Sunday, December 5, 2010

Gila Gila

Our drive up Highway 35 north from Silver City takes us through the Gila (pronounced Heela) National Forest - more steep, twisty, sharp curves up and down mountains; and we can't even take Highway 15 which has too many hairpin turns for a trailer our size.  This forest takes us across the Continental Divide at the elevation of 6,599 feet.  How many of you remember your elementary school geography?  From the Continental Divide, all water flowing east from the Divide will end up in the Atlantic Ocean and all water flowing west will end up in the Pacific Ocean.  It is a monumental moment in the trip - okay, not really; but it is interesting to be this far west and be on the backbone of the continent.  Another interesting sign on the highways around here points out that the "Road is not plowed at night or on weekends".  Well then.  I guess there's only one snow plow driver on staff and he doesn't work overtime!  I hope it only snows during the week around here!

The round trip that we take is called "Trail of The Mountain Spirits" and as Brad reads about the geology of the area it appears that this area is similar to that of Bancroft, Ontario.  There are hundreds of old abandonded gold, silver and copper mines from the late 1800s and early 1900s with collecting sites all documented from local rock clubs.  One volunteer ranger tells us of one abandoned mine in a deep canyon with a 3 mile hike and that's coming up on our route within a day or so.  Brad says "Greg, we should move here for prospecting".  Surprisingly, there appears to be no gold panning, likely because the gold shafts are small and localized like those in Bancroft.

We visit the Gila Hot Springs, a private attraction along the Gila River that includes three separate pools each at different temperatures.  Clothing is optional except during daylight hours on weekends, and we have the place to ourselves like many spots we've visited along our trip thanks to the time of year.  The owner, who is nowhere to be found (and we later learn has had a heart attack and is elsewhere recuperating), has decorated the pools as very rustic huts and the river bank with strangely shaped sticks and teepees and an eclectic assortment of potential wind chimes - it is called "junk art".  It all provides a setting of either utter tranquility or Deliverance, depending on your point of view and past experience.  There are many such hot springs in the vicinity, some of which you can hike a couple of miles to, or this one which is right off the main road behind a horse ranch.  Another cool - hot - New Mexico spot!
Brad and Marilyn in the Gila Hot Springs
On another day we hike to the Gila Cliff Dwellings which are natural caves high up in the side of the cliff in which the ancient Mogollon (pronounced Muggy-yon) people built their homes in the thirteenth century.  It is believed that they only occupied these dwellings for a period of about 30 years, and it is not known why they left.  There are seven caves in all of varying sizes which were unfortunately heavily looted prior to this area becoming a National Monument, but a few artifacts have been preserved and are showcased at the Visitor's Centre.  The southwest is rich in ancient tribal history like this, but few dwellings are as well preserved as the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Brad at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Some people say that excitment comes with risk and our risk is trying to find a place to park this 31ft long, 13,000lbs. fifth wheel trailer. You see, once you have committed yourself down a road, if there is no place to turn around or if the dips are too big to cause the top of the truck box to hit the bottom of the trailer then we have to back up which is extremely difficult and slow.  We typically access website information or talk to locals (if anyone lives around) to know if roads are accessible.  After a first failed attempt to access one remote National Forest campground, we learn of a new type of risk.  We back down a steep, dirt road (about a 10 degree grade) for about only 50 feet from a paved road to test to see if we can get enough traction with the truck to pull the trailer back out.  The back tires spin and then once we shift into 4 wheel drive we slowly are able to pull the trailer back up the dirt road.  Our guess is that we are using about 80% of the 680 ft-lbs. of torque generated from the diesel engine in 4 wheel drive high gear.  It would be significantly less than 80% in four-low gear.  Despite this test, we are a little nervous during our 2 day stay since there is no guarantee that we will be able to climb the entire slope of the road.  Our guess is that a 12% or greater grade and we won't make it, or if the stones on top of the dirt is rounded there would be no way we'd get sufficient traction.  Yes we do make it out (easily) and there is a sign saying NOT RECOMMENDED FOR TRAILERS.  Hey, the only way to know the truck's capability is to get close to the "razor's edge".

By the way, I've added an addendum to my Lincoln National Forest post "A Little R&R" originally posted in November.  See the last paragraph for a tidbit of info I originally forgot to post.


  1. WOW, just caught up to about a week's activity -hot springs, caves, rock cities, and you appear to almost be the only people anywhere. Glad you avoided starting a war when crossing the base. How is GRADY doing? I had no idea the landscape would be so vast and unpopulated. Dunes are beautiful. This blog should be a book!

  2. We ARE almost the only people anywhere. It's the off-season in most of New Mexico. Most Snowbirds go to Florida; Tucson, Arizona; or southern Texas along the Gulf coast. It's actually wonderful being alone at most of the places we go - it allows us to really feel the solitude of the places.

    Grady is having a good time. He naps in the trailer all day while we're out hiking and he's gotten used to the travel days, sleeping in the truck. He's become quite a little gypsy. He'll probably be bored when we get home.