New Mexico - South

As I write this (2017), New Mexico has been my home for a decade or so, coming here from Oregon where I lived for close to four decades - the two states I have lived in the longest.  In the case of New Mexico, there are two pages of blog post entries, the following are for the southern part of the state.

The website has two galleries of photographs taken of birds in New Mexico; The Birds of New Mexico, USA - A to M; and The Birds of New Mexico, USA - N to Z.  Why “New Mexico, USA” you might ask - a slogan which is even on my license plate - because so many widely traveled Americans don’t know that New Mexico is part of the United States of America., another site which I developed, has three galleries of photographs of birds from that particular area;  Birds of the Black Range of New Mexico A-HBirds of the Black Range of New Mexico I-R, and Birds of the Black Range of New Mexico S-Z.

The Bird Videos - Canada and the United States page on has a complete index to these and other videos from this area as well as a listing of individual bird species videos.  There are two video portfolios on bird species in this area: The Birds of the Black Range, New Mexico, USA (which is my “patch”); and The Birds of the United States and Canada

On non-birding topics, has several photo galleries covering the state.  New Mexico - Central:  Included in this Gallery: White Sands National Monument; Smokey Bear State Historical Park; The Very Large Array, and Mountainair.  New Mexico - East: Included in this Gallery:  Mesalands Dinosaur Museum, Tucumcari; Bottomless Lakes State Park; and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  New Mexico - Lower Rio Grande: Included in this Gallery:  Hillsboro, Kingston, and Lake Valley Area; The Camino Real International Heritage Center; and Mesilla.  New Mexico - South Central:  Included in this Gallery:  Deming Area; Potrillo Volcanic Field; Spring Canyon State Park; Columbus Railroad Depot Museum; Poncho Villa State Park; and the Florida Mountains.  New Mexico - Silver City Area:  Included in this Gallery:  City of Rocks State Park; Silver City Museum; and El Chino Copper Mine.  New Mexico - SW:  Included in this Gallery: The Catwalk; the Ghost Town of Cloverdale; Mogollon; Lower Box of the Gila; and the Boothill.  Ojo Caliente is a video about this hot spring which is the point of origin for the Warm Springs Band of the Chiricahua Apache.

The New Mexico - Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, The New Mexico - Forts photo gallery has photos from Ft. Stanton and Ft. Craig.

If you are interested in road videos, watch: Road to Mogollon (Mogollon is an old mining town in SW New Mexico) and/or Roads of the Black Range (Video Portfolio of the paved and unpaved roads of this range in southwestern New Mexico.)

There are many Rock Art sites in the state of New Mexico.  My photo galleries on them are:  Rock Art - Three Rivers:  This site is located 17 miles north of Tularosa, New Mexico and covers most of a low ridge; Rock Art of the Black Range, New Mexico, photographs on the Black Range website; and Rock Art - New Mexico - Small Sites, Many locations only have a few glyphs, including the Dragonfly Trail.  The Mimbres Pottery photo gallery on website has many photographs of this exquisite pottery. The Canada Alamosa photo gallery also has pottery images from the subject site.

The flora of New Mexico is covered in two photo galleries: Flora of New Mexico - 1 and  Flora of New Mexico - 2.

The Black Range, another of my sites has extensive material on this area of New Mexico.


On the second of August, 2017 we visited the War Eagles Air Museum at the Doña Ana County Airport, Santa Teresa, New Mexico.  As mentioned below, I had visited this museum (fairly small as far as air museums goes, but well done) before.  On the 2nd it was to take a granddaughter, and aspiring pilot, to see the collection.  Like many aircraft museums it also has a collection of older cars.  The detail below is from a 1935 Auburn which I photographed on the 2nd.

War Eagles Air Museum, Santa Teresa, New Mexico

In reviewing the photographs from that day I discovered that I had not added photographs taken at this museum, on my first visit, to a photo gallery on (see link for gallery listing). This led to the creation of an Aircraft and Space Museum section for this site and its first photo gallery - War Eagles Air Museum.  

Like many other air museums, the collection is heavily slanted to military aircraft of the Second World War.  They also have a nice collection of automobiles, including a 1972 Honda Coupe.  When I worked in Washington, DC, I carpooled in one of these cars, an hour each way, every four days.  Four of us carpooled together so it was a tight fit -- we dreaded the Honda days and were happier on the days when we drove - in a Volkswagen Rabbit.

More than a decade ago, my daughter (Bethanne) and I flew up the Columbia Gorge (between the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States) in a plane just like this open cockpit Stearman PT-17 which was also on display at the museum.   Looking out at the cliffs and waterfalls, which we had often seen from the ground, from a thousand feet in the air - through scratched goggles with heads protected by leather helmets - provided a vantage of our rambles which is mapped into the synapses of my brain.


Birding in southern New Mexico is quite good, our yard list (as of December 2017) is 146 species. That list includes a few “one-offs”, vagrants that we really don’t think we will see again.  For instance, an Ovenbird, my first Ovenbird occurred shortly after I saw my first Anhinga - in Florida.  Thirty years after my first Anhinga - an Ovenbird showed up in our yard in New Mexico -- the first January sighting in New Mexico, west of the Rio Grande according to the Rare Bird Committee.  Here are my notes from January 15, 2010:

Yesterday morning I fell prey to the great birdwatching sin - assumptive birding. As we prepared to leave home for some exploring north of Monticello I noticed a small bird under a bush near one of the feeders. It was turned sideways and was obscured by leaves and branches but I could see a strong white eye-ring and strong spotting on a white underside and chest - otherwise the bird appeared to be a light brown. It moved its head and I thought I picked up a bit of orange on the crown and immediately thought Ovenbird - but then it flushed into the bush and I began to second guess myself - had I really seen the orange - could it have been a strongly marked Hermit Thrush? And, an Ovenbird would be out of range. Well, after much musing and a no-show of a bird I concluded that it was a Hermit Thrush and continued to pack our gear. Then - of course - the thrush returned as an Ovenbird and I enjoyed some nice views, but no good photos - the one above is the best of the lot.

New Mexico brings a whole new set of identification problems to work out.  Take the differences between the Common Raven and the Chihuahuan Raven, for example.  The Chihuahuan Raven’s call can be (at times) different from the Common Raven.  Of more assistance, perhaps, is that the bill of the Chihuahuan is said to be thicker and the bristles on the bill are said to be longer.  I have separated the two based on the color of the base of the neck feathers but here in Hillsboro I have discovered that the neck feathers are not much use in identifying a bird in flight.

In December 2007, I started my introduction to birding New Mexico.  We birded along the Rio Grande (which is about 30 minutes from Hillsboro) in the morning.  Once we made it through the tangle we had good birding: Greater Roadrunner, Bewick’s Wren, House Finch, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco (a photo of one from the Gray-headed group below), Black Phoebe (doing a dance on the water as it picked insects from the surface), Northern Harrier, Gambel’s Quail, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Merganser, and Mallard.  It was cold - enabling us to watch Finches walk across the ice along some Rio Grande sand bars.

In the afternoon, we ventured into the foothills where we added Scaled Quail to the list.

I must admit that the kids are amazingly tolerant of their old man.


Hillsboro is not quite at the center of North America.  To remedy this problem we have successfully modeled global plate tectonic interactions and will be able to move North America slightly to the east in a short while - this will result in Hillsboro becoming the center of North America.  (The move, combined with global warming will submerge Florida and other reactionary hotbeds resulting in a diminishment of the east-west distance of North America.)

This is appropriate and consistent with our long-term goal of maintaining Hillsboro as the center of the universe.  When we first discovered that objects in the universe were traveling away from each other at different speeds (disproportionate expansion) we immediately took steps, using our universal gravitational dynamics matrix, to remedy the situation.  Otherwise the center of the universe would have shifted from our house to Jan and Gary's house and then farther astray to Kingston (and then in a northwest direction, reaching Flagstaff, Arizona in June of 2017).

Having solved the problem of disproportionate expansion, and now successfully harnessing continental drift, we can rest easy for awhile knowing that the center of all things is where it should be -- there is a constant nagging problem with spatial dimension Hn2w but that is hardly worth concerning ourselves with.

We solved the "temporary priority shift" anomaly a number of years ago.  This anomaly occurs because Rebecca, as the absolute center of the universe, travels periodically - sometimes just to the Post Office down the street, sometimes to Portland, sometimes to Oaxaca, etc. -- the issue is the same.  But that problem is solved, whenever I tell her that she is the center of the universe where ever she is, she simply gets flustered -- she is not quite as expert in multi-dimensional spatial physics as I.


In mid-May 2014 I spent a day videoing at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico, USA) - which is about one and a half hours north of here by car.  A sunny warm day, and because it was mid-week, the place was not overrun with birders and tourists.  The Birds were typical of the season, for instance; Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Mallards, American Coot, etc. congregated whereever there was water.  I found a number of Neotropic Cormorants (photo right) in a pool - the reflections were nice.  

An American Kestrel (photo right) was especially cooperative for a Kestrel.  There were also Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks about.  I noted the Bald Eagle but did not pay to much attention to it, having been jaded by my experiences in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

I had come to video Sandhill Cranes, however, and I spent half of the day perched about the farm fields taking video of Sandhills flying, Sandhills on the ground, Sandhills making a racket, Sandhills getting ready for the mating dances -- in short, Sandhills.  There were good numbers, close in, and full of antics.  I enjoyed the experience immensely.

When I first arrived, there were a substantial number of Snow and Ross's Geese about but after a half hour or so they spooked, reminding of the incredibly large flocks I use to see near Burns, Oregon.  It was a good opportunity to compare Ross's (photo right) and Snow Geese.

As you might expect for this location the number of blue morph Snow Geese was vastly exceeded by the number of white birds.  It was a nice outing, time to do what I love without time constraints.

A month later, (June 3, 2014) I took a quick drive through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.  Several species of waterfowl were obvious, including; Northern Shoveler, American Coot, Cinnamon Teal, Canada Goose, and Ruddy Duck.  A Greater Roadrunner was running along the road and Barn Swallows were over the ponds.  On a dusty and windy day when I was just passing through that is about all that I saw.

White-winged Dove remains Hillsboro

On February 17, 2015 I posted about and event I watched at the Bosque.  It read:

Sometimes death occurs publicly and with much activity, sometimes in comes in the quiet of night.  I am not sure when a White-winged Dove died outside our back door.  All that remains of its death are a few feathers nestled in a bed of leaves.  I mention this only because the tranquility of those feathers serves as the bookend of an event which I watched at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on Friday.  

And I mention it here only because it is conceivable that the event could have occurred here in the Black Range (if you ignore the size of the fish).  I have watched Great Blue Herons, like the one pictured above, hunt and feed many times.  Sometimes, I have seen them catch rather large rodents and swallow them whole - but usually I have watched as they caught and ate small critters.  On Friday, I watched as a Great Blue Heron caught a large catfish.  Unlike smaller fishes, this one did not disappear down the heron’s throat in a nanosecond.  There were a number of problems facing the heron.  First of all the fish was alive.  I watched as the heron repeatedly stabbed the fish with its beak.  The heron would place the fish on the ground walk back a foot or two and then, with significant force, strike the catfish in the area behind the skull.  The force of the impact was surprising to me.  The heron would then face the problem of getting the impaled fish off of its beak.  It would stand, letting gravity do some work, trying to move its beak in an effort to speed the process.  This went only for fifteen minutes or so and then the fish ceased to move.  The heron then faced a second problem.  How to swallow such a meal.  This second problem was two-faceted.  First of all, the fish was heavy and difficult to get above the heron’s head (so that it could be swallowed).   Secondly, the head of the catfish was to large for the entrance of the heron’s throat.  More blows to the head followed as the heron attempted to break the ridge skull of the fish.  After significant work, the heron would manage to align the head of the fish within its mouth, but the weight was such that it would eventually slip from its “grasp”.  Eventually, the head was broken enough to be swallowed, the fish was aligned head first in the mouth of the heron, and with one swift move the heron raised its bill skyward and swallowed the catfish. 

Western Meadowlark, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico, USA

On February 24, 2008 I stopped briefly at the Bosque where I took the photograph of a Western Meadowlark (above).  My post from that time reads: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico, USA) is a little over an hour north of Hillsboro and it was my first stop (Feb. 27) on my way back to Oregon.  The birding was relatively quiet but I did have a chance for some common birds, like the Western Meadowlark above.

One of the birds I took photos of at the NWR was a Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus bianchi) an introduced game bird and it became the 1300th bird species to have a photo posted in the Birding Commons Galleries.  It was a bit disappointing, being an introduced game bird, but as I work through my back log of material and post the very newest stuff, it just came up in the queue that way - perhaps 1400 will be more “indigenous”. (The Birding Commons Galleries no longer exist, being replaced with the galleries on this site and


On June 7, 2012, Rebecca and I took a ride along the Rio Grande at the base of the Caballos (New Mexico, USA). 

At the Rio Grande crossing just north of Truth or Consequences we turned south on a nicely graded road.  By the time we reached the head of the Caballo Reservoir the road had long since turned to a track and that eventually petered out.  As we were going a bit sideways in deep sand and loose rock I was beginning to worry that Rebecca would have to dig us out - it was hot out there and I was concerned that she might become irritated.  In any case, it was a beautiful drive, right along the river at times (a substantial release from Elephant Butte meant that there were standing waves in places - not huge, I admit, but standing none-the-less) and through cattle pastures which actually had green grass. 

Along the way, I took photos of the Chihuahuan Greater Earless Lizard, Cophosaurus texanus scitulus (very difficult to identify since it is on the cover of "Lizards of the American Southwest") (photo above) and Turkey Vultures (photo right) working on the carcass of a dead cow.

A few days later, I returned to the same area.  When Rebecca and I had made our visit, I had spied a dead cow with Turkey Vultures about and thought it would be a good site for video.  So I took my portable blind, set it up several yards from the carcass and waited.  Over the course of four hours I became well acquainted with several flies and hundreds of their friends, a pervasive smell of rotting flesh, and a constantly rising temperature - in the mid-nineties when I left.  There were Blue Grosbeaks, Barn Swallows, and Nighthawks about -- and Turkey Vultures.  The photos presented today are frame grabs from the video which I took.  I decided not to show a Turkey Vulture head deep in cow, rather one waiting its turn.  The Variegated Meadowhawk (photo right) perched a few feet in front of the blind and the Chihuahuan Greater Earless Lizard was in the road on my way out.  An enjoyable time.


On February 6, 2015, I was at Percha Dam State Park doing a bit of video, I was not there for very long but did manage some video of Say’s Phoebe, Phainopepla, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Western Bluebird, Black Phoebe, and Spotted Sandpiper.  Although Percha Dam State Park is not quite in the Black Range these clips have been added to The Birds of the Black Range Video Portfolio.  

Percha Dam is an impoundment structure on the Rio Grande River between Truth or Consequences and Hatch, New Mexico.  There are a series of dams in the area.  The Rio Grande River is a natural migratory route.  The range of many bird species reflect the river basin created by the Rio Grande, not only does it provide a source of water in a dry climate but it is much lower in elevation than some of the surrounding mountains.


Two and a half weeks ago I presented some of the video I had taken on my southeast US trip to our nature group.  Last Friday, our nature group took a walk up Railroad Canyon on the west side of the Black Range.  For the first time in our many walks up the canyon we found it dry, except for a few pools of water.  Bird life was limited to Warbling Vireo and American Robin, those interested in flowers found several species of interest, and I found my first hair worm in a small pool of water.  I first I thought it was a small stem of grass, but then it started moving, wiggling all about and (it appeared) eating something off of small stones.


I was in Las Cruces yesterday (6/20/12) and managed some very marginal video of the fly-over of NASA's 747 mother plane for the Space Shuttles.  The Endeavor was on its way to a museum spot in Los Angeles.  Here is a frame grab from the video.


The picture of an ant and caterpillar (right) comes from a trip to the Abo ruins (in central New Mexico, USA).  As we walked along the trail to the ruins I found this small ant pulling a caterpillar across the trail.  The immense strength and tenacity of ants is something that Moffett often comments about in his books (see “Adventures With Ants”).

On Sunday (early October 2012), Rebecca and I traveled north and east to visit two of the sites at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.  Our first stop was the ruins at Abo, (photo right) west of Mountainair (New Mexico, USA).  The last time we were there it was winter, it was cold, there was a bit of snow around and the wind blew strongly.  It was intriguing but not terribly enjoyable.  This time it was a pleasant fall day with a light breeze, just as intriguing but much more enjoyable. 

Abo Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument - New Mexico, USA

On our last trip we traveled north from Abo to visit the ruins at Quarai.  On Sunday, we traveled southeast of Mountainair to visit the ruins at Gran Quivira (photo below right).  We arrived in time to watch a thunderstorm roll in from the northwest.  When lightening began to fork downward to the ground we decided to stop by the small museum (all of the sites have excellent, although small, museums).  As we left the ruins we encountered a large family group heading into the ruins and a snippet of conversation, a mother telling her son that there was about as much chance of being hit by lightening as winning the lottery and since they never won the lottery everything would be just fine.  A few moments latter hail and rain began to pound down and since there is no cover in the ruins I am sure the family's visit ended in a drenching.  But thankfully no Darwin award on this occasion.  

Gran Quivira Ruins Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument New Mexico, USA


During the winter holidays we took some time out to visit two geology sites in the area.  It was my second visit to the first site we visited, Prehistoric Trackways National Monument.  As with my first visit, this one was pretty much a bust.  It is a new Monument with little signage and the BLM staff doesn't seem to be very forthcoming with information.  In any case, my son Jon and I explored the area and I have a better idea of where the tracks are not than I did before.  We did find some shell fossils however, one is pictured here.

On January 21, 2013, Rebecca and I returned to Prehistoric Trackways National Monument northwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  We were there for the hike, and hopefully, to find tracks from the Paleozoic.  We did not find any tracks but had a beautiful walk.  We did find a few marine fossils and several species of cactus, enough to rest the legs of an old man.

The Ridge Line Trail starts at the only signage in the Monument and heads out across the flats.  After a while the trail begins to climb up the hills, affording nice views to the west - and if you like sprawl, of Las Cruces to the southeast.  The hillsides are covered in loose rock (photo right) but the trail itself is very reasonable.  We found fishhook cactus of various age as well as several other species or cactus.  The marine fossils (photo below) seemed to be grouped in an area at the crest of the first hill.

I am not sure where we will eventually find the Paleozoic tracks but I am beginning to relish, and enjoy, the search.  On this outing we were treated to a large group of Black-throated Sparrows, a species which is very common in this area and still exotic for someone from the Pacific Northwest.


During a summer visit we took Jon to visit White Sands National Monument to see the gypsum dunes and then to visit Lake Lucero.  Last spring I had visited Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge to take bird video and to dig selenite crystals.  The selenite crystals at Lake Lucero (pictured Here) may not be collected and they are quite different from those at Salt Plains.  Both are impressive.  For those who may have considered a trip to Lake Lucero I recommend it heartedly.

At the end of February 28, 2015 we ventured over to White Sands National Monument to show my brother one of the few gypsum dunefields in the world and by far the largest with a surface area of  275 square miles.  As you enter the dunes from the south there is a fair amount of vegetation growing on them.  In places you can see the very tops of cottonwood trees poking through the dunes.  As you drive north the dunes become more and more desolate.  Driving through them makes me think of driving in the far north, in winter, the road is white and hills of white are all you can see.  This is a favorite playground for this region, people come to photograph the dunes, to hike across the dunes, and to ride all sorts of plastic contraptions down the dunes, sand-surfing.  On this occasion a Cub Scout “Jamboree” was being held at the Monument and the northern end of the park was swarming with boys and their parents.  When taking the photo below, I kept thinking that it looked for all the world like a ski resort.

This type of dune field is very rare because the mineral (gypsum, a form of calcium sulfate) is soluble in water.  They can’t form in wet places because they would dissolve.  The second largest gypsum dunefield is in Mexico, Cuatro Ciénegas, and covers an area of 8 square miles.

My brother had not been to White Sands and I had arranged to go on the tour to Lake Lucero as part of the outing.  Lake Lucero is the source of all that gypsum.  The Park Service conducts 6 tours of the area every year (once a month from November to April) and the number of participants on each tour is limited.  Lake Lucero is a disjunct part of the monument.  The dunefields are located along the eastern edge of the White Sands Missile Range and Lake Lucero is surrounded by the range.  The activities at the missile range create certain restrictions for people visiting the National Monument, for instance, the access road (US-70) is closed during missile tests.  The closures are usually around three hours and if you are thinking of traveling through the area (there are no alternate routes) or of visiting the National Monument check on closures - the Monument posts them on its website.  The other restriction, of significance, is the limit on visits to Lake Lucero.  Any tour is limited to about 100 people.  The tour is the only way that most people will ever have of seeing the playa at Lake Lucero or the selenite crystals which are simply lying about there.

Oryx, an African antelope, have been introduced in the area and roam about.  I have not seen one but their tracks are often abundant.  Because of the Oryx and other features the Monument is a great place to take “sign photos”.


This week (mid-August 2014) we took a day trip up to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (New Mexico, USA).  The Cliff Dwellings are just 80 miles from Hillsboro but it is a drive on a slow and curvy road.  Google Maps says the drive takes two and a quarter hours - our experience, because we take short stops along the way, is that it is a three hour drive.  In any case, 4.5 or 6 hours is a chunk out of any day.  Because of that we have not gone to the Gila as often as we should, it is a strikingly beautiful place.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument New Mexico, USA

The Monument is unique in the United States National Park system in that it protects the remains of 2,000 years of human habitation.  The individual sites at the Monument include Archaic (era) rock shelters, Pit Houses, Classic Pueblo structures, and Apache remains - everything from semi-permanent shelters to the classic cliff dwellings which the Monument is named after, through to decline and the entry of semi-nomadic populations (Apache).  It is the only unit in the park system which contains Mogollon sites.  The Mogollon were a major cultural center in the southwestern United States, the Mimbres -- see many postings on The Natural Observer and The Free Range blogs -- are generally considered to be Mogollon.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument New Mexico, USA

"The" cliff dwellings are at about 6,000 feet in elevation and are reached by a short trail.  This area gets more rain than we do in Hillsboro.  The 18+ inches of precipitation (rain and snow converted to rain amounts) which falls in the Monument every year comes mostly during the monsoons and the Gila River swells at that time.  This week we choose not to take some of the trails along the gorges because the water was a bit high (mid-thigh level) and was running muddy.  We prefer to hike the gorges, which involves lots of fording the river, when the levels are lower and the water is sparkling clear -- generally early summer.  It can be quite cold here in the winter, with temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit at night.  One of the things I do when I visit the ruins is to imagine them when it is terribly cold outside -- or very hot -- in both cases, I think of the alcove and the ruins as a snug and friendly place and hope that its inhabitants found them to be the same.

Gila Cliff Dwellings - An Administrative History focuses on the administrative history of the Monument but does have a fair amount of information about the earlier inhabitants (especially the Apache) and the geology of the area.

Given the remote location of this site a person might be inclined to believe that they lived in isolation.  That is, however, not the case.  Trade goods found at the site include macaw feathers, seeds from Mesoamerica, fabrics and other goods from the Sea of Cortez, etc.  

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument New Mexico, USA

“The Tower” at the main cliff dwelling site is shown on the right in the photo below and in detail just below that.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument New Mexico, USA

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument New Mexico, USA

There was a lot of trade going on - but to put that into context.  What we now think of as a major site was in fact a relatively small settlement.  When it was built, in about 1275 of the Common Era, it housed from 10 to 15 families in its 46 rooms.  The trade of various goods was widespread during this era, reaching small settlements in remote regions of the Gila wilderness.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is a Mogollon site.  The Mogollon are first identifiable as a discreet culture from about 200 CE and lived in pit houses until about 1000 CE.  They then built pueblo type structures above ground, in some cases free standing and in other cases they were built into cliff alcoves.  I have discussed the Mimbres (a sub-culture of the Mogollon) elsewhere on The Black Range Rag - including their progress through the structural history described here.  In the case of this site, the location was not dictated by the cliff alcoves alone.  Today we use the term passive solar to describe a major benefit of its aspect.  In summer the dwellings are shaded and during the winter they are warmed by direct sunlight.

Corn cob display at main cliff dwelling site. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico, USA

It is generally assumed that Henry B. Ailman was the first European to describe the dwellings in writing, this in 1878.  At that time he wrote:

Following the west or larger [creek] up two or three miles, we came upon a specimen of an old Cliff Dweller’s village situated, as was their custom, in a crevice where there was good protection afforded by a wide, overhead ledge of projecting rock. In this case, from floor to roof was about eight or nine feet. The walls were of small, flat stones laid in common mud, with no door or window frames. The walls lacked twenty inches connecting with the roof, to give the smoke a chance to escape. They had fireplaces in the center of the apartments.  

In searching for relics, the only thing we could find was corncobs, very small, four to five inches long, and only in thickness like your largest finger. A fair sample of these I took with me. This dwelling was about two hundred feet up a steep hill from the creek. We concluded that they selected such sites for protection. Needless to say, Miss Virginia [soon to be his wife] got the corncobs….

Six years later, in 1874, Adolph Bandelier (after whom Bandelier National Monument is named) visited the site.

At one time there were a substantial number of corn cobs at the site, which are dated to the time of Mogollon occupation, but as noted they soon started to walk away.  Until fairly recently it was possible to come close to some of the remaining cobs but many walked away with tourists and now tourists are kept away and the few remaining cobs are displayed in one of the rooms at the dwelling site (see photo above).

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument New Mexico, USA

Photo Immediately Above: It is posited that these holes were used to grind pigments for the (limited number of ) petroglyphs at the site.  

In addition to the (apparently) successful cultivation of corn the local (prehistoric) population raised three varieties of beans, four varieties of squash, bottle gourds, and cotton.  We know that Apaches were harvesting agave and grinding it into a mash to eat, one of several wild crops which filled out their diet and there is no reason to believe that the Mogollon did not supplement their domestic crops in the same way.  

Specimens of Phaseolus maculates (formerly P. metcalfi), from the cliff dwellings site, were dated to 1400-1600 in 1990.  This dating was performed by Dr. A. J. T. Jull for Kenneth Anderson (US Park Service).  The Tarahumara of Chihuahua still use the roots of this plants medicinally and to make glue.  This is but one of many examples of how non-domesticated crops were used by the Mogollon.

Archeological Survey: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument by James Bradford may be viewed online, it includes an exhaustive listing of archaeological sites in the monument, including site maps and descriptions.  For instance, there is a two room habitation found just north of the Lower Scorpion Campground.


On November 15, 2017, Rebecca, Mike, and I traveled to the Lower Box of the Gila River in Southwestern New Mexico.  For Mike and I, it was our second trip to the area and after listening to the stories about our first visit Rebecca wanted to see the place.  In southern New Mexico a “box” refers to a narrow canyon with shear sides, not a “box canyon” which is enclosed on three sides.  North of Lordsburg, NM the Gila River runs through a very narrow canyon.  After traveling across the flats for quite some time you find yourself on the edge of a canyon which is only visible when you are almost to the edge.  In the bottom of the canyon, the Gila (a Spanish word, so it is pronounced Hila) River flows.  The remainder of the canyon floor is covered by a Cottonwood forest.

Near the top of the canyon cliffs we found an indigenous people’s dwelling.  Hard to say how old it is, or if there were others in the area.

This is an area destined for destruction by the Gila River Diversion Project.  A project inherently unsound, but people are going to make money from it and those which worship money above all else are pleased.

Additional photographs on the Lower Gila Box page of the New Mexico Photos gallery.


From an original post on December 21, 2007:  Bethanne and Jon flew into Albuquerque and drove down to join me for the winter holidays.  Today we ventured over to Three Rivers Petroglyph site to show them rock art.  It was a very windy day with sand over at White Sands blowing high into the sky.  The sun was bright but it was quite cool because of the wind.

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site New Mexico

Nice photos for the day but evidence of recent vandalism at the site was disturbing.  Ignorance and greed - the twin plagues of the world.

On the way back to Hillsboro, we played dodge the tumbling tumbleweeds flying through the air and bouncing down the road.


On Thursday, March5, 2015, my brother and I went to Black Mountain, which is 10.5 miles northwest (300°) of Deming.  While working on the Mining Section of the Black Range Rag, I came across a reference to Black Mountain where Iddingsite is found.  As I searched for location information, I came across an article by Kathryn Putsavagewhich described Black Mountain as a major Mimbres site in the “Black Mountain” period (1130 CE to 1250 CE).  Basically the reorganization period of the Mimbres people, when they were leaving the Mimbres valley and resettling elsewhere, including Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, Mexico.  According to the article, there were Mimbres settlements at Black Mountain from about 750 CE to 1250 CE.  Like so many sites of the early people it has been heavily vandalized, including grading by local ranchers.  I had no real belief that I would find iddingsite or evidence of the Mimbres peoples on a visit, but I thought we should go exploring.

Black Mountain NW of Deming

After driving around trying to find access, we drove along the road which borders the mountain on the south to an old New Mexico National Guard rifle range.  From there we walked up the mountain.  The mountain is volcanic in origin and basalt rocks cover the slope making for slow progress up the slope.  Our destination was a gully where the underlying tuff beds were exposed.

As we progressed up the slope we flushed a Long-eared Owl, Asio otus, from the gully.  It flew a short distance and perched on the ground, flushed again and again perched on the ground nearby.  We looked for evidence of a nest but found none.  There appeared to be only one bird.  The highest vegetation in the area was five foot high acacia.  

Black Mountain NW of Deming - Long-eared Owl, Asio otus

There were many Ferocactus wislizeni on the slopes of the hill.  This is the Fishhook Barrel Cactus (aka Arizona Barrel Cactus or Southwestern Barrel Cactus).  It can grow to six or more feet in height and has a significant number of ribs (15-28), compared to the 13-17 ribs of Ferocactus hamatacanthus which might be possible here.  Most of the plants that we saw  were rejuvenating from the drought of recent years and appeared to be growing in the midst of dead cactus.  The spines of these plants are wonderful - thus the common name for this cactus.

Black Mountain NW of Deming - Ferrocactus wislizeni

We continued up the slope to the major part of the scar, visible in the photograph above, where we found a number of plant fossils in the loose tuff.  The temperature was in the mid-forties (F) - well below normal and there was a stiff breeze so we called it a day, walked back down the slope, and explored the nearby tracks.

In this area, the Mimbres River crosses US-180 north of Black Mountain and flows west, then south, and finally east, crossing US-180, again, just north of Deming.  The loop that it makes borders Black Mountain on three sides and may be a major reason for the Mimbres people locating here.  On our outing we crossed the Mimbres twice, once heading west and again at the same spot as we backtracked.  The crossing was dry.

The vegetation in the area is typical Chihuahuan desert scrub.  Probably the most unusual plants were the Desert Willows along the Mimbres drainage and the tall yucca pictured above.

We saw few species of birds on our outing; Long-eared Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Greater Roadrunner, and Northern Harrier being the most notable.

All in all a pleasant time in the desert.


© Robert Barnes 2017-2018