towards camp.
Cheers to an amazing day!
Garbelly & Critter
We cannot get enough of this place.