Our stop between Marfa and Sedona was not exactly planned out, so being open to possibility provided the option of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The National Forest and Monument is located in the midwest section of New Mexico and as we climbed in elevation through the back highways of the country, snow drifts got closer and the high desert air got colder. We chose Mesa Campground in the National Forest lands, instead of staying in town, so that we would be closer to the dwellings. The campground is right off highway 35, which is the less scary route compared to the white-knuckle experience on highway 15.
When we arrived in the campground, there was only one other family who was packing up to leave. We ended up having the whole place to ourselves. The sites in the middle of the loop have water and electric hook-ups, so we choose one that was semi-level. Wandering around the property, we found views of a lake below the mesa and spotted herds of deer between the trees. It was a relief to once again be in the solitude of nature.
The next day, we woke early in order to get up to the cliff dwellings trail. As we checked in at the visitor center, we met our friend Mike from our time at the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Center and decided to all hike together. The trail to the cliff dwellings is only about a mile loop, which takes you up and inside the ruins. The site was incredible. Fully intact walls and rooms made up the small village built into the cliffside. Gila is one of the few archaic pueblo dwellings where visitors can actually enter the structure and see what it might have been like to live there. The Mogollon people built the dwellings in the late 1200's and may have lived there for only a couple generations, it is unknown why they left the area.
After our exploration of the cliff dwellings, we made our way back down the road to the Gila Hot Springs. A rough road led through pens of goats and horses, finally ending at a primitive campground and the hot springs. Three well-maintained natural hot spring pools are spaced roughly 50 feet apart, each a different temperature. A river runs along the back of the property, where soakers cool off in the snow fed waters. We lingered at the hot springs, making tea with the hot mineral water and lazily sprawling in the perfectly warm water.
The time spent in the secluded Gila National Forest was a welcome diversion from the more urban areas we had recently been staying and we came out of the scenic area refreshed and ready to move on to Sedona.