Southwestern Guesthouses on 265 Acres
near Silver City, New Mexico
overlooking Bear Creek and the Gila Wilderness

Casitas de Gila Nature Blog

A Magnificent Southwest Landscape


Sacred Site of the Mogollon People, Craggy Stronghold for the Apache, Landmark for the Pioneers, Gateway to Bear Creek, and Nature’s Monument to Beauty

Southwest New Mexico scenery
Rising majestically above Bear Creek, Turtle Rock is the centerpiece of this Mid-Winter scene.


We do not know what the Mogollon People called the towering mass of cliffs rising majestically from the creek across from their village. Yet, most likely, they were spiritually moved by it as they emerged from their cluster of pit-houses in the predawn hours, watching as the first rays of the Sun burst once more over its summit to start the new day, or stood waiting for the luminous orb of the full moon to slowly rise over the shadowed mass of rock to illuminate their sacred evening dance. The Apaches treasured this special place along the creek as well, both as a reliable hunting ground for game, especially the Bighorn Sheep that favored its craggy cliffs, and, because of the gently sloping flat top of the fortress-like cliffs, as a safe haven for their old, young, and infirm, as well as their appropriated horses and cattle, while the warriors were off on another of their recurring raids.

sunset southwest new mexico
Glistening in the last rays of a Late Summer Sun, Turtle Rock has served as a visual magnet of inspiration since the days of the Mogollon People.

By the late 1800s, pioneer ranchers and settlers moving into the lush Gila Valley had various names for this prominent rocky landmark that was visible for miles around and which served as a guidepost for the entrance to Bear Creek, the shortest and best route of travel to the growing towns of Pinos Altos and Silver City. For some it was known as the Apache Corral; for others it was Bill Hooker’s Hill, marking the location of the headquarters for the expansive pioneer Hooker Ranch now nestled in the shadow of its cliffs. By the early 1950s, however, the lyrics of a new song inspired a more poetic name, that of Mockingbird Hill, which had become a hit tune throughout the U.S., made famous by Patti Page and several others.

Today, another name has been added to the lexicon with the imposing craggy butte now commonly referred to as Turtle Rock because of its turtleback-shaped profile.

Situated on the edge of Bear Creek and overlooking the incomparable Gila Wilderness a few miles distant to the north, Turtle Rock continues its long history of human attention as a much admired and photographed centerpiece of the marvelous landscape viewed from Casitas de Gila Guesthouses.


gila wilderness new mexico
Looking north at Turtle Rock from the Paradise Overlook Trail at Casitas de Gila towards the Gila Wilderness in the Pinos Altos Range (on right) and the Mogollon Mountains (on left), with Mogollon Baldy Peak (10,770 feet) on far left skyline. Note the horizontal bedding in the layers of welded tuff and pyroclastic breccias on the vertical cliffs.

The origins of Turtle Rock can be traced back some 28 million years ago to the Oligocene Epoch (note: link is a .pdf file), when the Bursum Caldera was erupting violently some 20 miles to the northwest, in the center of what is now the Gila Wilderness. Numerous eruptions within the caldera resulted in the deposition of thick sequences of pyroclastic volcanic material over the surrounding area, ranging from fine-grained welded tuffs to coarse-grained pyroclastic breccias.

Turtle Rock consists of layers of both welded tuff and pyroclastic breccias, which are composed of angular fragments of rhyolite and andesite set in a fine-grained matrix of welded tuff. Millions of years after the deposition of these volcanic rocks, tectonic faulting and uplift took place over the area during the Miocene Epoch (note: link is a .pdf file). This tectonic uplift resulted in the formation of the Silver City Range, a 19-mile-long mountain range extending northwest from Silver City to terminate at Turtle Rock on the east side of Bear Creek. Here, vertical movement along a major north-south trending high angle normal fault during this time period resulted in the uplift of the west facing craggy cliffs of Turtle Rock and the adjacent steep slopes of North and South Peak to the south. Following the uplift of Turtle Rock and North and South Peaks, millions of years of weathering and erosion then took place, ultimately resulting in the magnificent landscape as seen today across from Casitas de Gila Guesthouses.

pyroclastic breccias new mexico
Closeup of pyroclastic breccias found on Turtle Rock. Note horizontal bedding and angular fragments in the welded tuff matrix.
Gila Wilderness New Mexico
Looking north at eastern side of Turtle Rock with Gila Wilderness in the Pinos Altos Range (to right) and the Mogollon Mountain Range (to left) in background.


summer rainbow southwest new mexico
During the Summer Monsoon season, guests at Casitas de Gila are frequently treated to the spectacular sight of rainbows over Turtle Rock.

The craggy cliffs of Turtle Rock rise up as the dominant focal point within the vast mountainous landscape bordering Bear Creek, but nowhere as much so as when viewed from the edge of Bear Creek Canyon in front of Casitas de Gila. Looking north from anywhere on Casita lands, the commanding presence of Turtle Rock sets the mood and tone of the day, regardless of the time of year or weather. Indeed, after 16 years of living here, it is a rare day that one does not spend at least a few minutes marveling at this enduring gift of Nature’s beauty, exquisitely situated against the soaring mountainous peaks of the Gila Wilderness rising up a few miles to the north in the distance. Without question Turtle Rock is a southwestern landmark that will delight any Nature lover, photographer, or artist that has the opportunity to visit.

snow in southwest new mexico
Turtle Rock as seen from the Corral Road trail following an unusual Winter snowfall.
summer poppies new mexico
Turtle Rock as seen from the Corral Road during Summer with the hills covered with Summer Poppies.

summer sunset glow new mexico
Clouds rising behind Turtle Rock in the late afternoon create ever-changing, majestic landscapes in front of the Casitas.

While it is very true that a picture is worth a thousand words, in the case of Turtle Rock it is also true that a photograph rarely captures that innermost deep feeling that moves one to pick up the camera in the first place. Nevertheless one keeps trying.

The following photos have been selected from literally several thousand taken over the past 16 years in an ongoing attempt to record the incredible beauty and changes of mood of the unique and very special landscape of Turtle Rock and its surroundings that continue to greet one’s eye and inspire one’s Spirit day after day, month after month, year after year.


snow in southwest new mexico
Looking north from the Casitas at Turtle Rock in early morning light after a rare fresh snowfall.

winter in southwest new mexico
A typical Winter scene from the Casitas of a half-shadowed Turtle Rock overlooking a forest of brilliant white-barked cottonwoods and occasional red-leafed sycamores lining Bear Creek with the cloud-shrouded peaks of the Pinos Altos Mountains in the Gila Wilderness in the distance.
gila wilderness winter
Turtle Rock cloaked in a rare pre-dawn fog in Mid Winter.


gila wilderness new mexico spring
In Early Spring the cliffs of Turtle Rock take on a warmer shade of tan as the buds in the cottonwoods lining Bear Creek take on a hint of yellow-green, while a rainbow forms over the Gila Wilderness.
gila wilderness spring
By Late Spring, Turtle Rocks takes on an even warmer tone as the Sun soars ever higher in the sky and the Bear Creek riverine forest puts on its brightest show of yellow-green.


summer rainbow southwest new mexico
Often during the Summer Monsoon season a break in the clouds following a late afternoon thunderstorm will create a moment of pure magic.
silver city new mexico scenery
With the Summer rain, Turtle Rock turns into a green-backed turtle!

gila wilderness new mexico
As the Summer afternoon Sun slowly sets in the West, Turtle Rock will change from yellow, to orange, and then to red just for an instant before … lights out!
monsoon rain scenery new mexico
And then, just when one thinks one has seen it all … the Magic of Turtle Rock will put on a display that simply leaves one breathless.


fall in the Gila Wilderness
As Fall comes on, the Sun arcs lower in the sky and the days and nights begin to cool and Turtle Rock takes on a more somber tone, reflecting the deeper shade of blue in the skies above and the turning of the cottonwood leaves along Bear Creek.
fall along Bear Creek at Casitas de Gila
As the days shorten, shadows lengthen and the colors of the turning leaves are set in exquisite tonal harmony against the soaring cliffs of Turtle Rock.

cottonwoods in southwest new mexico
In the morning light, Turtle Rock is in shadow, providing the perfect counterpoint of contrast to the peaking of the cottonwood leaves ablaze along Bear Creek.
Fall in the Gila Wilderness
Once the leaves peak along the Creek and start to fade and fall, the towering shadowed cliffs of Turtle Rock will remain as an essential focal point of contrast in this gorgeous scene until the last of the color is gone and the more somber tones of Winter once more return.