Tombstone, AZ & Gila National Monument, NM ~ November 4 – 5, 2014

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone, AZ 1
Tombstone, Arizona

Between I-10 and the Mexican border lies the infamous town of Tombstone, Arizona. It’s an easy drive from Tucson —about 75 miles—and the cutoff (Hwy 80) was on the way to New Mexico.

Tombstone, AZ 2
Tombstone, Arizona

Like Virginia City, Nevada, Tombstone’s classic western scape is preserved and attracts tourists now rather than cowboys, miners, and outlaws.

OK Corral, Tombstone AZ

Since we weren’t interested in souvenirs or saloons, there wasn’t much to do except walk around, bask in the nostalgia, and read historical markers.

In 1877, and after being told he was foolish and would only discover his own tombstone, Edward Schieffelin found silver in the surrounding hills. By the mid-1880’s, his small encampment had grown into the town of Tombstone with a population upwards of 15,000.

Yet, Tombstone is worth the detour whether you love the lore of the American West or are simply curious. In fact, it enticed us longer than we’d meant to stay.

Heading East on I-10

The detour to Tombstone added 50 miles to the 200-mile drive to southwestern New Mexico, and it was already late afternoon. By the time we were again heading east on I-10, the sun was setting.

Waxing Moon, I-10 east of Tucson
Waxing Moon, I-10 heading toward New Mexico

Cookies, it’s what’s for dinner!

After the deluge in Redwoods National Forest, we had no more camping plans. We also knew there’d be no kitchen access for the remaining eleven days of this adventure, so there was no need to tote food, other than a few snacks. Plus, we’d filled our bellies with a hearty breakfast at Cross Roads Restaurant in Tucson and felt satisfied enough to get through to evening. But, the long day and drive had us arriving in Silver City, NM just after restaurants had closed. Luckily Petit Écolier cookies, leftover from making s’mores, sustained us to morning. This wasn’t the first time we had cookies for dinner.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (Pronounced Hee-la)

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 9
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The remnant cliff dwellings lay deep within Gila National Forest. After turning off Silver City’s main road onto Hwy 15, we started climbing and signs of civilization soon succumbed to a verdant wilderness.

GNF Map

The road mostly follows the Gila River while twisting around, over, and atop the ridges of mountains for 40 miles.

Atop Ridge, Hwy 15, New Mexico
Atop Ridge, Hwy 15, New Mexico

At the visitor center we watched a brief and informative video. The cliffside homes are believed to have been constructed by Mogollon (Mo-go-yone) Puebloans beginning in the 1270’s. But these original inhabitants had moved on by 1300, perhaps due to drought.

The Chiricahua Apache settled there in the 1500’s and remained in the area until the U.S. government forced their removal between 1870 and 1886. The last Apache to sadly leave this ancestral land were led by a defeated Geronimo (Goyahkla).

Gila Canyon, Cliff Dwellings Nat'l Monument
Gila Canyon, Cliff Dwellings Nat’l Monument

The Gila National Forest is spotted with ancient pueblo ruins, yet none as unique and Eden-like as the cliff-dwellings… seven caves high on a canyon cliff topped with fertile soil for growing corn, beans, and squash (the “three sisters”).

Gila Cliff Dwellings
Caves 2, 4 and 5 (Cave 3 is between 2 & 4 but its entrance is set back and not visible from this angle)

The middle fork of the Gila River runs below the caves and in early November appeared more creek-like.

1-Mile Loop Trail to Gila Cliff Dwellings
1-Mile Loop Trail to Gila Cliff Dwellings

Only five of the caves were used as living quarters. Cave number 6 appeared to be used for rituals while hard-to-reach cave 7 had no trace of human occupancy.

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 4
Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

Unlike Montezuma’s castle, visitors are allowed into the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Being a weekday in November, the forest ranger and a volunteer were the only other persons inside the caves.

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 1
Inside Cave 3, Gila National Monument, NM

The ranger pointed out unique architectural details including a structure believed to be used for food storage, like a pantry.

Storage Pantry, Gila Cliff Dwellings
Storage Pantry, Gila Cliff Dwellings

We particularly enjoyed cave 3, the largest and coolest (as in temperature), and its view was fabulous.

Meditating, Cave 3, Gila Cliff Dwellings
Meditating in Cave 3, Gila Cliff Dwellings

Having the dwellings to ourselves was special and a memorable experience.

We were able to spend amble time inside the caves to fully appreciate the area’s beauty, sense of safety, and peace.

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 8

For the return trip to Silver Springs we opted to continue looping the scenic byway—the Trail of the Mountain Spirits—into San Lorenzo then back west to Silver Springs.

Trail of the Mountain Spirts Byway

This only added thirty miles to our trip, but Trey and I both agreed the more picturesque route was Hwy 15.

View from Hwy 15 New Mexico
View from Hwy 15 New Mexico

Silver City, New Mexico

Silver City is a friendly mining town nestled aside a mountain and a tad east of the Continental Divide. More modern than expected (not rustic) yet it retains a quaint, small town quality. We savored an authentic Mexican dinner at La Cocina and a hearty breakfast at the artsy Adobe Café. Highly recommend both!

Next Stop…

Alamogordo & White Sands National Park, New Mexico (via quirky Hatch New Mexico…)

More pics…

Lizard, Gila Nat'l Monument, NM
Gila National Forest Lizard 🙂
Casting Shadows, Gila Natl Monument, NM
Casting Shadows, Gila National Monument

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