Silver City, New Mexico, is a small town of 10,000 in the mountains above Lordsburg on Highway 10. It was the destinaion
my husband and I had chosen as a jumping off place for our visit to the Gila Indian Ruins, 44 miles, even higher into the mountains on a curvy, curvy, road. We parked our trailer, spent the night in Silver City, and set out for the ruins early the next morning.
A well-stocked visitor center at 7450 feet welcomed guests with a museum full of artifacts and a bookstore offering hundreds of Indian related books for sale to the public, including a 50-cent guide to the ruins. What a bargain; we purchased one.
Another pleasant surprise awaited us; there was no charge to explore the ruins. Parking just below the cliff, where the dwelling ruins are located, we grabbed our guide book, and started our trek.
According to the book, we were to cross a small foot bridge and follow the trail, marked here and there with numbers painted on rocks. Each painted number corresponded to a numbered paragraph in the guide so we could read the history of, or an interesting fact about, each area as we went along. The first half of the 1-mile tour was pretty level and the path meandered along a clear, sparkling stream with rustic wooden benches located at strategic spots for weary tourists – -like us. Just before the trail began to ascend, the booklet warned that the remainder of the trail was not for everyone. Those with heart problems, asthma, problems walking, etc. were told to look up at the cliffs, take their photographs, and retreat back down the trail.
If we had decided not to continue at that point, we would have felt the 44 mile drive worth-while, as the view was magnificent. We looked up to see huge cave openings on the mountain side 180 feet above us. After taking several pictures, we decided
to press on. It took only a few more minutes to understand the warning in the booklet. We were soon dripping sweat, panting, and searching frantically for another of those lovely benches to drop on. Ah, there was one. We grabbed it. By this time, we were determined, no matter how hard it was and how often we had to stop and rest, that we were going to stand inside of
one of those caves and look out over the valley from 180 feet in the air.
Minutes later, we were on our way again. We were pretty proud of ourselves, because we had already met several people coming back. Even people that looked much younger, and certainly much slimmer than us. We knew they had given up without reaching the cave, because our paper guide showed the exit to be down the other side of the mountain. Finally, after several more sessions on benches, we reached the mouth of the largest cave. I turned and looked out over thousands of acres of pine-studded forests, thinking,
“This has got to be the greatest picture window of all time.”
Running down to the creek for a pail of water, though, couldn’t have been a favorite pastime of the cave’s former inhabitants.
I imagined dozens of little dark-skinned Indian kids struggling up and down the mountain all day long, just to supply the
most basic water needs of their families.
We explored the several caves that were open to the public, taking lots of pictures and marveling at the acoustics in some of them. Even when we spoke quietly, our voices echoed through-out the chambers. There were ladders to climb so we could peek into walled off rooms. The Indians who occupied the caves arrived in the 1200’s, were mostly farmers, and did not stay very long. No one knows for sure why they left or where they went.
Too soon, we arrived at number 19, the end of the tour, and found ourselves standing on a large flat rock at the far side of
the ruins. Here, the guide book suggested that we think for a moment about the Indians who, many, many years ago, stood
on that very same spot. We did, and then made our way on down the hill to the parking lot. When we reached it, I turned and looked back up at the caves, searching for words to describe the unique experience we had just come through. Failing to find any that seemed just right from those of my generation, I pulled one from today’s teen-age jargon.
” Awesome”, I told my husband. “Just awesome!” And it was.