Gila National Forest Overview
The Gila in southwestern New Mexico is a cauldron of colliding ecosystems; the Chihuahuan Desert, the Sonoran Desert, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, the Mexican Plateau, the Great Basin, and Mexico's Sierra Madre all converge here.
Cactus-speckled deserts give way to windswept grasslands; soaptree yucca and ocotillo surrenders to juniper, pine, aspen fir, and spruce fir. The Mogollon Mountains rise up without warning out of the vast and flat surrounding desert, cresting with magnificent monolithic sentries like the approximately 10,900-foot Whitewater Baldy. Other magnificent mountain ranges within the forest include the Black, Blue, Elk, and Mimbres.
The 3.3 million acres of the Gila are at once tranquil and harsh. Appropriately, this is land where the fierce Apache, led by Geronimo, once roamed. Before the Apache, another band of Native Americans tried to carve out some sort of existence in the Gila's raw and intolerable landscape. The ruins at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offer a glimpse of the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280s through the early 1300s. It serves as a reminder that in this otherworldly terrain, any stayeven yoursmay only be temporary.
Discover Gila Cliff Dwellings
At the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, you can explore the ruins of Pueblo Indians who inhabited the cave dwellings from the 1280s to the early 1300s. Older ruins are also present—one pit house is dated at around 100 to 400 AD and was occupied by a people that archaeologists refer to as the Mogollon.
More on Gila Cliff in Gila National Forest
Explore Devils Creek Wilderness
In 1880, the Apache warrior Victorio razed the town of Cooney—the eerie ghost town that remains warns us that this hostile terrain is to be visited, but never settled. Devils Creek is 100,000 acres of roadless wilderness and acts as the northern extension of the Mogollon Mountains. The wilderness, with its stands of ponderosa pine and mixed conifer, serves as a refuge for the northern goshawk, flammulated owl, and the Mexican spotted owl.
Keep your Eyes Open for Javelina
What's a javelina, you ask? The javelina (aka collared peccary) is a pig-like creature (though not related) that resembles a wild boar. They travel in herds of 8 to 27 and weigh anywhere from 40 to 60 pounds. Coyotes and humans hunt them. Other wildlife you might come across include the Gila monster—one of only two venomous lizards in the world. The Gila monster is pink with yellow and black shading, stout legs, and a powerful lower jaw.
More on wildlife in Gila National Forest
Soak in Jordan Hot Springs
An eight-mile all-day hike upstream from the visitor's center will get you to Jordan Hot Springs. Many consider this one of the most beautiful spots in the Gila. The deep pool is sheltered by a massive rock covered with emerald moss and ringed by sycamores and ferns. The pool's waters are a muscle-relaxing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On the way, you'll come across the Middle Fork Springs located just a half-mile north of the visitor's center. The water comes out at a scalding 130 degrees Fahrenheit, so visitors have dug out a number of pools where the spring water mixes with the cooler river water, creating a more bearable temperature.
Walk the Catwalk
The Catwalk is a national recreation trail that follows the path of a pipeline built in the 1890s to deliver water to the mining town of Graham. Metal walkways bolted to the sheer rock face penetrate the narrow canyon of Whitewater Creek—a canyon used by both Geronimo and Butch Cassidy as a hideout. Signs warn of scorpions and rattlesnakes. At the end of the Catwalk, a swaying suspension bridge leads to a cavern ledge overlooking a monstrous waterfall.
Mountain Bike the Gila
The Great Divide Route, a mountain bike route running for some 2,500 miles between Canada and Mexico, snakes its way for 850 miles through the desert, high mesas, and mountains of the Land of Enchantment. The last stretch slithers through the grueling Gila and meanders through canyon country that once served as an Apache stronghold for Geronimo and his warriors.
Drive the Inner Loop Scenic Byway
A favorite route is the 110-mile Inner Loop Scenic Byway from Silver City to Mimbres Valley, down Sapillo Creek, across the Pinos Altos Mountains, and back to Silver City—with a side trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Other beautiful and scenic drives stretch from Silver City to Hillsboro over the south end of the Black Range, and a 235-mile route known as the Outer Loop. Stop to enjoy the tall timber around Reserve or Willow Creek, the famous Catwalk National Recreation Trail in Whitewater Canyon, the historic Fort Bayard area, or the fabled gold mining ghost town of Mogollon.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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