arriving in new mexico felt wonderful. arizona’s springtime temperatures were starting to edge towards summer and as we climbed the western slopes of the mogollon mountains, we were welcomed by a cool breeze, a pine forest, and a blue, new mexican sky. our tentative game plan was to find a place to camp near the gila cliff dwellings. it being easter weekend, we knew we were taking our chances, but we acted boldly and with confidence. the universe, i am told, responds favorably to those who do.
despite our general tardiness and the amber sunlight of late afternoon, we made a quick detour through silver city to give mazy a walk and refill on coffee. immediately, it became apparent that we were no longer in arizona. people were craggier, rougher; nary a spray tan in sight. the town seemed poorer yet more vibrant. there was a co-op selling locally crafted herbal remedies and several of the many bakeries and restaurants were touting local, organic ingredients. it even had a beautiful old abandoned rollerskating rink tucked into the corner of downtown. looking at the handlettered signs and careful muralwork, i could almost hear the laughter and music that must have echoed from these cinder block walls. olivia newton john’s thin voice hovered in the air and i fell into my own private xanadu fantasy. the things this old place has seen!
as the sun began to duck behind a high mountain ridge, we found an open campsite along the banks of the cherry creek, on the edge of the gila national forest. there were several other groups in the small campground, including one that was broadcasting an r and b oldies station. we set up our tent and cooked dinner while listening to the soulful sounds of the jackson 5, rick james, and teena marie.
after spending so many nights sealed off from the starry sky, it was wonderful to sleep outside again. the three of us bundled up in our tent, as thick as thieves, reclaiming each other as pack.
the next day we drove 35 miles of beautiful, winding roads into the gila in order to visit the cliff dwellings hidden in the wilds of the mogollon. as at mesa verde, hovenweep and chaco canyon, the structures were beautiful, mysterious and strangely comforting. outside, the air shimmered hot and dry; in the cliff’s hollows, a cool breeze blew. something about their scale and setting gave there ancient structures an air of safety and comfort. we wandered silently through the ruins, marveling. these folks built and inhabited this compound (we are told) in the 1100s! what will the ruins of our civilization look like in the year 2900?
while there, we had a short, satisfying conversation with one of the park rangers. we talked about religious bigotry and racism, president obama and the teabaggers. she told us about the vandal fires that destroyed the intact roofs sometime in the 1800s. after a couple of weeks spent in mccain country, it was wonderful to meet a kindred spirit. “sometimes you just can’t understand what people are thinking,” she said resignedly. “you would not believe,” she continued, “how many people ask me why the native americans built their dwellings so far from the highway!”
i opened my mouth to let loose another diatribe against arizona’s willfully malicious ignorance and the hypocrisy that runs rampant through the current political discourse, but something stopped me. here we were, on a beautiful, early spring day, passing a few moments with a lovely woman in the shade of an ancient cliff dwelling. why continue to dwell on the imperfections of a transient world?
we thanked her for sharing her stories and continued our hike back down the canyon and to the shady dirt lot where our truck and our dog sat waiting.