In a remote area of southwestern New Mexico, the Gila National Forest offers
visitors a little bit of everything. It encompasses the Gila Wilderness shown
left towering above the adjacent road. The Gila was championed by the famed
naturalist, Aldo Leopold, and became America's first designated wilderness
area in 1924. "Wilderness" is our country's purest form of conservation. A
wilderness area is protected in perpetuity. Unlike national parks and
monuments, NO development or economic usage is permitted, not even the building of
The Wilderness Area is of course highly recommended for hikers and backpackers.
A good network of dirt roads in the forest provides plenty of access.
Also, the forest has numerous developed and primitive campgrounds. The primitive
campgrounds are especially excellent, situated in beautiful wooded areas and
spread out to allow privacy. Shown right is beautiful Snow Lake, many miles from the
main road and with a fine campground. At 7400 feet, the lake offers good trout
fishing. However be aware that July and August is "monsoon" season in southwest
New Mexico. Afternoon storms can be frequent and powerful.
The Gila National Forest and adjacent areas offer plenty of variety. The
photo left is the "Catwalk" in the narrows of Whitewater Canyon. The original
catwalk held a gravity-fed pipeline supplying water to a nearby mining
operation. There is a fine wooded picnic area near the mouth of the canyon.
This part of New Mexico is extraordinarily rich in minerals, and during the
frontier days boomtowns prospered in gold, silver, and copper mining. In ancient
times Indians mined turquoise here. Historic Silver City, just south of the
forest, has prospered to this day. Its historic districts are popular
tourist stops. Photo below right is the semi-ghost town of Mogollon. During
the 1880's it was a roaring boomtown prospering in gold and silver. It is
tucked into a narrow valley below the Little Fanney mine, one of the region's richest.
The remote area is accessed by a hair-raising road crossing Whitewater Mesa then
curving and winding spectacularly up a high saddle before dropping into the next
valley. Mogollon lies in the valley, and the mine overlooks it, high on the
mountain side. During the heyday gold and silver went down the tough trail to Silver City
in 18-mule-team ore wagons.
Today few people live in Mogollon year-round. However it is quite lively in the summer
with tours as well as a museum, art galleries, a restaurant, and a theatre in the
preserved buildings. Many historic artifacts are on display. Below, are two
additional views from the town.
The area's most well known attraction is probably the Gila Cliff Dwellings
National Monument. A huge rock cliff face high above the west fork of the
Gila River has seven large cavities (i.e., caves). Five of these contain
significant structures built by the Mogollon people during the late 13th
The earliest ruin found in the monument dates from possibly 100 A.D. It is
the remains of a "pit house" which was the Mogollon's (and most of the Ancestral
Pueblo people's) primary structure before 1000 A.D. These were underground
rooms built in the open, generally covered with adobe with a small opening
for entry. Later, these evolved into free-standing above ground pueblos. The cliff
dwellings were built only in the final phase of the area's habitation. They
are much better preserved than the earlier structures due to the protection
of the caves.
(Note, picture left. The stairs are a modern addition; the ancient peoples used ladders or climbed.)