May 8, 2010

The Gila Wilderness of Western New Mexico

Near the boundary of Arizona and New Mexico is a forested landscape of remote canyons and Mexican wolves. It is the Gila Wilderness and it was a beautiful place to spend a few days.

There were several areas we went. One is called the Cat Walk, which is a narrow trail (with metal catwalks and railings in places) that heads up a canyon on the west side of the Wilderness to this beautiful pool and waterfall. With temperatures in the upper 80's, it was a great place for a dip.

We also did a beautiful hike deep into the northside of the wilderness at 10,000 feet amongst Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. The day started out wonderful. Clear blue skies, moderate temperatures, and no signs of rain. However, about 4 miles in, I looked up at the sky and said to Linda, maybe we should head back, I think a thunderstorm is developing soon. No sooner did I say that that the thunder rumbeled overhead.

Within minutes, a bolt of lighning stuck a tree right next to us, and we took off running.  I'd never seen Maile take off the way she did when that bolt struck. Of course we didn't make it far before we realized we really couldn't run 4 miles on a mountain trail. So, we walked, but dashed between trees and open spots, hoping to stay low and avoid another strike.

Upon our return to the car, we took this picture of the storm above the mountains

We also went to the southside of the Gila Wilderness, where we went to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This tiny National Park unit surrounded by the National Forest contains a sheltered cover with pueblo ruins.

Inside the ruins are several houses, some still containing their food and utensils, including this one with 700 year old corn cobs.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings

West Fork Gila River

From there, we did a hike up the West Fork Gila River, which contains some of the last endemic Gila Trout in the world. This fish once lived throughout the Gila River system. But, agricultural diversions, stocking with non-native rainbow trout, and habitat loss of riparian trees along the riverside has reduced this fish to just a few miles of river today.

There were several sections of the nearby forest that has been burned by recent forest fires.

And, based on the thunderstorms we went through, several more were on their way (see the two smoke plumes in the distance?)

We really enjoyed our time in the Gila Wilderness and would like to return sometime. Perhaps this fall...

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