Chaco and I have been at the Gila now for a little over two weeks. We are settled in. I am back to work at the Cliff Dwellings and Chaco is now the ranger mascot. Our lack of wireless contact with the world has limited our communication except for periodic emails and texts. I have picked up a few Indians games on MLB.com, though.
When I speak of the Gila (Heela), I am referring to this entire area that includes Silver City, the nearest town, an hour and a half away via a curvy mountain road – too narrow even for a centerline and that dead-ends at the National Monument. I also include, of course, the Cliff Dwellings National Monument, the Gila Wilderness, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness and the surrounding Gila National Forest. Chaco and I live in the middle of it all in our little trailer provided by the National Park Service. Cozy is how I would be best describe it.
This area is remote – even when we are down out of the wilderness. I think Frank Clifford best describes the area and its vibe in his book, The Backbone of the World about the Continental Divide which passes through the Gila, “Catron County was the birthplace Geronimo, an early hideout for Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy and a haven for outlaws, hermits and misfits.”
Well…..here we are, Chaco and I.
Clifford also notes that “Roughly the size of Massachusetts, the county has fewer than 3000 residents.” Of course this has much to due with it encompassing much of two wilderness areas.
Last weekend was the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Forest Service (who we share spaces with at the Visitor Center), had a small celebration at the VC. The Gila Wilderness was actually the first designated wilderness in the US and for that matter, the world. It preceded the Wilderness Act by many years, being designated in 1924. The Act in 1964 solidified the protection of wilderness areas and gave Congress the authority to set aside even more wilderness. My guess is that they haven’t set aside much in the last several years…….
Thought I would post some pictures of the area that Chaco and I have been enjoying for the last couple of weeks and some of the ‘things’ we have found. Of course, we took pictures and left them where we found them. The hiking is great, though tough country to hike in. We are at the confluence of the West, the Middle and the East Forks of the Gila River which keeps this area lush, especially this time of the year – the rainy season. We cross these water bodies multiple time, even on short hikes. This great and wild river that flows, unimpeded by dams, through New Mexico and is part of the Colorado River watershed. But of course, Arizona sucks it dry before it reaches the Colorado. Arizona seems to do that to other great rivers such as the Colorado. If only Ohioans would stop moving to Phoenix! There were many people through the years that tried to convince the so called ‘leaders of this country’ that this area west of the 100th meridian (a line of demarcation where the annual rainfall greatly diminishes), though wide open territory, cannot support as many people as the in the east. And especially cannot support cattle.
All of that said, and to end on a positive note, it is a special place out here. A place I have come to love. As the nature writer Richard Nelson said, “What makes a place special is the way it buries itself inside the heart…..” It has. Chaco agrees.