Hiking,  Hiking Stories,  Locations,  New Mexico

A Frosty Drive in the Gila National Forest

This weekend, Brandon, Mom, and I went out to New Mexico. As you may have noticed, this isn’t our first visit to this part of the world–we have a close family friend who lives out here and we’re always looking for an excuse to see her.

One thing that has astounded me about New Mexico is the amount of wilderness open to the public, from national parks to wildlife refuges, national monuments and official Wilderness Areas, each completely unique.

The Gila National Forest is one of them. It is enormous. For perspective, the largest ranch in Texas is 825,000 acres. The Gila is 3.3 million acres.



Snow had just fallen in the valley when we went for a drive and it was a gorgeous day. Frost was covering our windshields, draping the plants, and piling up along the edges of mule deer tracks.



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We explored Highway 15, which cuts a winding route northwards from the town of Pinos Altos. And by winding, I mean very winding. They reminded me of the zig-zaggy roads of Italy….if you’ve ever driven there, you will be able to relate.


More on this route: Highway 15 will take you from Silver City through the tiny mapdot town of Pinos Altos (check out the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House there), and into the National Forest. From there can get to Lake Roberts, where you will see a pair of Bald Eagles who nest on the lake’s main island.  Eventually the road leads to the Gila Wilderness, the first wilderness area ever established in the United States, and on to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. When I ask people in Silver City the number one thing to see, they always say the cliff dwellings. A required stop if you’re ever in the area. Nat Geo’s writeup of this drive in greater detail here: Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway..




As we drove, I kept looking up at the hills and seeing mounds of oreos and ice cream, and occasional spots where the ice cream had melted down near the creeks. I think they were taunting me, knowing I would be starting Whole30 soon.



Eventually the road took us out of the oreo wilderness and tall pines and into an expanse of younger, shorter, and bushier trees. This was where we had the best view of the surrounding hills.



National forest as far as the eye can see.


We hit it just at the right time, because while it was cold, it wasn’t frigid, and the frosting of snow everywhere created such an elegant scene.



(My jacket can be found here: Columbia TurboDown Interchange Jacket.)






And we got to enjoy it all from the warmth of our car! We Texans cant get too cold, you know.

There is so much to see within the borders of the Gila, I definitely think it is worth driving out from El Paso or Albuquerque and spending a few days.

More information on the Gila–

PS. Gila is pronounced Heela.