Gila Nat’l Forest in southern New Mexico covers 3.3 million acres of publicly owned land and contains the nation’s first Wilderness Area, which by law must remain undeveloped and without roads. The park offers visitors the opportunity to experience a vast array of landscapes, ranging from 10,000 ft. peaks to grassy valleys, from dry plains to lush pion and juniper forests. Gila is a place of peace for hikers who seek genuine solitude, or for StoryCorps facilitators with a few days off.
We barely scratched the surface of Gila Nat’l Forest’s offerings during our brief visit, but we certainly enjoyed ourselves. After an impromptu picnic in the truck while waiting out an evening hail storm, we soaked in the steaming Gila Hot Springs (above) to warm up. The waters soothed us for our next day’s hiking at Gila’s Cliff Dwellings.
The dwellings (above) have always been a popular destination, even before formal trails allowed thousands of tourists to to wonder about who might have inhabited these stony structures. Tucked neatly into large caves looming over the west fork of the Gila River, the dwellings were a safe haven for hunters and trappers after the original inhabitants were long gone, and the many artifacts that must have been left behind were poached long ago, leaving the identity of Gila’s people a mystery forever.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings were built under roofs of porous rock, which has slowly eroded over the years. The minerals contained in the rock left patterns of sooty black on almost every surface, a stark contrast to the colorful wild flowers and lush forests in the valley below.
After Gila, we visited City of Rocks State Park (below). A wild storm was rolling in across the desert and we could see the rain falling from miles away while we enjoyed blue skies.
City of Rocks is an odd spot: a fistful of giant boulders thrown to earth by a volcano thirty million years ago, or as folks say around here, by angry gods. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of stone and tufts of grass, with silence around every corner. Somehow we managed to find our way out, just as the late summer rain began to fall. We headed home to Las Cruces, well rested after two days in the wilderness.