She turned her laptop to face me, clicking on a photo. “I want to go to the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico.” And just like that, our destination was chosen.
We would travel 2,056 miles by SUV. Two kids, two beagles and one mom.
It turned out to be the one place I never wanted to leave. Not the cliff dwellings, although they were interesting. We didn’t want to leave the ranch.
Bear Paw Ranch sits astride the Gila River in Gila, NM. A lush, verdant ribbon in an otherwise dry landscape, the 800 acre ranch is run by two capable women. Rose Shoemaker’s husband passed away, and best friend Sherri Clive parted ways with her husband. The two joined forces and have since created a wonderfully quiet respite for travelers looking for something a little bit different.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a resort.
It’s a working ranch with three vastly different haciendas. We were lucky enough to call the oldest one on the ranch, “home.” At least for two weeks.
We stayed in a century old adobe house, set by itself at the base of a hill. Sherri drove up on a four-wheeler, two mules trotting along behind on long leads. “Hey, does your son want to go riding with me?” My 13-year-old was out the door and in the passenger seat before I knew it. He liked Sherri; earlier in the week, she’d picked him up to help her try and find a skunk hanging around the pond.
My daughter and I grabbed the two ranch dogs and headed down to the river, tossing sticks and following wherever the dogs led us across the ranch. I stopped and asked Rose where her property ended, so I wouldn’t trespass.
She laughed, “We don’t worry about that stuff out here. Go wherever you like. If the gate is closed, close it. If it’s open, leave it that way.”
In the distance, we could see my son and Sherri on a ridge, riding side by side. My son was in awe of Sherri. When saddling the mules, she’d received a swift kick that didn’t seem to phase her in the least. They splashed through the river, both looking at ease in their saddles.
The ranch road was dry and dusty, but we’d often come upon unexpected flowers. Hard to believe they could bloom in a roadway. Walking along the road with Toby the dog that day, we were surprised to hear his indignant huff followed by a suspicious rattle. The big black and white dog had stepped on the head of a bull snake sunning his six foot length across the road.
Displeased, the snake did his best to imitate the rattle of a dangerous snake, while holding his ground.
We detoured around him and headed back to our little adobe home. Sherri had provided hot peppers from the garden as well as eggs and I was trying my hand at cooking with dried beans I had picked up in Silver City.
We’d spend a few hours exploring each day, but the kids would beg to return to the ranch. To head out into the pasture to feed the horses and mules. To check on the turkeys in their pen and to look for ancient pottery shards atop a hill Rose had mentioned where artifacts are often found. At night, we’d climb the hill out back and sit in chairs we brought up from the porch.
We’d never seen skies so dark, or stars so bright.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings are a national landmark, reached only on foot, in Silver City, New Mexico. The workmanship and the views are extraordinary, and I’m certainly glad we came. It’s easy to imagine yourself in a different time; these dwellings are tucked away from modern society. They are quiet and peaceful. Visitors seem almost reverent. But, this memorable journey was more about the time spent on a ranch in Gila.
It was about a stillness that I haven’t experienced before, or since.
And it is surely on my list of places to revisit. And that’s not just a mom talking; my children are waiting to return as well. Pretty high praise indeed.
Take a look around and see if you can find someplace to embrace the quiet. To embrace the stillness with your children, or whatever special people grace your life. You may not even have to travel 2,056 miles to find it. Now that I know what it feels like, I think I may be able to find it here at home too.