I asked a man at an antique store in Silver City where a photographer might go to take some good pictures. He mentioned a place called Ben Lilly. Said it was up the fifteen towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Well I had never been there. They were at least an additional hour and a half away. Shoot, I tells me, why not?
I made my way up and down the narrow mountain road, which has the official designation "Trail of the Mountain Spirits." At times it was slow going, especially with me having to stop at all the nice views.
America's first designated wilderness, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, it is spectacular and verdant. Great rock formations, you can see why it made such a good hideout and home. Three forks of the Gila River converge here, before dropping into the Colorado River below. Geronimo was born here. Deer abound on the side of the road. The area is said to host over 330 different bird species.
I made my way up the heavily graffitied Ben Lilly monument, named for a long passed local farmer, who evidently long ago trapped a lot of bear and cougar in the area, ostensibly making it safer for the women and decent folk.
He also said that it was verboten to do so unless you had special clearance and permission, which I clearly did not. So I would just have to make do.
A steep hike up the down staircase, the normal entrance was flooded out the day before. Around fifteen ancient pueblo families were said to have perched in these Mogollon cliffside eyries around 1200 a.d.. The five caves had about forty rooms total, essentially early condominiums.
The caves somehow evaded the spaniards and were not discovered until the 1870's, unfortunately they were then quickly looted. Mummies have been found here as well as well as trade items like macaw feathers and over 32 species of plant remains including beans, corn and squash.
I have been to Chaco, Mesa Verde and Canon de Chelle and this is a much richer and more direct experience. Bit dusty inside but worth it.
I hope that you enjoy the photographs. I have many more and look forward to sifting through them. Click on one and you should be able to see all of this batch in a slideshow.
I left the trail exhilarated, happy to be pushing my body and cardio after so long in the car. Happy to once again be in the middle of nowhere, the place where this person feels best.
One of my favorite fictional detectives was the character created by the british author Arthur Upfield in the 1920's. Inspector Bonaparte, or "Boney" was half aboriginal. When things got too hot in the city, he would strip naked and head into the outback scrub to reconnoiter with the forgotten parts of his psyche. That's me, except maybe for the naked part.