Today we took the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway. Our first stop on the way was the old gold mining village of Pinos Altos (Tall Pines). This village was founded about 1859 when a group of forty-niners drifting home from California discovered gold in the area. There was a number of old buildings from the time and newer buildings like the opera house built in 1969 which had been made to look old!
We then travelled the winding, twisting road through the Gila (pronounced HEE-la) National Forest. Almost one-forth of the 3.3 million acre forest is in wilderness and was set aside in 1924 as the first such wilderness area in the USA.
After nearly an hour and a half on the road we arrived at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. After eating our lunch we took the one mile loop trail to and through the cliff dwellings.
The Mogollon(mo-go-yon) people built inside the caves of Cliff Dweller Canyon with rock, mortar, and timbers between 1276 and 1287. On first glimpse of the ancient pueblo from the trail it looks like three separate caves. However once we had climbed the hillside it is in fact a single deep alcove with three entrances. Each entrance had been sealed with stones and mortar and behind them lay around forty interconnected rooms, sharing a communal plaza at the rear. We were able to wander freely through the chambers and were able to imagine ourselves as one of the original occupants.
Archaeologists are unsure whether this was a permanent village settlement or a sacred place visited at certain times of the year. After our exploration our trail down included a sturdy wooden ladder designed on the same basis that the Mogollon people would have used to reach the dwellings. Tony posed for a photo!