Once we had decided that we were going to spend some time exploring New Mexico one of the first sights we wanted to experience were the Gila Cave Dwellings above Silver City. We started in that direction which didn’t look too far and so we make a few leisurely stops along the way including Fort Bayard and the nearby Forgotten Veterans Memorial.
After the quick drive around the decaying buildings on the old Ft. Bayard site we began to drive away until we immediately saw this old Bell UH-1 Iroquoi helicopter, commonly known as a “Huey,” floating above the trees at this park along the road. We turned off and meandered through the complex of sports fields and related buildings until we came to the parking area fronted by this gate.
Under the large remada roof that you can see behind the gate a few pictures up was a steel sculpture of a dinner table scene with specific items laid out in specific ways that represented specific themes of family, country, duty, warfare, sacrifice and loss. Surrounding that are dozens of small plaques mentioning each and every military conflict the USA has been involved in since the 1700’s. We were not sure we were supposed to actually be there since it looked closed and unfinished so we did not stay long and started back on our way to the cliff dwellings.
Only when we arrived at the Ranger Station in Silver City did we find out that the remaining 39 miles was on a two lane, winding, icy road with running water across it in several places and so would take about two hours. That would get us to the Cliff Dwellings after they closed for the day and so we asked what some of the better camping options in the area were. They pointed us down Highway 35 and several bodies of water that all offered camping of one sort or another. Our plan then was to hole up for the night and leave early so we would arrive when the Monument opened.
The closest option to the ranger station happened to be Bear Canyon Lake a reservoir with a neat natural waterfall at the end of its spillway and so we made the decision and headed that way. When we arrived we drove up the relatively steep and muddy entrance road and then took the quick 5 minute drive down the one side of the lake that had a road until we reached the end. One person was fishing there and was planning on leaving and the only other person was in a fifth wheel at the main parking area and so we went back past them and choose the spot at the edge of the lake which we ended up having all to ourselves.
We spent our normal, and sadly all too needed, 30 minutes or so picking up a full grocery store bag of other people’s garbage. Surprisingly and for the first time ever cigarette butts were not the #1 item tossed on the ground, that distinction goes to the dozens and dozens of yards of discarded monofilament fishing line which is a world-wide problem wherever fishing occurs.
It was getting dark and so instead of pulling everything out of the camper shell, putting up the Springbar tent and setting up an actual campsite we instead just put up our tried and true Mountain Hardwear Thru-Hiker 2-person (or in this case one man and one dog) back packing tent and bundled up well in multiple layers of wool, cotton and thinsulate…and then more of all of those. The Therm-A-Rest mattress would protect us both from the cold, hard ground and so we settled in for what we hoped would not be an uncomfortably cold night.
The MacBook Air I am writing this post on was fully charged and when watching a full screen Hi-Def movie gets nice and warm plus I had a medium-sized black dog next to me putting out something in the neighborhood of 300+ BTUs an hour as well so we were hopeful. I brought my little weather station in the tent with us to keep track of the plunging temperatures.
That is about the time I finally woke up and decided I was less than warm and made a few adjustments in my layers and Willow’s blanket. Five minutes later she was snoring again and I was too not long after I am sure. Luckily Willow doesn’t complain about my snoring and I am usually the one to give her a knee prodding to shut up with her ogre-snorting-style of snoring.
We decided to get up and get going about 90 minutes later. It took all of 10 minutes to break down and pack up the tent and get situated and then we were off. On the way out from the lake we stopped at the dam that created the lake and took a few pics.
In the picture above you can see a little metal walkway that crosses over the spillway to that shed. I walked across it and then down the wall that lined the spillway itself and came to the top of the little waterfall.
Willow was in no mood to walk over that walkway and join me and so followed along on the other side.
She was greatly relieved at my safe return (as was I) and did her happy little “Daddy’s Home” dance. Once back down to the Highway we quickly walked over to the area near the bottom of the waterfall or as close as we were allowed to go.
As far as camping sites go Bear Canyon Lake met our simple needs for a bare bones, quick overnight stopping spot. There are no amenities except vault toilets. No water available or garbage cans so you must pack out what you bring in.
Once we were on the road it took another hour to get to the Cliff Dwellings themselves but that is a story for another day.