“Standing on the moon
With nothing else to do
A lovely view of heaven
But I’d rather be with you” – The Grateful Dead
On the Road Again
Following my stay in the Coronado, I headed north to my next destination, the Gila National Forest where I would visit ancient cliff dwellings, and spend a few nights stargazing at an international dark sky sanctuary. It is a 243 miles from Chiricahua. The first half of the drive to Silver City was easy enough.
Heading back to I-10 from my camping in the Coronado, you couldn’t help but notice that the barren foothills I was passing through from Arizona back into New Mexico were beginning to bloom with tiny yellow and orange flowers. It looked like someone took a giant blanket of tiny flowers and covered the landscape with it.
I soon left the I-10, after entering New Mexico (fyi: different time zone) to head north towards Silver City. Crossing the continental divide, and arriving at Silver City, I would stock up on some supplies (mostly drinking water) before heading on the two hour/45 mile drive to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings
Yup, just a bit under two hours to drive the final 45 miles to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The road is a steep and winding one. Cutting through the mountains, this road appeared to be less than two lanes most of the time, and with all the hair-pin turns, you need to have your wits about you.
I arrived late afternoon. There are a couple of campgrounds before the entrance of the Gila Cliff Dwelling which served as a good pit stop for the night. The following morning I would do the short(ish) trek to the dwellings.
Roughly 200 BCE, what is now the South Western quarter of New Mexico was occupied by the Mongollon. The Mongollon culture would flourish until 1450 CE to 1540 CE, when the Spanish arrived.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings were occupied for a brief time (approx 1270 to 1300) during what is known as the Pueblo III Period (1150 to 1350).
The trail is one mile loop where you ascend through a gorge to the dwellings and then the descent back towards the parking lot.
At both the head of the trail, and at the dwelling there are knowledgeable park volunteers ready to assist you.
I was personally left speechless after visiting the Mogollon Cliff Dwellings. I feel that to be able to stand in the structures where an ancient culture had lived over 600 years earlier and see how they lived is pretty amazing.
The Cosmic Campground
So once my hike was done to the cliff dwellings, I hopped back in my car, made my way back through the winding road through the mountains, and finally back to Silver City. At that point it was time to head back north but on a different road to: the Cosmic Campground!
Just North of Alma, New Mexico on route 180 is the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary (or CCIDSS for short). It is one of four certified IDA (International Dark Sky) sanctuaries in the world. And if you are lucky like, I was, you would have clear skies, and meet a couple (literally) of experienced star gazers (from Boulder, Colorado) to give myself and another co-camper, a mini-astronomy 101 course!
The CCIDSS is a primitive campground with the only amenities; tw pit toilets. It has four concrete pads to set telescopes on. It is also requested that if camping there, that you should use a red filter over your flashlight. This keeps the light down to a minimum for improved star gazing.
After three nights of sleeping under the stars, I continued north to the Apache Creek campground. I only stayed for a night before heading to the next destination. This was a nice spot with lots of tall pinyon pines, and lots of coyotes. Even though I didn’t see them, I had a chance to find their previous supper.
Next Stop….. Petrified Forest