Monday, May 26, 2014

A Cavalry Fort, A Hidden River, Two Persian Ibex, and a Ghost Town

Photo of the Florida Mountains by John Fowler of Placitas, NM

 I got to La Mesa about 1:30 in the afternoon may 15. Bill and I had been talking for a few weeks and had come up with a list of places to find and explore. So, we went straight to Las Cruces and rented a four wheel drive vehicle. After breakfast May 16, we started west on Interstate 10 toward our first destination which was Fort Cummings and Cooke's Spring.

 White men discovered the spring during the Mexican-American War by a Mormon battalion traveling from Ohio to California . The spring was named after the battalion commander, Captain Philip St. George Cooke and is located about 20 miles NW of present day Deming.  Captain Cooke was also the name sake of a few other places in the area: Cooke’s Peak; Cooke’s Range and Cooke’s Canyon.

 The spring was the only sources of water within several days ride in any direction, therefore, after it became well know, most folks heading through this dry part of the country planned their route so they could stop 
there and stock up on water. It didn’t take long for hostile Apaches in the area to start raiding travelers who were stopped at the spring. 

Plaque dedicated to The Mormon Battalion.

 In 1863 General James Carleton order a fort to be built near the spring to protect itinerate pale faces. He named it for Maj. Joseph Cummings, 1st New Mexico Cavalry who was killed that summer by Navajos in the Four Corners area. The fort also served as a Butterfield Overland Mail station.
Round shelter and cover for Cooke's Spring.

 After the railroad was built, water from Cooke's Spring was supplied to the neighboring village of Florida. Now, the spring is capped off and protected by a round stone walled structure with a wooden roof.

Suddenly,  an old ruin appeared among the ancient adobe walls.
 Even with a nearby source of water, it appears the soldiers led a rough life there in the desert and were constantly harassed by Apaches. After the Civil War, freed slaves were brought in to the Army and sent to Fort Cummings and many other forts in the Desert Southwest.  The Apaches called these troops Buffalo Soldiers.Writer Walter Hill documented an account by Colonel Benjamin Grierson who said the Apaches and Comanches told him, what translates to, "We called them 'buffalo soldiers,' because they had curly, kinky bison".

 I once heard a young tour guide at Fort Concho tell a group of visitors the reason the Indians called the black soldiers Buffalo Soldiers was because of their strong spirit and strength. That is not true. The statement was a prime example of how political correctness distorts the truth. Beware of history books written after 1964 because they are full of propaganda meant to push the agendas of special interest groups.

 After we finished up at the Fort Cummings area we went back to Deming and secured a couple of rooms for the night. Afterwards we went south to the Florida Mountains to look for some Persian ibex. The Florida Mountains near Deming are the only place in the US where Persian ibex roam freely. Biologists believe all other goat species evolved from the Persian ibex. The ibex were stocked in the Floridas in 1970 under the leadership of the then-director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Dr. Frank C. Hibbens, who was a safari enthusiast and the discoverer of the Sandia Man Cave. The ibex were a gift of a provincial governor in Iran.

 At first a handful of ibex were brought to the Floridas for hunters in the winter hunting season. Their numbers have since stabilized at 400-450 under Game and Fish management.

 The day before we started our trip we went to the BLM office in Las Cruces to get some hints on where to see some ibex. The people there were friendly and very helpful in telling us where to look. Fortunately we bought a BLM map before we left. The map had very little detail and only the major roads were marked, however, when we left we forgot to put any other maps in the car, so the BLM map was all we had.

 We got around fine and found all the places we were looking for, but it took a little extra time. That was OK though because the weather was beautiful and it was fun driving around.
 In Las Cruces the wildlife biologist had suggested we park at the base of a formation, known as Dragon Ridge, in the late evening to look for ibex. We took his advice but only saw one which was about three quarters of a mile away. Below are a few pictures from Dragon Ridge. Next time I go I will have a tripod!

Look in the center and you should be able to see an ibex with short horns. This photo was taken at 10 power magnification without a tripod. Estimated distance between 3/4 and 1 mile.

These are Hoodoos near the base of Dragon Ridge.

Dragon Ridge from a few miles.
Sun setting behind Navajo Bill Hill...really.

 At dark we headed back to Deming for dinner and then to the hotel to get some rest after a very full day.

 After breakfast Saturday we headed west towards Lordsburg in search of a place called Lower Gila Box Canyon. We had read the canyon was a place out in the desert where the Gila River was surrounded by hills and cottonwood trees. A soon as we left the pavement we were really glad we had rented an all-wheel drive vehicle. Some of the route was sandy arroyo beds and other parts were steep rocky trails.We wouldn’t have made it very far in my two wheel drive Tacoma.

Enjoying the solitude of a special place.

 The written directions we had printed off a web site said the last leg of the trip to the river was 3.5 miles. After four miles we became worried we had been given a bum steer. At 5.5 miles we decided to stop the vehicle and I climbed up the side of a hill to take a look around. Only then was I able to spot thick groves of cottonwood trees, so we pushed on.
 We stopped the vehicle again and went on foot looking for the river. We crossed several arroyos with cottonwood trees by their sides. The tap roots of the trees were evidently living off the underground flow of water which often accompanies surface water. There were also lots of pretty spring flowers in the area. There was no litter or cigarette butts. Not even any flies or gnats. 

 I just realized, as I was writing this, from the spot where I stood by the river I could look any direction and see no evidence another human had ever been there. That doesn't happen often.
Ocotillo blossom.

Cholla blossoms.

 After we walked about ten minutes were came to the river. It was beautiful, clear and cold. This was the Gila River mentioned in many historic accounts of pioneer life in the Southwest. The same Gila River which flows through western New Mexico then across Arizona until it flows into the Colorado River at Yuma.
This is a look at a stretch of the hidden Gilla River. No sign of human life can be seen from this spot.
 I could have camped here for days, but we had more places to go and more to see. So, after an hour we made our way back out to the main road.

 Our next destination was Silver City, which was about fifty miles away. First we went to Western New Mexico University and took in the museum. I have always been fascinated by the designs on Mimbres pottery and this museum has the largest collection I’ve ever seen. There is something about the combination of geometric designs, animal drawings, and the black and white medium that mesmerizes me. I could have stayed there all day, but we needed to go to the city museum and then find a couple of rooms for the night.

This bowl is called an "exit bowl". When a person was buried, an exit bowl  was placed over their face. The hole was the for the spirit to exit the body and enter the spirit world.

 We called around and couldn’t find a vacancy so, when we finally stopped at one with a “Vacancy” sign, we stopped and went in. The guy at the desk said there was only one room and the price he quoted us was ridiculously high. When Bill asked the guy what was going on in town that caused all the rooms to be taken he informed us there was a wildfire north of town and firefighters had occupied the rooms.
 We decided to go back to Deming and stay at the same place we did the night before. I called to reserve a room and after we checked in we decided to go back to Dragon Ridge and look for some more ibex. Again, we saw only one, but it was well worth the drive and the time.
 That night at dinner we decided to go to Columbus the next morning and then try to find Old Hachita which is an abandoned gold and silver mine.
 After breakfast, Sunday, May 18, we drove down to Columbus and went to the museum. It was all about Poncho Villas raid and his subsequent butt whoopin’.
 The gentleman running the museum, Jim, was interesting to talk to. Or let me put it this way; it was interesting to witness Bill and Jim’s conversation. Bill was trying to get some information on Hachita and the ghost town of old Hachita, but the two of them had different definitions of a ghost town. Jim said that they were both ghost towns. Bill said the first one had some people living in it. Jim said that was correct and the post office was still, however, the bar was closed down so it is now a ghost town. It's hard to argue with a comment like that.

  It took longer than we thought but we eventually found Hachita and it was well worth it. For a brief history of this old mining town click here. Once again I thought about how rough life was back in those days. Especially working in one of these old mines. We spent a couple of hours at this old ghost town and got a few pictures. Some of them are posted below.

One of several mine shafts.
Older shaft.

Bill checking out what appeared to be an old mill.
The tailings behind this structure suggest it was an ore mill.

One of several ruins.

Looking east.

Looking west.
View of the blue Subaru.

Ruins of the old dance hall.

 Thanks for looking.

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