Let’s get this straight right up front. There are no gila monsters in the Gila National Forest. Now we can all relax.
After we drove around in a bunch of white sand, we headed west to Silver City, New Mexico. One thing we have found to be immensely helpful is to find the nearest ranger district office and stop in and grab maps and talk to a ranger about things. I mean, we are about to enter a 2.7 million acre forest, so it’s nice to know the good spots. We got a forest map and decided to check out several free campgrounds near the 700-year old Mogollon pueblo known as Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument since we knew we’d want to visit that spot.
The 30-plus mile drive into the forest was, again, winding and steep in spots. But the drop-offs and the views were unlike anything we had encountered thus far. Wayne white-knuckled his way around the switchbacks, which would have been impossible with a longer camper…there is an alternate route.
We chose the Forks Campground because it was the best one for access with a camper. The others are geared for tent camping. There are no services, only fire rings. Oh, and vault toilets. But that’s okay, because it is FREE and you can stay up to 14 days. And toilets aren’t an issue since we have our own portable one. But that’s another post.
Forks Campground is located right on the west fork of the Gila River, so there’s water aplenty if you can filter or purify it. There is also free potable water at the Visitor Center.
We saw mule deer tracks and sure enough, actual mule deer when we hiked down along the river that first evening. And birds. So. Many. Birds.
The cliff dwellings are located a few miles up the forest road from our campground. We drove up and deposited Missy into one of the five kennel boxes at the base of the trail to the dwellings since no pets are allowed on that trail. There is no charge for this. On the trail we encountered several Spiny Crevice Lizards and A TARANTULA HAWK. If you don’t know what that is and are squeamish, DO NOT GOOGLE IT.
Fun Facts about the Gila:
Gila National Forest was established in 1899.
Geronimo, the famous Apache chief (1829-1909), said: I was born by the headwaters of the Gila.
At the urging of the great conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold, the Gila Wilderness became the first designated wilderness area in the world in 1924.
Gila River water is very cold in early April, but on an 80 degree day it feels absolutely marvelous. There’s a good swimming hole at the Forks Campground.
Wiki about the cliff dwellings here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gila_Cliff_Dwellings_National_Monument