|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.
Catwalk and Whitewater Creek Trail (FT207)
Easy Hike of 1 hour to all day; 50-minute drive from Casitas
The Catwalk National Recreation Area offers all levels of hikers an excellent half to full day outing in the spectacular Mogollon Mountains. Located about 35 miles north of Casitas de Gila Guesthouses, the site is reached by taking US 180 north to the gown of Glenwood, and then turning right onto NM174 for 6 miles to its end in the Gila National Forest.
The Catwalk was developed in the 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Corps public works project. It takes its name from a metal walkway that was constructed for servicing an 18-inch iron pipe installed up Whitewater Creek gorge to supply water to an early 1900s mineral processing mill. Portions of the old pipeline still can be seen along the trail; however, no trace of the mill exists. Visitors to the Catwalk will find it an easily traversed, well-maintained hiking trail, extending up a strikingly beautiful narrow gorge filled with giant boulders, waterfalls and shady, quiet pools.
Whitewater Creek canyon is similar to the Mineral Creek canyon in that the canyon walls rise sheer and precipitously many hundreds of feet upward through complex layers of colorful volcanic rocks.
The first half-mile of the trail is easily accessible for the handicapped and for wheelchairs. A large portion of the trail is over an elevated metal walkway attached to the sheer walls of the gorge, providing a unique bird's-eye view of Whitewater Creek churning below.
Reopened in June, 2016, after having been closed for two years after devastating flooding, the rebuilt Catwalk covers about 2 miles round-trip. Whitewater Creek, below the catwalk, is accessible in many places as long as the water level is low and quiet.
Michael's Gila Nature Blog of April 2012 has more information on the Catwalk and its mining history.
Mogollon Ghost Town and a Hike Up Graveyard Gulch
Easy Hike of 1 to 2 hours; 70-minute drive from Casitas
With the discovery of even richer veins of ore on Silver Creek in the late 1800s, just over the ridge south of Cooney Camp on Mineral Creek (see Mineral Creek Trail FT201 above) one of the West's wildest and richest mining towns was born. In its heyday Mogollon boasted a population of some 3,000 to 6,000 souls and, because of its isolation, was truly one of the wildest, shoot-'em-up mining towns in the West. Mining continued up to the 1950s and resumed for a short time in the 1970s before coming to a halt.
Today, Mogollon is an interesting ghost town comprised of old wooden buildings and nearby mining sites with only a handful of hardy year-round residents. On Saturdays and Sundays between May and October, visitors to Mogollon will find a mining museum, craft store, and small cafe open for business. It should be noted that the last four miles of the road to Mogollon is slightly more than one lane wide with sheer drop offs, and the last half mile is not paved due to severe flooding in 2013.
The Graveyard Gulch hike is short in distance but long in history. Beginning at the old school house at the north end of the main street in Mogollon, a rough gravel road leads north 1-1/4 miles up Graveyard Gulch into the hills to end, as you might guess, at the old Mogollon graveyard. The road is rough, steep and in places passes over broken bedrock. While the road can be driven in a high-clearance vehicle, it is much better to make the pilgrimage on foot where the essence of this remarkable place will surely seep in your soul.
The hike up Graveyard Gulch is truly a time-warp hike. After passing a few buildings and evidence of modern civilization at the start of the hike, you are quickly transported into another era as you pass by old mine workings, tumbled-down miner's shacks and assorted decaying artifacts of human toil and struggle. After climbing a half a mile or so, a view back to the south down the canyon gives a good perspective of how Mogollon appeared in its former glory days. Towards the end of the hike the road becomes steeper and quite rocky before reaching a flat area covered with sparse trees and vegetation and red soil surrounding the overgrown fenced graveyard.
To wander through this old graveyard with its ornate to primitively-fashioned headstones and grave markers, poignant epitaphs, and cast iron family plot fences is to relive the history of Mogollon: young men struck down in their prime in the underground mines, babies dying in infancy, whole families wiped out by the Spanish flu. While there are many longer and spectacular hikes in the Gila, perhaps none will linger longer than your short trip up Graveyard Gulch.
Ascent of Whitewater Baldy and Crest Trail (FT182)
Moderate to Strenuous Hike of 6 to 9 hours; 2-hour drive from Casitas
The Whitewater Baldy and Crest Trail is a full-day, moderately difficult, 12-mile round trip hike through some of the highest portions of the Mogollon Range, including an ascent of Whitewater Baldy, the highest peak in the Gila Wilderness at 10,895 feet. This Gila Wilderness trail is for the more experienced and well-seasoned hiker who wants to savor the high country, yet be able to reflect on it while sitting in the hot tub at Casitas de Gila Guesthouses at the end of the day!
The journey from Casitas de Gila to the trailhead for this exceptional hike makes for a scenic and rewarding trip in itself. Follow US 180 for about 40 miles north of the Gila/Cliff area, going through Glenwood, and turn right onto NM 159 (locally-known as the Bursum Road). Follow NM 159 for about 31 miles to the Sandy Point Trailhead. Shortly after leaving US 180, Bursum Road rises steeply into the Mogollon Range and the Gila National Forest. Although narrow, steep, and full of hairpin switchbacks, the road is paved for the first 9 miles, until you reach the old mining town of Mogollon.
From Mogollon on, Bursum Road becomes an improved gravel/dirt road that is followed another 9 miles to the Sandy Point Trailhead at 9,132 feet. At the Sandy Point parking area two trails beckon. Heading north, FT 202 heads down into Mineral Creek Canyon to intersect with FT 201.
For the Crest Trail and the ascent of Whitewater Baldy, however, you will want to cross to the other side of Bursum Road, directly across from the parking area, where you will find the trailhead for FT 182, the Crest Trail, which leads south, climbing steadily up through ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, with patches of mountain aspen marking the passage of old forest fires. This is true alpine country hiking, complete with mountain meadows, small springs, and great vistas, culminating with the ascent of Whitewater Baldy, the highest point in the Gila Wilderness.
Hiking at Casitas de Gila and within 25 miles of the Casitas.