US National Forests

Welcome… to the Gila National Forest

This forest covers the western part of Sierra County, with a wide range of wilderness treasures offered up to all those who visit.

The index below will take you to categories that provide information on specific areas of interest within the Gila National Forest.
 

 

Photos Courtesy of: Andrea Martinez-Public Affairs Officer, Gila National Forest
Content from the: Gila National Forest Pocket Guide
Gila National Forest   3005 E. Camino del Bosque  
Silver City, NM  88061
575  388-8201   TTY/TDD 575  388-8489
Visit Website at: http://www2.srs.fs.fed.us/r3/gila/
 
Mogollon Mountains
 
Gila National Forest Introduction

Welcome to Gila National Forest, 3.3 million acres of publicly owned forest and range land rising above the desert country of southwestern New Mexico.  This is a rugged realm of cactus and grass, juniper and pine, spruce and aspen, and few people.  The Gila contains more federal land than any other national forest outside Alaska.  One unit lies less than 50 miles from the Mexican border.  The main unit forms an irregular outline about 65 by 100 miles in area just north of Silver City.  The Continental Divide meanders for 170 miles through this awesome canyon country, once the stronghold of Apache warrior Geronimo and his followers.  Centuries ago, cliff dwelling tribes lived here, and the remains of their homes are scattered throughout the forest.  One outstanding example has been preserved for today’s visitor by the Forest Service and National Park Service at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and Gila Visitor Center.  The mountain ranges of the Gila include the Mogollon, Tularosa, Diablo, Big Burro, San Francisco and Mangas Mountains, and the Black Range.  Elevations start at 4,500 feet in the desert and rise to almost 10,000 feet on the often snow-covered crest of Whitewater Baldy.

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Gila River   Gila Cliff Dwellings 

Recreation

The scenic drives, camp and picnic grounds, rushing streams and majestic mountains of the Gila draw thousands of visitors each year.  Leisure travel through the forest is the most popular recreational use.  A favorite route is the 110-mile Inner Loop Scenic Byway; from Silver City to Mimbres Valley, down Sapillo Creek, across the Pinos Altos Mountains and back to Silver City, with a side trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  Other beautiful and scenic drives are from Silver City to Hillsboro over the south end of the Black Range; and a 235 mile route known as the Outer Loop from Silver City through Glenwood, Reserve and Beaverhead to a junction with the Inner Loop near the village of Mimbres.  You may enjoy the tall timber around Reserve or Willow Creek, the famous "Catwalk" National Recreation Trail in Whitewater Canyon near Glenwood, the historic Fort Bayard area, or the fabled gold mining ghost town of Mogollon.

A pleasant surprise to many Gila visitors is the number and quality of fishing streams found here- almost 500 miles worth.  Stream species rang from lower-elevation flathead and channel catfish, to bass in the middle reaches, and wild brown and stocked rainbow trout above 6,000 feet.  Hidden deep in Gila’s wildernesses are the southernmost native populations of Rio Grande cutthroat trout and, rarest of all, the unique, endangered Gila trout.  Presently protected from fishing, this golden colored native might once again be sought by anglers thanks to ongoing restoration efforts.  The finest stream fishing awaits those who are willing to "pack in".  Major streams at least partially accessible by road include all forks of the Gila River, upper San Francisco, Willow Creek, Negrito Creek, and Whitewater Creek.  Trout can also be taken at such popular lakes as Quemado, Lake Roberts, Snow Lake, Wall Lake, and Bear Canyon Reservoir.  The Gila’s river systems are also a refuge for such sensitive, threatened, and endangered species as the spikedance, loach minnow, and Chihuahua and roundtail chubs.

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   Gila Cliff Dwelllings 

Wilderness

The Gila includes more wilderness than any other national forest in the southwest.  This undeveloped natural country can refresh the human spirit simply by it’s grandeur, purity, and remoteness.  Three areas have been set aside, places man can visit and enjoy but not change.  The 558,065 acre Gila Wilderness, created in June 1924 at the urging of the great conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold, was the world’s first designated wilderness.  It is now bordered on the east by the 202,016 acre Aldo Leopold Wilderness.  The 29,304 acre Blue Range Wilderness adjoins Arizona’s rugged Blue Range Primitive Area.  Together these areas comprise a vast, roadless realm astride the Black, Mogollon, Diablo, and Blue mountain ranges, varying from grassland foothills upward through juniper woodland, ponderosa pine, and then spruce-fir forests on the high peaks. Mountain meadows, aspen glades, and spruce forests border on narrow, rock-walled canyons which in some places plunge to depths of more than a thousand feet.  In wilderness there are no roads; the only travel permitted is by foot or horseback.  You will find no logging, resorts nor commercial uses of any kind except grazing.  Hunting and fishing, however, are open to all citizens under New Mexico game laws.

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elk_willowcr-o.jpg (69068 bytes) 
Wildlife

Wildlife and fish are valuable resources of the Gila.  Each year thousands of wildlife enthusiasts flock to the forest, providing an important source of income for merchants of nearby communities.  A common big game species in the Gila is the Rocky Mountain mule deer.  There also are many of the beautiful Sonoran whitetail or "Coues" deer.  Antelope find forage on the grassland areas, and black bear, deer and turkey are found throughout the forest.  Javelina, or peccary, prefer to live in the warmer parts of the Gila.  Where the now extinct Merriam’s elk once reigned, the majestic Rocky Mountain elk now roam in significant numbers ranging from the lower elevations of pinion and juniper country up into the aspen high country.  Ft. Bayard Wildlife Refuge, east of Silver City, offers the unique possibility of viewing elk habits during the fall breeding season.  In 1964, bighorn sheep were reintroduced into the Gila country and have since held their own.

Game animals of the Gila are unsurpassed, with numerous trophy class animals being taken in recent years.  The Gila’s other wildlife include the reclusive mountain lion, porcupines, bobcats, ringtails, coatis, several species of bats, many small mammals, and 291 species of birds, including golden eagles, goshawks, and the great horned, flammulated, and Mexican spotted owls.  Altogether, ther are 453 species of vertebrates to be found in the Gila, including 35 sensitive, threatened, or endangered species.

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Water

Water is the lifeblood for all activities and is especially vital in the arid southwest.  Most of the water available for use in this region comes from the mountain lands which make up much of the national forests.  The Forest Service is charged with protecting and improving the water producing capabilities of the mountain watersheds.  Rain and snow on the Gila bring 12 to 28 inches of water a year to the thirsty land, more than 5 million tons of water annually.  Although timber, grass, and shrubs use some of the moisture, they more than pay their way by stabilizing the soil, thus allowing the remaining water to feed underground basins, creeks, springs, and man-made water developments, as as well as the Gila, San Francisco, Mimbres, and Rio Grande rivers.

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Photo Gallery 
(click photos
to enlarge)

Cienega   Gila River   Mollogon Mountains   Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings  
Elk  

Photos Courtesy of: Andrea Martinez-Public Affairs Officer, Gila National Forest
Content from the: Gila National Forest Pocket Guide
Gila National Forest   3005 E. Camino del Bosque  
Silver City, NM  88061
575  388-8201   TTY/TDD 575  388-8489
Visit Website at: http://www2.srs.fs.fed.us/r3/gila/