This national scenic byway took us through the Gila National Forest and several historical sites. I have to admit I had never heard of the Gila Wilderness area nor of the Gila Cliff Dwellings and this is a part of our journey that becomes so rewarding – the glimpses into a history of our country that we knew nothing about. This wild beauty became the first protected wilderness area in the United States.
Starting in Silver City, you go to Pinos Altos which was founded in 1860 and was once the county seat. The original courthouse, Hearst Church, Buckhorn Saloon and opera house still stand.
From there we drove to the Gila Hot Springs, nestled in a beautiful valley which attracted early Paleo-Indians and Apaches as well as early settlers. This area was also home to Geronimo who was born at the Gila River headwaters and whose family, Bedonkobe of the Chiricahua, considers it their homeland.
In that same area one finds the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument which contains the remnants of interlinked cave dwellings built in five cliff alcoves by the Mogollon peoples who lived in these dwellings between 1275 and 1300. Some 46 rooms have been identified and it is believed that 10 to 15 families inhabited these original passive solar dwellings. Across from the caves were the gardens where the tribes grew crops and also hunted. You had to be nimble of foot to get around this area. It is not known why the caves were abandoned, but Hopi oral tradition says migrations occurred due to cycles of belief, a common thread among Indians of the southwest, and in response to changing climate. Even then!
From there it is another beautiful drive to Lake Roberts, a serene mountain lake and home to numerous species of wildlife, hundreds of bird species, and seasonally, to thousands of hummingbirds.
The Mimbres Culture Heritage site was next on the trail, home to the Mattocks Ruin, a collection of large pit houses and pueblo villages built on top of each other as the Mimbres people rebuilt their village to accommodate growth. And Fort Bayard, the town with the nice cop, was built in 1886 to protect mining and ranching interests from the threat of Apache.
We often say to each other as we drive through these remarkable parts of our country to take a minute and imagine the spirits that walked these trails of the old west, the ancient puebloans, the indians, the early settlers, the miners and cattlemen, and the families that discovered these areas for the first time. Pretty cool.
Today’s recipe comes courtesy of the March 2016 issue of Bon Appetit. We love pork chops and hoisin so this was a natural. Kind of a labor of love to make the hoisin, but it turned out great. Served them over a bed of rice and a fresh green salad. Enjoy.