On a hot Sunday afternoon we walked a steep trail to visit ancient dwellings near the Gila River in New Mexico.
Discovered by archeologists in the late 1800’s, the area was a corridor traversed by people as far back as 10,000 years ago.
In the 1200’s a group known as the Mogollon, ancestors of the Apache, settled in a high aerial perch within six deep pocket caves.
Inside the caves they built forty structures from stone rocks and small stone chips, using tree trunks for ladders, roofing material and wall supports.
Forty to sixty people lived in the caves in small family groups sharing communal storage space and ritual areas.
Layers of soot from cooking and ceremonial fires covered the ceilings in all six caves. Over 32 species of plants were found in the dwellings including grapes, acorns, berries and piñon nuts.
On the opposite plateau the people grew their crops and also along the river hundreds of feet below. Imagine the back crunching work – carrying water from the river to higher ground to water precious seeds. Ancient corn cobs still make their way to the surface as do an occasional arrowhead or stone implement.
By the time the caves had been discovered in 1884, vandals had looted many of the artifacts, including the artistic black and white stone pottery associated with the Mogollon.
In 1907 President Theodore Roosevelt set aside the area as a National Monument preserving the caves and 43 other sites located throughout the 533 acres. A few petroglyphs remained on the cave walls and at another site, we saw many more.
The cave dwellings were abandoned after a short period of around thirty years. It is not known why, but a long drought might have forced the people to seek their sustenance elsewhere.
Standing at the mouth of the cave, looking out over the picturesque plateau, we marveled at the ingenuity of the people who lived in this valley and built their homes high up in these caves, stone by little stone.
We were given a glimpse to a simpler time on mother earth, a time when people used only what was needed – a time when wind, rain, sun and soil were the natural rhythms of our human heartscapes.