Title of picture

Sunrise at Tombstone, AZ

Friday, 15 November 2019

Lake Roberts and the Gila Cliff Dwellings

Sunday, November 10

Another gorgeous morning. Everything stowed, jacks up and on our way by 9:30 am. Short drive today to a National Forest Service Campsite on Lake Roberts. Took us about an hour and 15 minutes on a very windy, and at times narrow, 2 lane highway. Had to be careful the trees did not hit the side of the coach at times and sometimes it was a little unavoidable with oncoming traffic. Although the speed is 55 mph I don’t think Ray got over 45mph the whole way. A very pretty drive along the Mimbres River with the trees changing colour. Our primary reason for coming here is to tour the Gila Cliff Dwellings, about 40 minutes further up the highway from the campsite.

We arrived at the Mesa Campground and chose one of the 12 electric/water sites. A nice laid out campground with lots of space between units. There are about 24 campsites here total, located up on the ridge overlooking the lake. Well, only 3 campsites actually have a view of the lake and are not electric sites. Normally we would have been fine dry camping but the forecast for tomorrow, Tuesday is freezing temps overnight and the high for the day only 43F. A great deal at $15/night. Quiet hours are 10pm to 6am, so running a generator would be fine. Ray figures that the cost of diesel and the wear and tear on the generator that $15/night is the better way to go if you have the option. The campsite was about 2/3’s full at this time of year, but I imagine in the summer it would be hard to get a spot on the weekends. This was a long weekend here as Monday is Veteran’s Day so I think the campsite had more campers than usual at this time of year.

There used to be a sani-dump here, but it is now closed. I see water sitting on top of it. Since there was not a dump at City of Rocks either, we are definitely in “water management” status. I expected that this might be the case, so we were careful at City of Rocks too. We will just dump our dish and shower water on the trees surrounding us. I have lots of black tank room. We should be good for the 4 days here. Practice for Quartzsite, lol. The only drawback here is that there is absolutely zero cell service otherwise it is a lovely campsite.

Lots of birds here on the grass and in and out of the trees. Probably over ten different species. A very quiet campsite other than the birds. Once we were all set up, I made lunch before we took a short tour of the boat launch area and the other campsite loop that is dry camping only. There are flush toilets here but no showers, but they do have garbage bins. The draw for here seems to be fishing in the lake. We saw 2 trout that had been caught, apparently they stock this lake almost once a week. Being Sunday, there were quite a few people fishing from the shore and a few small boats on the lake.

On the way back to camp we went around the campsite and picked up any leftover firewood from the weekend campers. Managed to get enough for a nice campfire. The camp host told us that this being a National Forest that we could get anything that is dead and down, just not in the campground and gave us a map of all the forest service roads in this area. We will probably go for a drive tomorrow.
The rest of the afternoon we sat outside under our tree relaxing and watching “bird TV”.  We have seen probably a dozen different types visiting the trees around our campsite. Freya sure likes this campsite. She does not need to be tied up and can stay outside for most of the day. For dinner tonight, steak on the hibachi and scalloped potatoes in the oven with a salad on the side. While I was waiting for the briquettes to get ready, I also started a fire. Ray is pretty tired after his adventures walking between the rocks for the past four days, so it is a good day for him to keep his “toes up”. We stayed outside until about 6:30 pm, put dishwater on the fire and came inside. Feels like 8 pm since it has been dark since 5 lol

Monday, Remembrance Day.

The day started out quite sunny and stayed that way until about 3 pm when the predicted clouds came in. We were expecting a bunch of wind but other than a few gusts, there was only a slight breeze. I cooked up a batch of chicken for Freya and made bread this morning for us. While the bread was in the oven Ray and I went for a walk to see where the trail to the lower boat ramp is. Quite a steep trail so we did not take it but noticed that there is a trail around the lake so we probably will take the car down to the lake and then walk a little of the trail one of the next couple of days.

After lunch Ray and I decided to go scout out some forest service roads to see if we could scare up some more firewood, collecting branches etc. About 5 miles down the road there is another bare-bones forest service campsite and bonus … there was a campsite with a bunch of left behind firewood already cut. That was easy!!! I loaded up the car and off we went. The whole outing took about 30 minutes. What a score.

Back home, we sat outside the rest of the afternoon into the evening. Around 3 pm the air started to cool. and the wind did not start up so I started the fire. With lots of wood we had a fabulous warm fire, watching the moon and stars. Ray and I did not come in until 6:30 pm for dinner. Another great day.

Tuesday, woke to clouds and temps at 36F, not as low as predicted. The cold front must be just missing us. The predicted high when I checked 2 days ago was 43F but sunny. Today we drive to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, our reason for coming to this campsite. This has been on Ray’s “bucket list” for some time. I found the Lake Robert’s campsite reading Wheelin-It’s blog back in May 2011, before we even thought about going full-time in an RV. A year later we were full-timers ourselves.

Ray gave Freya a good walk and after a quick breakfast we were on the road by 8:30 am. Although it is only about 22 miles away from the drive is estimated about 40 minutes. What a windy road. It feels like you are following an old wagon trail up and down the mountains, mostly following the river. Great viewpoints along the way to stop at.

The early Oligocene Copperas Creek volcano and geology along New Mexico Highway 15 between Sapillo Creek and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Grant and Catron counties, New Mexico

They say that this volcano could have looked similar to Mount Saint Helen's before it blew.  The gold coloured dome was the centre of the volcano that blew 50 million years ago.  It blew the complete top off the volcano and pushed 100 times more material into the air than Mt. St. Helens.

We  found this odd shaped tree at one of the viewpoints. Looks like a snake wrapped around a nurse tree.

The next stop was on the West Fork of the Gila River. There are some campsites along here. Most tenting sites. There is the West Fork campsite that can host a few larger units. Here is some pictures of the Gila River.

We stopped briefly in the Visitor’s Centre and wandered through their small display of artifacts. I watched parts of their video that was running. Then we were off to the trailhead one mile away from the Visitor’s Centre. Ray and I were given a map of interesting points before starting the trail and off we went.

On the trail, there are a series of bridges that snake back and forth across the Cliff Dwellers Creek which is a natural spring that never runs out of water. Probably one of the primary reasons the people of the Cliff Dwellings chose this spot to build in the caves. They only stayed for about 20 years between 1280 and 1300 AD according to the carbon dating that was done. During the “Big Drought” at that time when a lot of Puebloans moved on due to the drought, these people survived just where they were.

Here we go.

The soot on the cave roofs show that there were inhabitants in these caves’ way before “The People of the Gila River” moved in and built walls and roofs etc. as the walls were quite a bit inside of where the smoke stains on the roof were. After they moved on, there is evidence left behind of other people using these structures.

“As Apache hunter-gatherers followed herds of game through the Gila River Valley, they left behind artifacts like bow and arrows. Evidence suggests that the Apache migrated to the upper Gila River in the 1500s (though some of their oral traditions say that it has always been their homeland). Legendary leader Geronimo was born near the Gila River headwaters in the early 1820s, when Mexico challenged Apache control of the area. Thirty years later, the United States asserted its authority in the area. It built army posts, and by 1870 the federal government began to relocate the Apache to reservations. But not until September 1886 were the last be-don-ko-he- as Geronomo’s people were known – forced form their ancestral lands, led by Geronimo himself.”

They have really done a great job on the trail up to the Cliff Dwellings. Although you gain about 185 feet at no point was it too steep to walk comfortably. They had quite a few “resting benches” for those that needed it on the climb up being that you are at 6000 feet elevation. The ranger at the base of the trail, warns you to drink water due to the high elevation, but no food of any sort to be consumed as it would attract snakes and pack rats and they would damage the structure.

Here is a picture when we could first see the caves. There was a volunteer ranger at the caves to answer any questions.

There are about 40 rooms in total. Some of the rooms you can walk through and others you can climb up small ladders and peer over into some of the rooms. A bunch of the rooms were closed off as they were deemed unsafe and one cluster of rooms had the ceiling of rock come down onto it. The top of the walls had holes where poles once held up roofs. Some of the rooms were not accessible to each other so the people must have moved across the roofs to enter them.

A communal room it's thought. What a view!

This is what they presume the picture below looked like.

You can see a lightning in the stone 

You could either climb down via this ladder, or go back the way you started in the rooms and go down the stairs.

There were a couple of pictographs that you can still see.

What a fabulous place to see. Ray was in his element taking pictures. Changing out this lens ... changing this filter etc. lol

After taking many pictures … lol, we headed down the other trail to the bottom of the canyon. This showed a different view of the bridge we initially crossed to start the trail up.

View of the first bridge from the trail coming down.

After leaving the park we saw a herd of javelinas on the road. I stopped so Ray could jump out and take a picture.

The rest of the drive back went fairly quick as I kept my eyes on the road and drove like the old video game “Mario Kart”! A very windy up and down road. Lots of shifting gears etc. I could see that people on motorcycles would love driving this road.

Back at camp we had lunch and tried to sit outside for awhile, but the wind came up and it was really cold, only about 53F. No fire today. Should have realized that it would be colder overnight … we woke up to a frozen water hose. Oh well, we have a full freshwater tank, so I switched to the water pump.

At 4am the outside temp was only 25F. Burrrr. Last day here today. At 6:30 am Ray and Freya drove down to the lake to get a few sunrise pics. Another glorious day. Hopefully it gets warmer so we can sit outside later. I would love to have another campfire. Ray headed out first thing to take some sunrise pictures.

Pretty relaxing day. We took a short drive up the road to the Vista Ruins to see what it was about … not much. Apparently, an old Puebloan site with a mud house that has long since gone. You do get a good look at the lake and dam from up there though. There is a trail on the other side of the road down to the lake where there is another fishing platform.

We then went back down to the boat launch to walk the trail along the lake. Made sure Freya did not go into the water or drink it. There are signs no swimming allowed. Don’t want her sick again. Back at camp we changed into shorts and T-shirts and enjoyed the sunshine. Warm enough we actually had to sit in the shade. Had some visitors stroll through camp. Ray calls them “Park Volunteer Manure Spreaders”, lol

Around 3:30 pm it cooled off significantly and after changing clothes, I started the fire. What a beautiful day. Ray put away the water hose and anything else that would freeze up overnight, so we are ready in the morning to leave without dealing with frozen things. I put dinner in the InstantPot and went back outside to the fire. Another fabulous day here at Lake Roberts.

Thursday morning woke up to temps at 28F, so a little warmer. Glad we had put away stuff yesterday while it was warm out. We only have a short drive today to Silver City, just over an hour away, for a few days. I need to restock the fridge and get our laundry done. It will be nice to get back into “Cell Range”. Being unplugged for 4 days was really not a problem but being a “Mom”, I don’t like to be off-grid to our kids if something comes up.

This stop on our Snowbird Vacation has been a wonderful photographic adventure. Seeing the Gila Cliff Dwellings was so interesting, being able to get up close and personal. Lake Roberts, a lovely place to stop and if you wanted to fish almost everyone we have seen fishing is catching. All about 10-12 inch trout. Every day there have been people fishing with small boats or from shore, so obviously a popular place. Another big check mark off Ray’s bucket list.


  1. You timed that well for tourists, nice to enjoy without a bunch of other people around.

    1. We like to get to places early in the day for that reason and back home by lunch.

  2. What an interesting area. Hard to imagine anything that was around in 1200 AD.

    1. We have a bowl at home that Ray bought in Q last year that is 1000 years old. It was from someone's personal property and had documentation so they were allowed to sell it. It is pretty plane in comparison to this pottery though.

  3. Very interesting area...definitely on our bucket list! Roberts Lake campground looks great too!

  4. The cliff dwellings are amazing! Great sunrise photos...love the mist over the water.

    1. Ray says thanks. He loves walking around looking at the beauty of the place we are.