JoEllen, thanks for the great MLK quote, perfectly timed with our indescribable day…
Just as we left Las Cruses and pulled onto the highway toward the Gila National Monuments, we were diverted off with the rest of the traffic through an inspection station. We coasted slowly through the station as we passed several cameras, an officer with a K-9, and another officer peering into our vehicle. We assumed that they were looking for drugs and illegal immigrants. Wondering if they had a sense of humor, we joked that it would be fun to ride in the trailer on the motorcycles so the thermal imaging cameras would pick us up, but decided that they wouldn’t find it as funny. This turned to talk about ways to get around their inspection and a potential new family venture (again, just joking Mexican Mafia)??
We reached our highway exit and pulled off at a gas station to top off the car and roll out the motorcycles. Around these parts, you fill up every chance you get; the stretch between gas stations often closely matches the capacity of the fuel tank. As we rode the bikes, the landscape quickly transformed from desert to hills to rock formations to steep mountains; Dad and I were in complete awe. Over the headset radios, Dad said at one point that he didn’t know what else to say, he had run out of adjectives: beautiful, incredible, amazing, breath-taking,…then it got quiet and we just soaked it up. The thought kept running through my head that if I didn’t get this disease, I probably would have never had this experience. This condition has given us the the motivation to take up riding motorcycles and landed us in some of the most incredible terrain in the country; maybe I needed this push to be freed of my stoic routine?
Buried in a rural town in the mountains we reached our lodging for the night, Black Range Lodge. When we walked in, the place was buzzing with Geology students from the University of Wisconsin that were on a field trip associated with one of their courses. The floor was covered in hiking boots. Anxious to make it Gila, we checked in, parked the motorcycles, detached the trailer, and drove off in the car.
George, the lodge keeper, explained that Gila was only about 65 miles from the lodge, but that it was a 2 1/2 hour drive due to the rugged terrain. After the first mile, we encountered the tight mountain switchbacks and hairpin turns around corners cut out of steep cliffs hundreds of feet high without guard rails that we would be experiencing for a majority of the ride. This was no time for “Toonces” to take the wheel. Along the way, we crossed the Continental Divide which we learned was the division between waters that flow east toward the Atlantic and west toward the pacific. Dad took my water bottle and poured a little on each side…results were inconclusive.
We reached Gila at 4 PM just as they were blocking off the entrance to new visitors…we made it just in time. The hike back to the monument was a 1/2 mile on a narrow trail up steep steps at high altitude, and by the time we reached the first cave, I was completely winded. I’m sure that this was not good for my leg, I could feel the swelling under my jeans, but at this point experiences like this are more important. It was absolutely incredible to see the cliff-side overlook and be in the presence of these 800 year old buildings built in caves with soot on the ceilings from fires of hunter gatherers dating back thousands of years.