Our first stop today was Avanos, for a walk along the river of a picturesque town on the Red River that supplies clay for 4000 year Avanos tradition of pottery making. On our drive south to Kaymakli we pasted the abandoned mountainside town of Gore...the residents of Gore were forced out of their homes due to erosion. We arrived at the amazing Kaymaki Underground City carved by the Hittites about 3500 years ago, this multi-level underground city was used by the early Christians as a main shelter from enemies during the 6th and 7th centuries. Kaymakli is one of the largest underground cities in Cappadocia with 8 levels including; stables, temples and wineries. This subterranean marvel added a third level of depth to our Cappadocia experience and leaves you in bewilderment of the resourcefulness of the Christian refugees. We drove further south to the magnificent and fertile Ilhara Valley that is flanked by the snow covered Hasan Mountain. There was a quick stop for photos of the Ilhara Valley Gorge known as the little Grand Canyon before a 3 kilometer hike winding through the gorge alongside the Melindiz River. Our lunch stop was in the riverside village of Belisirma and the local food was excellent. After lunch we headed north to Selime Monastery, the largest rock cut monastery in the Cappadocia region with a cave Cathedral and breathtaking views overlooking the Ilhara Valley. Selime was our last stop before we made our way to the Nevsehir/Kapadokya Airport to catch our flight to Istanbul. It is really hard to imagine just what happened here over the centuries and what intense labor it took to not only carve the structures but to develop a life from the landscape. Whether, above, on or below the ground in the valleys, towns or caves of Cappadocia there is a magical draw that may entice you to visit or return. We had an absolutely amazing visit to this area of Turkey and would highly recommend it to other travelers. I would be remiss, if I did not again thank our Guide Deniz Turgut and Driver of Turkish Heritage Travel and Butterfly Balloons for this special journey...we loved every moment! This part 1 of a 3 blog.