|Hiking Opportunities in Southwest New Mexico …
Your hosts at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses are happy to provide maps, driving directions, and other appropriate information on these hike to guests at the Casitas.
Trails Farther from the Casitas …
Gila Cliff Dwellings Loop Trail and West Fork of the Gila Trail (FT 151)
A Hike through History to Grudging's Grave and a Remote Cliff Dwelling
Easy to Moderate Hike of 1 hour for Cliff Dwellings Loop and 3 hours for FT 151; 2-hour drive from Casitas
Season: Cliff Dwellings, year-round; Loop Trail, mostly year-round except during high water
The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, located about 40 miles north of Silver City in the heart of the Gila Wilderness at the end of SR 15, is a favorite full-day outing for guests staying at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses and Art Gallery. A visit to the Cliff Dwellings Monument offers the opportunity for an easy, one-mile self-guided nature hike along the Cliff Dweller Canyon Loop Trail to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Then, if desired, an additional easy 6-mile round-trip hike can be made up and back down the rugged canyon of the West Fork of the Gila River, visiting an interesting pioneer homestead grave and a prehistoric Native American dwelling site along the way.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings offer a rare chance to part the veils of time and observe a bit of the lifestyle of the Mogollon Culture of Native Americans who inhabited the Gila region around 1300 AD. The Cliff Dwellings complex is fairly extensive, and some of the numerous mud and stone structures display multi-storied architecture. The structures are very well preserved and nicely situated in a series of sandstone caves about 150 feet above the floor of a small but beautiful little canyon with a small running stream.
After a visit to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, an easy 3-mile hike up the West Fork of the Gila Trail (FT151) can be made starting from the trailhead nearby. This will allow you to further appreciate some of the geology and beautiful rugged canyon characteristics of the interior part of the Gila Wilderness. This short hike will also take you by the pioneer homestead of William Grudging who, as his tombstone relates, on October 8, 1883, was "waylayed and murdered by Tom Wood". The circumstances surrounding this murder make for an interesting investigation into the prioneer history of the area after your return to the Casitas. The turn-around point for the 3-mile hike up the canyon is another small and remote cliff dwellings near a large cave on the west side of the river. These sites offer much for the visitor to ponder on the 3-mile return hike down the canyon.
Mineral Creek Trail (FT 201), Cooney's Tomb, and Cooney Mining Camp
Moderate Hike of 4 hours to all day; 70-minute drive from Casitas
Season: year-round, except monsoon season (July 1 to Sept. 15) and spring runoff time
Alma is a small community about 6 miles north of the town of Glenwood on US 180, and some 36 miles north of Casitas de Gila Guesthouses. From "downtown" Alma, county-maintained Mineral Creek Road extends about 6 miles east into the Gila National Forest (FR 701) to dead-end at the Mineral Creek Trailhead (FT 201). We think that the Mineral Creek Trail is one of the most spectacular, easily-accessible half-day hikes in Southern New Mexico. The trail closely follows the creek bed of Mineral Creek canyon, a magnificent narrow gorge lined with shear, 1000 to 1500 foot towering cliffs of yellow, orange, pink, red, white, and dark-colored volcanic lava and ash flows. The trail ranges from easy to moderate difficulty, depending upon the amount of water flowing in the creek.
Mineral Creek takes its name from the extensive mining that took place here beginning in the 1870s when Sergeant James Cooney mustered out of the U.S. Army and began mining gold from veins he had discovered while chasing Apaches just after the Civil War. Cooney's discovery brought others, and soon the bustling mining camp of Cooney had grown to several hundred souls seeking their fortune about a mile and a half up the canyon from today's trailhead.
The story of how Sgt. Cooney was killed by the Apache chief Victorio and his band in 1880, and then buried by his brother and fellow miners in a tomb blasted out of a huge boulder (which can still be visited near the trailhead by the side of the road; be sure to visit the cemetery behind the tomb, too) is a marvelous saga of local history. Read Agnes Meader's first-hand account of this Indian attack, known as the "Alma Massacre."
Mining flourished in Cooney after Geronimo's surrender in 1886, but the camp's days were soon drawing to a close for other reasons. Around the time of Cooney's death, even richer veins of gold and silver were being discovered along Silver Creek, just over the ridge to the south, leading to the development of the rip-roaring mining town of Mogollon and the eventual abandonment of the Cooney Camp after a series of devastating floods on Mineral Creek around the turn of the century.
Today, only a few remnants of Cooney remain: a few foundations here, an old outhouse there, a few wooden shacks, a 100-year-old apple orchard, and scattered bits and pieces of quipment around the abandoned mines. But if you sit quietly under that huge apple tree or under one of the nearby ponderosa pines and close your eyes, the essence of Cooney and the spirits of those ever-toiling hardy souls are still there. You will love it!
For more information on Cooney Camp and Mine, read Michael's blog entries of February 2012 and January 2014.
The Gold Dust Trail (FT 41)
Easy-to-Moderate Hike of 2 to 4 hours; 45-minute drive from Casitas
Season: year round; because of open southern exposure can be very hot in summer
The Gold Dust Trail (FT 41) goes up the north side of Whitewater Canyon on the western side of the Mogollon Mountains. It's approximately 2 miles long and covers basically the same stretch and distance along Whitewater Creek as the Catwalk Trail except that it contours along the north side of the canyon at an average of 600 feet above the Whitewater Creek at elevations of around 6,000 feet.
The trail is easy to follow, with moderate, low-angle up-and-down grades that afford spectacular views of the interior mountainous terrain of the Gila Wilderness to the east up the canyon and close-up views of the steep mountainous slopes and layers of volcanic rocks that comprise the south side of Whitewater Canyon, which lies directly a half-mile across from the trail.
Looking to the southwest and west, the trail offers a vast paorama extending from the broad San Francisco River valley in the foreground into the mountainous terrain of the Gila National Forest and Blue Range Wilderness, and even farther west into the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona.
Interesting volcanic rock formations are encountered every step of the way, along with a broad variety of high-desert flora such as piñon, juniper, wait-a-minute bush, mesquite, and yucca. At about the halfway point the trail crosses a small side canyon that commonly has a trickle of water and is shaded by a few piñon and juniper, affording a nice spot for lunch on a warm day.
Much of this trail is on an open, south-facing slope with little shade. Access to the Gold Dust trail head is excellent and suitable for all types of vehicles.
Lower Little Dry Creek Canyon Trail
Easy-to-Moderate Hike of 3 to 6 hours; 30-minute drive from Casitas
Season: year round except during high water times (spring runoff and summer monsoon season)
The Lower Little Dry Creek Canyon Trail follows the course of Little Dry Creek downstream to its junction with Big Dry Creek, which, in turn, can also be followed downstream to where it empties into the San Francisco River. For the hiker, except during times of high water, this trail offers a fascinating journey through deep canyons cut in multicolored volcanic rocks that are lined with ancient, white-barked sycamore trees. In the fall and winter these canyons become a feast for the eye as well as the camera when their gnarled, bone-white trunks and upper branches cloaked in russet red leaves are silhouetted against the clear cobalt blue sky. And in the late spring and early summer, once the mountain snowmelt runoff is over, these canyons are transformed into verdant tunnels of green, spotted here and there with wildflowers of many varieties.
Over the first half-mile of the trail, the landscape is one of low grass and juniper covered hills rising up from both sides of a broad Little Dry Creek floodplain. Then the canyon begins to narrow and rock outcrops begin to line both sides of the canyon. Gradually the canyon walls increase in height as the Creek is followed downstream. At places, interesting side canyons of various sizes will join Little Dry Canyon, which can be explored. At about 1.5 miles from the trail head Eliot Canyon will enter from the south. Eliot Canyon is a major tributary to Little Dry Creek and makes for an interesting side excursion, one that can easily take a whole day in itself, that is filled with extremely colorful volcanic rocks that tower above the canyon.
While this is an excellent easy-to-moderate hike across level terrain in unique and spectacular country, hikers are strongly advised to inquire about local existing conditions, regardless of the time of year, before taking this hike, due to the possibility of flash flooding.
For more information on the Lower Little Dry Creek Canyon Trail, see Michael's blog of April 2013.
Upper Little Dry Creek Trail
Easy-to-Moderate Hike of 3 to 6 hours; 45-minute drive from Casitas
Season: year round; susceptible to flash floods during spring runoff and summer monsoon season
The Upper Little Dry Creek Trail (FT 180), in the magnificent Mogollon Mountains of Catron County, offers spectacular access into the heart of the Gila Wilderness. From the trail head on Little Dry Creek, at an elevation of 6,300 ft., the trail extends some 11.5 miles to terminate at Apache Cabin, at a lofty 10,200 feet in elevation, where it junctions with the Holt-Apache Trail (FT 181), coming in from the west.
A leisurely hike of the first two miles of this trail will take you to the Gila Wilderness boundary.
Starting from the trail head parking area, which is accessible for all types of vehicles, the Upper Little Dry Creek Trail follows an unmaintained old mine road for a half-mile or so before becoming a well-defined foot and horse trail that closely parallels and at widely-spaced intervals crosses Little Dry Creek as it heads up the canyon.
While there is water in the creek year round, it will require purification because of the presence of the protozoan parsite Giardia. During summer monsoon season, hikers should remain aware of thunderstorms and possible flash flooding in the afternoon.
For more information on the Upper Little Dry Creek Trail, see Michael's blog of November 2013.