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Natural Places

Outdoors in New Mexico's Gila Wilderness


This is the introduction to seven pages on one of America's premier nature preserves. Established in 1924 as the first forest wilderness preserve in the United States, the Gila Wilderness offers the ultimate outdoor experience in the Southwest.

A vast tract of 438,000 acres, set in the much larger Gila National Forest (2.7 million acres), this completely unspoiled landscape is a refuge for outdoor lovers with its deep canyons featuring desert agave vegetation, hot springs, 400 miles of fishing streams and -- on the upper slopes -- thick forests of spruce and fir.

Located in southwestern New Mexico, the wilderness area is reached by taking State Highway 90 from Lordsburg (on Interstate 10), through the historic mining towns of Silver City and Piños Altos, and continuing north into the national forest.

Next to the protected wilderness is the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, a series of homes set in high caves above the middle fork of the Gila River. The Monument, with its visitor center, is the information and take-off point for hiking and riding in the Gila Wilderness.

The Mogollon Indians lived here for only ten years, nearly 700 years ago. The structures were built with stone, mud, and timbers, which still remain on view. The Mogollon used the cliff dwellings as a base for farming, hunting and fishing.

Three hot springs are located near the cliff dwellings, accessed by short hikes. Scorpion Campground, near the base of the dwellings, is the main entry point to the Gila Wilderness.

This is a place where time stands still and feelings of peace and natural grandeur overcome the visitor.

Other more "civilized" recreation areas lie within the national forest at Lake Roberts, Bear Canyon Lake, and the Mimbres Valley. Here, the legacy of the Mimbres Indians is seen: abandoned villages and farming lands, and hot springs where the Mimbres, a branch of the Mogollon, gathered.

Remnants of the early Spanish age of exploration, and of Tchi-he-nde Apache habitation, are also on display. It is a region of few gas stations, motels and modern distractions; an incomparable, wild place.

There are few places where one can see a herd of longhorn antelope, or javelina, quietly going about their daily functions: feeding, frisking, making sounds, spending quiet moments resting, without the artificial environment of a national park with a few hundred other people gazing at the same display. Finding a hot spring disgorging water near the riverside, with natural pools created over thousand of years: this is another experience that can only be had in only a very few special places. Here, in the Gila Wilderness, these kinds of experiences are possible.

The essence of a wilderness area is that the dedicated nature lover must expend his or her own energy to get there, by hiking. Parking in a parking lot and walking around for a few minutes won't do it. Even camping in an organized campground does not provide the ultimate natural experience. You have to work to fully appreciate the natural wonders of the Gila Wilderness. Set apart, miles from the urban scene and commercial functions of society, this area is a truly special place, once the refuge of Geronimo and his Chiricahua Apache warriors, now preserved for all to enjoy.

On the next six pages, you'll find hiking opportunities, the geology of the region, and other attractions in the Wilderness and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

Fraser Bridges

Gila Wilderness Pages:


Enjoying the Wilderness



Mogollon, Pueblo & Apache

Nearby Attractions

About the Wilderness Area


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