Thursday, September 25, 2014


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.

I couldn't even begin to describe how gorgeous and wonderful the Gila Wilderness is. Way off the track. And the charts.

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.

I drove on the rather long route to the Gila Wilderness, finally stopping at the Ranger Station and getting directions to the trailhead. The rangers told me the best shots were taken from off trail.

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.

It was great to walk inside the caves, the only cliff dwellings that I have been able to explore quite like this.

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.


NYSTAN said...


Anonymous said...

Fantastic artistic camera artwork - Gila

I thought I was looking at some Ansel Adams lost work... I want that on my wall.


Anonymous said...

Amazing photographs Robert.
Just beautiful...
Enjoyed the writing as well. Some very interesting thoughts about life & the people in it. No wonder you need to write this stuff down, you're deep. I thought the link that you had to your rant about Texas was hilarious!

Sent from sunny SoCal


Anonymous said...


Awesome pictures!


Anonymous said...

This one in particular 6'X5'


grumpy said...

always a good idea to query the locals..."hey mister can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"...awesome photos...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Robert. What a wonderful treat after a difficult day. The photographs are magnificent!!!!!!
Love, Sheebz

Anonymous said...

Thanks robert..... Tried to comment..... But alas no google account......
I'm ready to move into the cliff side dwellings if you have room!
Great photos!!!!

Anonymous said...

Odysseus has returned.....


Ken Seals said...

Great photos and story, Robert. You really captured in he beautiful phosos, the feeling of being there.
I dig grumpy's The Band quote.

Anonymous said...

HI Robert : I don’t turn the computer on any to often but yesterday my son called to say he had sent
some pictures of a surgery he recently endured.After quickly deleting just about everything I punched in after
realizing it was yours. Usually I click that off as well on the few occasions I’ve noticed it as I gave up on blogs
long since as most are far from my own views that are possible distorted Darling Maggie has told me..At any
rate your magnificent pictures of the cave dwellings were totally spellbinding and urged me to read on.
Your space was superbly done per usual.Having done that show several times ages ago it was an easy set
up once you arrived..Arriving was a chore indeed as it is in the middle of the state I absolutely hate with a passion
as does Maggie..If I want to see cowboy boots I’ll rent a flic. Bad enough I’m surrounded by Mexican food without
that horrendous barbeque. Take a picture of a plate of Mexican food and imagine what it looks like to someone who
already dislikes it.. However Robert I can read your mind after you read those words.. We were escorted to a very
good Italian spot while doing that once excellent show and ate there dozens of occasions over the years...
What struck me hard was your Border Incident .Certainly it had to be not only frustrating but frightening..That’s
the reason for me to write to you. It made my old man’s anger rise indeed. I do know of a Florida dealer who was
targeted and hauled away from that border.. His goods and van were placed in storage and half had mysteriously
disappeared six months later plus a hefty storage bill as well. It had other huge costs as well. I can’t tell you how
delighted to know that they didn’t find even the smallest of traces in your van .. I think I’m surprised
My Florida friend is most honest and decent chap who is a couple of generations removed from me .The age of
several of our children whom I’ve discovered all smoked pot as teens. I was stupid then and still so perhaps..
.We both know in today’s world even a small trace can cause huge problems in not only Texas.. It should be the
same law for all states but politics and ignorance will never take the logical path I fear..

I certainly hope your shows and shop will allow you to keep the barbeque plate full.......
Regards to your pretty lady please.........Best- Fred

Noreen said...

Robert....thanks for the reminder of how amazing and rich this area is. Your photos.....mmmmmwaaahhhh! Lovely! I also want to thank you for the Arthur Upfield reference. Right up there on my to-read list. What a wonderful trip....and great commentary! Noreen

Anonymous said...

Hey Robert,
Was going to go back to Chaco Canyon,
however these pics have motivated me to visit these wonderful cliff dwellings.