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moderate to easy
The Besh-Ba-Gowah ruins and Gila Pueblo ruins are two separate sites joined by a road-side path. This is a "kid-friendly" destination that depicts the Salado culture at its zenith and helps shed light on the sudden decline. Although it may be practical to drive the 1.5 miles between sites, we elected to walk given the near perfect weather conditions and a desire to get some exercise.
Start your hike at the Besh-Ba-Gowah museum and visitor's center. Pay the $3 admission fee and visit the many "interpretive" displays and artifacts unearthed during the many archeological digs at the site. The archaeological park brochure will reveal that at the peak of its occupancy from 1225 A.D. to 1400 A.D., the pueblo contained some 146 ground-floor and 61 second-floor rooms constructed around central plazas. Many of the walls have been restored and there is an opportunity to climb ladders and view the site from a second-story vantage. Take the loop trail and explore the many different rooms for a glimpse into the daily life of the ancient Salado.
When you have finished exploring the Besh-Ba-Gowah ruins, the corral located at the north end of the parking lot has an unexpected treat for the kids... many Shetland ponies and donkeys! Continue down the driveway from the Community Center parking lot to Six-Shooter Canyon Road. There is a pathway alongside Pinal Creek you can follow south towards the Gila Community College campus grounds. You will pass a Tonto Forest Ranger Station which on this particular day had its parking lot completely filled with fire-fighting vehicles and equipment.
Follow the Gila Community College driveway and loop around to the southern end where the library is located. The Gila Pueblo is partially excavated and the most striking feature is that the college is built upon the ruins! There are interpretive plaques along the campus side walks that provide historical facts. Excavated in the 1920's and 1930's, more than 200 pueblo rooms were discovered. The archeological record suggests that the Besh-Ba-Gowah and Gila Pueblo communities lived in relative peaceful co-operation for some 200 years, but towards the end of the 14th century with the combination of exploding population, drought, failed crops, and interrupted trading patterns... war broke out! Evidence strongly suggests that in a dramatic raid, the residents of Besh-Ba-Gowah conducted a deadly foray against neighboring Gila Pueblo and destroyed it overnight.
This is more of a relaxing stroll than a hike... something that may make this an acceptable "kid-friendly" destination. Accompanied by a 10 year old, there were many varied items to keep the interest high (ladders to climb, tiny doorways to pass through, ponies, fire trucks, and evidence of warfare). These two sites are also a lesson in changing attitudes about the past. Half the Besh-Ba-Gowah pueblo has been bulldozed. In 1948 the western side was cleared by the Army Corps of Engineers to make a Boy Scout Camp and in 1982 the City of Globe cleared the eastern side for a baseball diamond. In 1938, the Gila Community College was built on top of the Gila Pueblo. Today we can simultaneously visit both the past and present. Enjoy!
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