As I pass by the VLA again, I start to fully grasp some of the distances that one can see across the valleys and plains here. Again I see the first outer telescope ten minutes before I reach the entrance to the VLA facility (which is four miles from the control room). I reach Datil shortly thereafter, and I compare landmarks that I saw were getting rained on the night before, and I realize that the rain was fifteen miles away from the VLA, and that possibly I could have made the campsite. I would have been putting my tent up in the rain, but maybe not. I make a mental note to be a bit more agressive with deciding what rain I can and can't make it through.
I follow Hwy 12 as it climbs through the northern middle of the Plains of San Agustin and find myself in true mountains. To my right passes Horse Peak, 9400 ft above sea level. It would have been very impressive to see, but there are two other peaks equally as high and I couldn't tell them apart. Undoubtably, though, this is some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. From the tops of mountains I can see for dozens and dozens of miles, to the next mountains, and across the valleys that lie between them. The mountains tower skyward, steep sides presenting almost impassable walls. I climb up, then down, over and over again, each new viewpoint more impressive than the one before as I travel deeper into the Gila Forest and the Tolarosa Mountains.
Hwy 12 meets Hhy 180 just outside of Reserve, NM. I stop at a strange location for a rest stop. Just three or four miles earlier, there was a pass that offered a breathtaking view of the mountains, and would have been an excellent choice for a rest stop, but the highway engineers chose instead a location that was surrounded by trees and on the downslope of a mountain. There is no plumbing up here, only chemical toilets. As long as I can eat, I can live with it. However, I run into some problems here. I apparently put my peanut butter some place and did not pack it, which means no sandwiches. OK, I'll have some beans and rice. Well, I didn't buy three cans of beans at the store the other night, only two, and I'm out. OK, I'll just have rice. Well, my burner sputters and then shuts off altogether, clogged I'm guessing, because it is a brand new propane tank. Hmmm. OK, I'll just have four slices of bread for lunch.
While I am gorging myself in excess, a young woman approaches me. For once, I'm not sure what to make of someone else. There's no one else at the rest stop except me and her, and she's wearing a pair of shorts and a tie-died t-shirt and nothing else, if you know what I mean, and she's coming over to me, Mr. Motorcycle Dude with his Camping Gear, when most people try to discreetly run away. "Are you going to the Gathering?" she asks me. "Ummm...what's a Gathering?" "Oh, it's a Rainbow Gathering where around 50,000 people camp out on this 5 acre park. Everyone gets back to nature and has a lot of fun. It is about an hour north of here. Would you like to follow me and join us?" "Uhh..well, that sounds like a lot of fun (not! 50,000 people and probably 3 toilets, and no showers, right, that's fun), but I'm headed south to Gila Cliff". "OK, then, peace, brother". I finish eating.
I stop at a place called "The Catwalk", which is named after the suspension bridge miners had to cross in order to go to the mines. Geronimo used to hide out back in this canyon, and there used to be an old powerplant. It is a very interesting hike, and the old rope and wood bridge has been replaced by a metal can cable bridge, but it still swings a couple feet each way when you step across it. It is quite the thrill ride, but not for the fainthearted. Once I reach the top of the hike, I try to get back to the bottom by the creek that runs through the canyon. I follow it for about a quarter mile (the hike is 1.1 miles) before I am forced to choose between getting quite wet and climbing 20 or so feet up the side of an embankment, having earlier made a choice which had no recourse. I choose the embankment, which is made all the more fun by my carrying a gallon jug of water with me, limiting my grabbing abilities to one hand. All the same, I manage, and decide I'll stay on the path the rest of the way.
The sign says 52 miles to Silver City, and my gas gauge says 3/4 full. I know not to trust my gauge too much, since when it says 1/4 full it is actually real close to running dry. I figure I can make it to Silver City, though. The daily afternoon showers are building, but I remember my mental note and press on toward dark and threatening skies. Sure enough, they appear closer than they are, and I make it to the last peak before Silver City without getting wet, even though all around me is lightning and showers. I don't make it to Silver City without running out of gas, however. The peak is in sight when the bike gurbles and sputters, the angle of climbing pushing the last bit of gas away from the fuel pickup and starving my carbs of precious sustenance. I switch to reserve and slowly climb to the top of the peak. I reach the nadir, and see Silver City. I turn my bike off and pull the clutch in, content to coast at 30 or 40 mph the last two miles into town, saving the last remaining gas for any desperate attempts to cross intersections to a gas station.
And it turns out to be a good thing that I do, as I need to cross several intersections before I find a gas station. Odd how sometimes you can pull into a town an immediately feel at ease, or equally uneasy. Silver City had my spider sense tingling big time. I felt very uncomfortable while filling up my bike, and even though I had been on my bike for a couple hours, I did not get off and walk around as I usually do. Heading out from the gas station I see a Hispanic gangbanger, blue colors flying, bandana pulled down so low over his eyes he could have used a seeing eye dog. A few streets later, I have to stop at a light. Next to me pulls up a large 70's Cadillac, gold metallic paint, lowered and tinted, and full of more gangbangers, judging by the colors and the militant rap music blasting out from the car. I notice the buildings frequently have gang markings, and I decide I'd rather not spend any time in this town. Luckily, the road to Gila Cliff is near the end of town that Hwy 180 comes into, and I quickly depart a rather unpleasant town.
On the map Gila Cliff is 38 miles from Silver City. I pass a sign that says travel time to Gila Cliff from this point is two hours. I scoff, wondering about the competency of drivers that take two hours to drive 38 miles. Five miles later I realize I will be lucky if I make it that quickly. There is a light rain coating the roads which have enough hairpins to make the worst curler obsessed Sunday morning shopper beside herself with joy (ok, I really had to stretch for this one, and maybe too far). It is slick, and first and second gear all the way. The back end skids a couple times, and I find that concentrating on not skidding often has me in the wrong gear at the end of the turn, leaving the rpms too low and the bike wobbly. Keep the rpms up, and I go into corners too fast, grateful there is no oncoming traffic. I pass the first half in about an hour, and I consider stopping at the break point, where there is a resturant and general store. I spy (with my little eye) a sign that says there is a store at Gila Cliff, and I press on. Oh, the views from the second half. The highest pass is 7,500 ft above sea level, and it overlooks right into the heart of the San Mateos Mountains. Amazing, almost virgin country, no houses, no roads, nothing but pristine New Mexico mountain landscape. I can't look too long, because the next curve is approaching fast (even at 15 mph). I will definately spend a lot of time on the way out (which is via this same road).
I reach Gila Cliff almost two hours after starting the road in. I'm tired, and a bit cold. I see campsites, but they are crude, with no facilities and no running water, so I press on closer to the Park. Almost at the park entrance, incredibly enough, is excellent camping, with facilities and water, and unbelievably, it is free. I am lucky enough to find one of the last available sites (there are only around 20 or 25). and I am greeted by my neighbors. It would appear that sometimes I am quite the scene, obviously worn out and whipped, because my neighbors offer me food before I have even unpacked all my stuff from my bike. Since I am almost shaking at this point, I could have accepted almost anything. On top of some wonderful potatoes, they also let me use their stove to heat some rice. Oh yeah, the general store? It closed at 5:30pm, fifteen minutes before I got there. No soup for me! My neighbors Jose and Claira are quite nice, and very friendly, but I partake of thier hospitality for only a short time and head to my tent for a much desired period of sleep.July 4, 1998
In the morning I go to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. These were made almost 700 years ago by a small group of Anasazi Indians. They lived in the dwellings for about 20 years, then vacated the premises. Their work still stands. There are natural caves (well, crevices might be more apt, as they are more like deep ruts cut into the side of the mountain) the wind has carved into the sides of the mountain here, and the people brought water and stones and dirt up into the caves and constructed walls to partition off rooms and individual residences and more formal area, including a room dedicated to birthing. At one time the dwellings had roofs, and the entrances to the rooms was always through a small, maybe two foot by two foot opening. The caves provided a natural barrier, and what little was left was blocked out by the shell. The rangers describe where researchers believed different activities occured, and we are able to wander through a couple dwellings and peer into others. It was most fascinating, and well worth the effort of the mile hike that can be a bit steep at times but really is pretty accessible. There haven't been any completely accepted reasons for why this band of 40 to 60 people decided to live seperate from the main Mogollon tribe, but I suspect it was religious in nature. The Anasazi are more extreme than the other tribes, such as Navajo and Hopi, and there always seem to be people who are even too extreme for the extremists, and I suspect that is what these people were.
I go back to camp and I realize I'm quite whipped. I could head out, and try to get to the Chiricahua monument tonight, but I don't really have the heart for it. Besides, the lodging is free, and my neighbors are more than willing to share their cooking equipment, so I decide to stay another night, and I pass the day away sleeping and watching the deer stroll past my backwindow. No fireworks, no crazy parties, just peace and quiet on the Fourth of July, Independence Day. Ahhh....Email me gtkelly domain dialectronics.com