The Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness Region in southwest 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. The best way to experience this amazing country is with a horseback adventure and Gila Wilderness Expedition. Cactus-speckled deserts give way to windswept grasslands; soap tree yucca and prickley pear cactus surrenders to juniper, pine, spruce and aspen. The Mogollon Mountains rise up without warning out of the vast and flat surrounding desert, cresting with magnificent monolithic sentries like the 10,892-foot Whitewater Baldy.
At the heart of the Gila National Forest
are two spectacular wildernesses: the Gila, containing 558,065
acres, and the Aldo Leopold, with 202,016 acres. The concept of
preserving wilderness areas for future generations was initiated
in the Gila National Reserve, as it was called at the turn of
the century, by Aldo Leopold. The efforts of Leopold and other
like minded individuals resulted in the establishment, on June
3, 1924, of Gila National Forest's two wildernesses - the oldest.
Recreation - Attractions
Catwalk National Recreation Trail
While trails through the wilderness offer a unique forest experience, there are several very interesting hikes within the remaining 800-miles of trails for Forest visitors to enjoy. One of the "must" trails is the Catwalk National Recreation Trail in Whitewater Canyon. A focal point in the area's mining boom, the Whitewater Canyon presented some special engineering problems for the late 19th century miners. One problem was a lack of reliable water at the Canyon's ore processing mill site. The solution was a 4-inch pipeline along the Canyon's west side carrying the water needed for the small town (population 200) and to generate electric power for the mill. This initial pipeline was constructed in 1893 and an additional 18-inch pipeline was added during 1897. The pipeline was closed in 1913 and fell into disrepair until the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was assigned the task of rebuilding it in 1935. The CCC built Catwalk served the public until 1961. Major storms and floods had taken its total on the CCC-built Catwalk and, early in 1961, the Forest Service began reconstruction of this most unusual trail. During December 1978 the Catwalk was designated a National Recreation Trail and, since then, has provided Forest visitors a totally unique experience.
The area offers a beautiful picnic spot next to Whitewater Creek, a challenging one mile trail along the historic water line route from the 1890's, a trailhead access into the Gila Wilderness, a bird watcher's paradise and a sense of place that creates images of an earlier time. The Catwalk has undergone extensive construction to upgrade the facilities and add an accessible trail that meets universal design standards.
The closest campground is Bighorn Campground which is located within walking distance of the town of Glenwood. The old Catwalk Trail and Picnic Areas are open for day-use seven days a week. Construction of the Universally Accessible Trail is in progress. There is a $3.00 per vehicle.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
The monument lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation's first designated wilderness area. This designation means that the wilderness character of the area will not be altered by the intrusion of roads or other evidence of human presence. The Gila Cliff Dwellings is a trailhead for 5 different trails. The monument includes a Visitors Center and a Contact Station (at the entry to the dwellings themselves).
The park offers a glimpses of the homes and lives of Indians who lived there from the late 1270s through the early 1300s. The surroundings probably look today very much like they did when the cliff dwellings were inhabited. Archaeologists have identified 46 rooms at the Gila Cliff Dwellings. After Labor Day, the hours are 9:00AM to 4:00PM for the Cliff Dwellings and 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM for the Visitor's Center. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the cliff dwellings trail is open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and the Visitor Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The rest of the year, the cliff dwellings trail is open 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and the Visitor Center is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Gila Hot Springs
A number of hot springs occur within the boundaries of the Gila National Forest. The temperature of the water in each spring varies as well as the size of the pool(s) formed by the spring. Often the springs occur in close proximity to streams and rivers. These areas are fragile and can be easily damaged through overuse. Please treat the springs and pools with care so that others may enjoy them in the future.
Numerous hot springs occur in the Forest. The more well known ones are listed below.
Turkey Creek Hot Springs
Middle Fork Hot Springs
Jordon Hot Springs
Via the Middle Fork (six miles one way): Park at the TJ Corral trailhead, (Trail 157), just north of the Visitor Center. Follow the trail past the locked gate and straight upstream into the canyon. The trail follows the river for six miles, until its junction with the trail descending from Little Bear Canyon. See the next paragraph for details beyond this point. There will be approximately 50 river crossings on this route.
Via Little Bear Canyon (six miles one way): Park at the TJ Corral trailhead, one mile from the Visitor Center on the road to the Cliff Dwellings. Take Trail 729 and follow the signs to "Middle Fork". The trail climbs gradually to the junction with the Meadows Trail (Trail 164, approximately 2 miles from TJ), continues to the top of the divide between the West and Middle Forks, and then descends through Little Bear Canyon to the Middle Fork of the Gila (another 2 miles). Little Bear Canyon is very narrow in places. Immediately cross the Middle Fork and head upstream. Including this first crossing, there will be 15 river crossings before you reach the hot springs. The springs are on the right (northeast) side of the canyon, just beyond and above a marshy area with obvious seepage. It is about two miles to the hot springs from the junction of Little Bear Canyon and the Middle Fork.
San Francisco Hot Springs
Surrounded by mountains this picturesque lake provides excellent trout fishing, being regularly stocked by the Department of Game and Fish. It is located north of Silver City on NM35. The Sapillo [SAP-eeoh] Creek flows west toward the Colorado River while the nearby Mimbres River (separated by the Continental Divide) flows to the east. Boat rentals, bait and supplies are available.
It was first named Birchville and gold was discovered in 1837. On Sept. 27, 1861, some 500 Apaches led by Cochise and Mangas Coloradas attacked Pinos Altos. The miners killed more than a dozen Indians and 3 miners were killed. A later raid killed 40 miners after they were supposedly distracted by attractive squaws placed by Mangas. The Apache chief was tricked into giving up and was taken to Ft. McLane, where he was shot and beheaded while "trying to escape." Pinos Altos was home to a Hearst (of newspaper fame) gold mine and a store operated by (Judge) Roy Bean. You can also find memorabilia of gunfights, Apache raids and the Mimbres culture.
Just for fun, make reservations to attend the Pinos Altos Melodrama Theatre, Friday and Saturday nights. "Boo" and throw popcorn at the villain; "pine" for the heroine and eat one of the best meals in town! Reservations should be made well in advance by calling 575-388-3848.
Western New Mexico University
City of Rocks State Park
Experience an Adventure
Debbie and Alan Eggleston
Experience the Gila Wilderness and Gila National Forest on horse back. Ride through the canyons of the Gila region. View wildlife in the Gila region. Double E Guest Ranch adjoins the Gila National Forest. Indian culture, wildlife, horseback riding, in the Gila Wilderness on horse back at Double E Guest Ranch.
Updated August 2009