The "Stories" of Southwest New Mexico: Gila Cliff Dwellings, White Sands, Las Cruces and More....
March 15, 2016
In our travels, we’re often asked, “What’s the favorite place you’ve been?” and our typically comment is, “We haven’t found it yet!”
Now that doesn’t mean that we haven’t enjoyed the various places we’ve been; we definitely have. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. There really hasn’t been a place on our travels that we haven’t enjoyed and while the degree of enjoyment varies from location to location, I believe it’s about finding the “story” in the places we go.
Back in the day, Steve Hartman of CBS news used to do a segment about everybody having a story. He would go into a random town, open a phone book, close his eyes and randomly point to a name, then reach out to that person to find out what his/her story was. Inevitably they had some kind of story. And we approach our travel with that same mindset. Every place has a story; and this stop in New Mexico was no exception to that. Lots of stories.
First of all, the story of our campground. We stayed at City of Rocks State Parks which is basically out in the middle of nowhere in Faywood, New Mexico, population 33. The park encompasses about one mile area in the Chihuahuan desert and has an elevation of about 5,200 feet. The “city” is a geologic formation made up of large sculptured rock columns, as high as 40 feet and separated by paths resembling streets. Supposedly, these rocks were formed about 34.9 million years ago when a very large volcano erupted and over the next million or so years, erosion slowly formed the sculptured columns that are now part of the park. It’s hard to describe, but it’s stunning, peaceful and almost makes you feel like you’re in another world. Like nothing we have every seen.
This is the view of the park as you enter....
Our friends Deb and Steve had stayed here last year and Tracy remembered it, so luckily, that’s how it made its way to our itinerary. Don’t think we would have discovered it any other way!!
The campsites, for the most part, are nestled in the various rock formations, which make each campsite pretty unique. There is a section with electric hookups by the visitor’s center, but it's not real scenic in comparison, but the rest of the sites, very scenic, don’t have any hookups. With solar, it was an easy decision.
We ended up enjoying our time here, and the uniqueness of the park, so much that we decided to extend our stay and canceled our last leg of our New Mexico journey. On the flipside, we did run out of things to do, so might have extended our stay a little too long, but there are worse places to hang for a few extra days…and we were with friends, so that made it all that much better.
Our first site, which was very cool, but a reservation site,
so we moved to a "first come" site after a few days
Sunset from our first site....
The Toilet Rock....just one of many interesting rock formations.
This was our second site, at sunset....(both of our rigs)
And this was the view from our window... Pretty darn incredible.
Another one of the unique campsites
So, the story of Faywood, where City of Rocks is located...... Faywood, and their 33 residents, also lay claim to something else—a hot springs and what was once a successful resort in the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s. At one point in the resort’s history, the Chicago White Stockings held their spring training in Faywood, however the spring winds were a tad too strong for spring training, so that didn’t last too long. And we did partake in a few days of those really strong wind days during our stay, so understand how that could have some impact on baseball!
In 1952, the resort was demolished and became a ghost town and then in the early 90’s, the land was purchased and developed into a hot springs resort again.
Now, to say that this is a “resort” may be an overstatement, but we did check out one of the private hot spring pools while we were there and it was a nice soak. I can honestly say I wouldn’t stay there, but since we have been void of and really missing a bathtub--it was a very hot and enjoyable soak. As for any healing powers, the ankle doesn’t seem any better, but hey, it was worth a shot!!
One of the private pools
So with a sort of remote location, about equidistance to Deming and Silver City, we employed the hub and spoke methodology of exploration. It was safe to say our explorations would include a drive, since we were 30 minutes from civilization (aka Deming and Silver City) and 75 miles to Las Cruces, NM, home to major shopping.
Our first place we visited was Silver City, and we made a few follow up trips there as well. Some of the “story” of Silver City is mining—all about mining—originally silver, but today it’s copper. Silver City is home to one of the largest open air copper mines in the world. The mine is 1500 feet deep and about 1.5 miles wide....pretty darn big!!
The Santa Rita Mine in Silver City
Silver City also has a quaint downtown, where we enjoyed strolling around and had a couple of decent meals, with the highlight being Forrest’s Pizza, which was a very unassuming shed that made pizza. And they didn’t just make any pizza…. they made pizza just like they make in Philadelphia, no small feat! That was worthy of two visits. It was awesome!!
Little Toad Creek Brewery downtown Silver City
and our waitress on old school roller skates.
Silver City also had some Billy the Kid history; being one of the places he lived early on in his life and think it’s safe to say Silver City is where things went wrong for ol’ Billy!! Silver City was the home of his first couple jail visits…and subsequent jail escapes.
The replica of BTK's cabin was donated to the city by Ron Howard
and used in the 2003 movie, "The Missing." Located on BTK's actual homesite.
We didn't do much exploring in Deming, but did hit up Rockhound State Park one day. I'm sure there's a lot more to the story of Deming, we just didn't spend a lot of time there, but the rocks and the park were very nice. Maybe next time!
Park was very nice and right on the verge of a wildflower explosion.
In about a week, this place will be popping with flowers!
Rockhound State Park actually allows you to take 15 pounds of rocks out.
The area is all about rocks!!
Hobie hiking....or giving us attitude!!
Another “story” we discovered on a drive throughout the countryside was Georgetown. First of all, as we were traveling down a random highway, there was a small sign that said “scenic drive” so hey, sounds good to us, so we turned off. It was about an eight-mile non-paved road that was definitely scenic and eventually led us past a cemetery—Georgetown Cemetery. This cemetery was basically out in the middle of nowhere. We strolled around and many of the gravesites dated back to the 1800’s and after doing a little research, discovered that Georgetown was once a bustling silver mining town of around 1200 people. After the price of silver dropped, so did the population and the town, with the exception of the cemetery, disappeared. We found, what we believed to be a couple of different foundations, but other than that, no other remnants.
Part of the scenic drive
We stumbled upon the Georgetown Cemetery
And there were some very interesting grave stones
Also, along with the casual explorations of the area, we took three major field trips, and yes, they were definitely trips.
Our first trip was to Gila Cliff Dwellings, which are basically a series of several caves chiseled in the rocks of the Gila National Forest. These dwellings were used as temporary shelter for nomadic people prior to the late 1200’s, and then, people of the Mogollon Culture decided it would be a good place to call home, so they moved in. Not sure why they thought that, but basically that lasted about 20 years before they moved on. I’m pretty sure I would have moved on after my first trek to get water, but guess they were a whole lot more dedicated and resilient back then…..and probably had a few less options!
The beginning of the hike
Hiking up to the dwellings. It wasn't a long hike, but it also wasn't the easiest.
Photo op --Tracy and Lee--on the hike up!!
Right on the outskirts of the dwellings.
Our tour guide, Greg telling about each of the caves/dwellings before we entered
A view from the outside
Corn that was left in one of the rooms. The cobbs are at least 800 years old.
Pretty fancy rock work!
One of a few pictographs inside the dwellings
Tracy in one of the rooms
Another one of the rooms. Perhaps the kitchen area?
And while it might have been a hike for water, at least they had a great view!
A walkway to another room
And the path leaving the dwellings
The dwelling were pretty interesting and downright amazing to think people actually lived up there. The trip, while only 72 or so miles from the campground, took a little over two hours each way, but was a nice drive through the winding roads of the Gila National Forest.
Roberts Lake....about halfway point
Gila National Forest
Gila National Forest
Our next field trip, also a couple of hour trek, was to the White Sands National Monument and the White Sands Missile Museum. First—The White Sands National Monument. Basically, we were driving down the highway and then poof, a bunch of white sand. Yep, White Sands Monument. The area is surrounded by mountains and is about 275 square miles of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world, which is pretty impressive, and after every turn, and dune we expected to see the ocean. Was just odd to see that much “sand” yet no water anywhere to be had.
Interesting sign inside the Visitor's Area
Everywhere you looked...sand...sand...and more sand!!
So, Hobie didn't too much care for the "boardwalk" so this is Greg's response....
And this is Tracy with Hobie.... Think it's safe to say that Hobie is a little spoiled!!
At the visitor’s center, you could either rent or buy sleds so there were lots of kids sliding down the dunes, so that seemed to be the main entertainment. We had a nice picnic lunch and headed to out next stop, the White Sands Missile Museum, which was located about 15 -20 miles down the road.
Getting into the museum was almost exciting as the museum (at least for me!!). The museum is on an active military base, which meant that we had to present our car registration, car insurance and driver’s license at the entrance area. They used our licenses to run background checks, then after about 20 minutes we were issued a temporary permit to get on the base. Whew! Oh wait, after they searched the car, then we were then allowed on base. Quite an undertaking.
The White Sands Missile Museum
We entered the museum; and what do we see? Pretty much nothing but a stark lobby and after going through a pretty intensive process to get there, I started to wonder if all that effort was worth it....but....
The lobby of the museum....fairly underwhelming!!
after walking down a short hallway, we actually entered the museum. Whew!
This was definitely one of those stops where the guys were truly enjoying themselves and well, Tracy and I were along for the ride. The museum included various and random items, missiles, and some artwork. It really seemed like a hodgepodge of stuff, but I'm sure there was a method to it all....I just couldn't figure it all out!!
This is the first thing we saw as we walked down the hallway.
Maybe just one of these missiles in the lobby could have given it a little more
"hey, you're in a missile museum" ambiance!
The podium where JFK gave a speech at the base.
Greg telling me all about the V-2 Rocket
To me, the cool(er) stuff was outside—the big missiles. It sort of looked like a playground, but obvioulsy wasn’t! It was packed with all kinds of various missiles, a helicopter and a couple of planes.
The missile yard
MK Missile Launcher
A drone helicopter
All in all, it was an interesting stop, but don't think I would go to all that effort for just the museum. Combined with the National Monument, totally worth it.
Our last field trip was to Las Cruces. On Saturday’s (and Wednesday’s), the town hosts a farmer’s market in the downtown area, so we made sure to hit the city on a Saturday. It’s supposedly the best farmer’s market in New Mexico and one of the top 10 in the US and it did not disappoint. Lots of food trucks, bakeries, crafters and a few produce stands. We roamed around and had a breakfast from one of the various food trucks and picked up some local honey.
The Farmer's Market in the quaint downtown of Las Cruces
The Rodrunner Club had some great old cars on display
And honey!! Lots of honey!! (and Hobie!)
After the market, we headed over to Old Mesilla Village, on the outskirts of Las Cruces. The town, Mesilla, is a very historical area--part of a little boundary dispute between Mexico and the US, and ultimately became part of the US in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase. Also, another event occurred there in 1871—a political riot. Republicans and Democrats met at the plaza after simultaneous political rallies. Fighting ensued; people got hurt… Yep, doesn’t sound like we’ve made a whole lot of progress these last 145 years….. Grrr……
The Town Center of Old Mesilla
The Village is also home to the courthouse where Billy the Kid was sentenced to death for murder. However, after another jailbreak, and evading police for several months, he eventually was shot…
This was the courthouse, turned gift shop, where Billy the Kid was sentenced....
After the Village, we headed out to Dripping Springs Natural Area, which surrounded by the Organ Mountains—which are jagged, cool looking mountains. The area has about four miles of easy hiking trails, which unfortunately we didn’t tackle, but one of the hikes takes you to what was once a resort and also a sanatorium, which once housed people when they contracted tuberculosis. It was a beautiful area and I’m sure it would have been a really great hike. Next time....after my new ankle.
Well, that pretty much wraps up our time exploring Southwest New Mexico and glad that we were able to find a couple of “stories” on our journey! We also had a really great time hanging and exploring with our friends Lee and Tracy. Unfortunately they are moving on to explore more of New Mexico and we’re heading back to Tucson. Ankle surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, so not sure how exciting the next few posts will be, but I did get this peg leg thing that is supposed to help me be more mobile. I'm sure that will be good for a for a couple of funny stories or pictures!!