Gila Cliff Dwellings to Highway 12, 90 miles

5/5 After a lovely night’s sleep, I slept in and hit the road at 7:30. Worried about making miles when I returned to the river, I walked right past the turnoff to the Gila Cliff Dwellings site, a round trip of about 4 miles. Then I walked past the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument visitor center and got on the trail. I stopped dead in my tracks, tucked my pack under a tree and turned around. I went back to the visitor center, paid my fee, went back to the turnoff and walked the road to the ruins, not the road to ruin.


These dwellings were inhabited for just a generation by Mogollon people, Pueblan culture, and have a lot of the original structure including wooden support posts that provided dendochronology (tree ring dating) but here, as normal, the archaeological sites in New Mexico have been heavily plundered, “pot hunted,” in the last 150 years.  In fact, I have inherited 2 perfect pots from Mesa Verde that my great or great great grandfather Clayton Theodore Sallee, took. I also have an ornate marriage certificate with his name and my great great grandmother’s name with Arizona Territory crossed out and New Mexico Territory penned in above. I don’t know much more about my mom’s Sallee ancestors, she was born near Coulee Dam where her dad was on a WPA project in the Depression and she graduated from high school in Oregon.

How people have wandered the West for thousands of years.  Who were they really?  What were their lives like?  Why just a generation in this location?  What is the true story of my ancestors?  Did I inherit the wanderlust?  I’m glad I turned back to visit this site, it gave me a lot to think about when I got back on the river route a couple of hours later.

From 11am to when I camped I crossed the Middle Fork of the Gila River 57 times for a total of 14 trail miles ( which doesn’t include the diversion to the Cliff dwellings).  Hard to make miles in sand, cobbles and water.  But I couldn’t be happier with the route or my day.  Frogs, tadpoles, fish, fry, lizards, snakes, squirrels with big ears, and 2 day hikers with a pit bull too tired to even wag her tail.

5/6 So slow, so many crossings, so little tread.  I followed footprints until the thunder showers between 1:30 and 5:45 wiped them out.  I finally pitched my tent and rested my aching back.  I miss the Ravens so bad and wonder where they are and how Mama’s feet are and how they’re managing the river.

5/7 It was cold this morning. I went from the canyon (fell in the water once, getting my daily quota) to ugly Snow Lake which was enlivened by legitimate trash cans at the USFS campground. Hikers love to get rid of trash! Met my second pair of nice FS guys in a truck.  In both cases, an older, largish white guy is driving with a younger, fitter brown guy riding shot gun. One was a Kachina Hot Shot!  There are fires in the area but they tell me the CDT is open and safe. Continuing on from the lake on dirt road to trail and the last water was a weird pond with solar panels.  Then a climb onto a road and I saw the “German couple” in the distance that the FS guys told me was ahead.  I walked for a long time across a treeless, windy plain before dropping down to trees and the nicely maintained Bursum Road where I said “Hey” to the German couple resting in the shade.  The road continued up, up, up over the Divide and I found a tent site in the trees.

I made lots of miles today but I didn’t plan for the eventual water carry as I left the river and the weird pond. Fortunately I’m paranoid since the Catwater incident in 2015 and always carry more water than I need. I have enough till tomorrow and the next on-trail spring in 14 miles.

My life is ruined, stupid iPhone somehow deleted the iBooks app.  The last thing I did last night was read “Digital Dick,” by my Yosemite friend John Mullen.  When’s Book 2 of the series coming out, John?  I love the concept, character and story, and it’s so well crafted!  The way these phone mishaps go, that app would pop up with an inadvertent elbow in the tent and self destruct.  I need wifi to restore it and that’s days and days away.  I haven’t not read a book every night since I learned to read. I am reduced to reading the labels on my food and reviewing my own stupid journal entries.

5/8 Not my favorite day. Woke to cold and cloud cover and continued the easy tread FS road at 2% grade. Passed Treehugger, Blisterfree and dog Sage as they were packing up. I miss the Ravens, Dassie, Dan, Jackie, Poppy, Recon, Puff Puff, Milkshake and Sticky Buns, Mr Smith, Velcro and Sparrow.  I really mourn Sparrow, every day.

Finally finishing the alt and getting on the CDT, I came to a lookout and saw the 2 fires.  It made me nervous, they were so close, should I retreat?  I left a long note in a USFS fire rig that was parked, unlocked, with the keys inside, with instructions to call Dan so he could satellite text me if I’m in danger.  After all, it’s not like a bureaucrat has never made a bad fire behavior call!  I hiked on, picked up some murky pond water and camped in smoke.

It was a nice warm campsite.  I woke at midnight to the sound of a bunch of coyotes yipping like sled dog puppies.  Then further off, a long awoo, a single wolf howling, singing, and the coyotes shut up.  I know Mexican wolves have been reintroduced to the area, and I’ve seen plenty of food for everybody–cow calves, deer, elk–so I guess that’s why I wasn’t scared, and it was such a beautiful, wild song.

5/9 Between the iBooks issue, the fires, the hail and increasing wind, cold and weather, and the uncertainty of whether my resupply box was actually being held at Toaster House in Pietown (ah, hiker rumors made me call to confirm from Silver City but I hadn’t heard back before losing cell coverage for the last week), I’d decided to give 3 hours to an attempt to hitch the 30 miles from NM 12 to Reserve, an unplanned stop and a notoriously hard hitch.  If I couldn’t get a ride, I’d camp and continue the 2 days to Pietown.  I got a ride part way from the first car going my way, after just an hour huddled in all my layers and rain gear.  Then a second ride from a law enforcement officer acting as a Good Samaritan to a hiker in distress.  Turns out a week ago, a colleague died of hypothermia out here and the officer had that in his mind.  Oh, the kindness of the people of New Mexico!  They’re not crazy outgoing, they’re calm and helpful.

I love hitching

And so I’m in Reserve on another unplanned zero waiting for the severe weather to pass.  Seriously, rain here, snow where I would be hiking, tornadoes around the state, wow.  And I’ve restored my books, done my laundry, caught up the blog, eaten really great beef, watched The Voice, Better Call Saul and Into the Badlands, and found out the Ravens took 2 more days in Silver City.  They’re probably close to me! I’ll know when they get cell service!

4 thoughts on “Gila Cliff Dwellings to Highway 12, 90 miles

  1. Alison,

    I’m so sorry to hear that your ebook software isn’t working. I’m glad that you enjoyed my book, Digital Dick, but it may be awhile before there’s a sequel. I’ve just finished a historical mystery and am getting ready to send it to literary agents. In my new book, and eighteen-year-old young woman with one leg becomes temporary Marshal of a California gold-mining town in 1892, a bit different from DD. Have a great journey along the Continental Divide.



  2. Hi Catwater,I’m so glad you took the time to see the cliff dwellings! Your photos are great! Looks like you skipped the Gila Hot Springs though. I love hearing where you are, what you saw and the dates.
    See you, Joan (no trail name except maybe Boo-Boo)


  3. Alison, are you able to open pdf documents attached to an email? Could we send you pdf’s of novels? If so, let us know your email address.



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