When I first began my trips to the Rio Cuervo the biggest problem I thought I would have was the narrow and barely passable roads. To my surprise I found that knowing where I was at any given time was a challenge. And even when the road was good and passable, where did it lead? A subtle mistake like not marking the way you entered an area could lead to five hours of driving to get back out. In my first visits I had a tendency to travel not so much by a road but more a direction. You know the idea, if you only go in one direction then you can get out buy just turning around. In this way I was able to get in and out several times. I would head in a slightly different direction each time. If I crossed a road I would mark it with rocks and indicate it on a map I was compiling. This program of entering the Cuervo at a slightly different direction and marking the roads lead to a map of roads, gates, stock tanks, dead cows, old car parts and even old cars. In this way I was able to mark my map with these different landmarks. On one of my first exploratory outings with a friend named Ralph we headed through a gate of entry and headed in the new direction. Driving off road for about a half hour we spotted a fence line and what looked to be a good ranch road. When you spot a ranch road you have to spend a couple of days finding the beginning and the end. In this way you can mark it on your map and begin to use it instead of driving off road so much. In this case we were lucky to find this ranch road just in time as we had been traveling quite some time with the right wheels on one side of a gorge and the left wheels on the other side. The gorge was getting wider and the car was not. We found a way through the gorge and a narrow arroyo that led us up on to the ranch road. This road became our main in and out points to the area. The road crossed a six mile mesa top and dropped into a valley in the shadow of Mesa Prieta. Along this journey each time we noticed more and more of what we were driving past. The desert had just began to bloom and the colors were vivid.
It was hard to discover the area as it became diver through country. The road came from the entry points and lead to the new undiscovered location begging for exploration. At one extreme portion of the road was a white sands area of gypsum and eroded sandstone that stood in the skyline like a city of sculptures.
Lighting in the areas causes you to see different aspects of the country side at different times. On my sixth time down this road I noticed a previously unseen shape on the canyon wash on the distant horizon. We had to drive through a dry lake to get close enough to make out that it was a building. Driving into this new area from the road we could make out two or more buildings made of stone. I called it "Hideout Number 1". All these times by and we had never spotted it. But there it was not just one stone building but two. Because the lake was dry (we were in a five year drought) we were able to cross the lake bottom to the building both below the canyon wall and on top.
This lower building had constructed of cut stones and build into the canyon wall. The larger building was on top of the canyon where the wash flowed into the canyon below. Inside the lower building had been plastered and the roof had been replaced several times. You could see the different ages of construction from vigas to modern metal.
Climbing to the top of the canyon and over the top of the lower building was a magnificent three room building with a kiva fireplace. It too showed signs of remanufacture. Quite close was a concrete foundation of a more modern building that had come and gone over the years. This would be a pattern of the hide outs we would find. The ancient ones would cut stone, build a formidable building. Later after its partial or total destruction later people would use the rocks to rebuild the building. More modern folk would make a rock or concrete foundation and move the rocks to it as their structure. These later buildings we found were outlived by the early custom crafted ancient buildings.
The windows had been added at a later time and a couple of roofs seemed to have been replaced. Five layers of plaster inside had covered the hand plastered walls.
The most impressive aspect of this ancient building was some of the original wall had every rock cut to match and make the perfect corners. Here high above a lake on the top of a beautiful canyon wash was a place to live. Wild animals in the canyon below to the west and a lake attracting heard animals to the east. We now had a base point of interest with miles of canyon to explore. Imagine I had passed it six times without ever seeing it. How much was I missing. We would soon find out.