The Gila Wilderness Celebrates Its Centennial!

It was 100 years ago this June that the Gila Wilderness was set aside as the first nationally designated wilderness in the United States. On June 3, 1924, due to the tireless efforts of the great conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold, 559,688 acres of pristine, unspoiled land was preserved into what is now the largest wilderness area in New Mexico. This year celebrates the Gila Wilderness Centennial! 

If you’re ready to celebrate the beauty our mesmerizing region has to offer request your free New Mexico Itinerary and start planning your vacation today!

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What is the Gila Wilderness?

Located in southwest New Mexico, north of Silver City, and east of Reserve, the Gila Wilderness is one of three wilderness areas that make up the larger Gila National Forest. The Gila Wilderness, the Blue Range Wilderness, and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness together encompass 791,000 acres within the 3.3 million acre Gila National Forest. They comprise of grassland foothills, juniper woodlands, Ponderosa Pine forests, open meadows, aspen glades, and rock-walled canyons reaching depths of more than a thousand feet!

At more than half a million acres in size, the Gila Wilderness covers both Catron and Grant counties. The West, Middle, and much of the East Fork of the Gila River are within its boundaries and are the longest free-flowing rivers in New Mexico.

The Gila Wilderness at Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch

Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch lies within the Black Range District, and while we won’t cross into the Gila Wilderness directly, while at the ranch you can still gaze upon its vast rolling mountain scape from many of our horseback rides. For instance, several of the trail rides at our ranch take you to the start of the East Fork of the Gila River. Also, atop one of our viewpoints, you can gaze upon the Mogollon Mountains which are within the Gila Wilderness boundaries.

The Mogollon’s contain Whitewater Baldy: the tallest peak within the Mogollon’s at nearly 11,000 feet elevation! Finally, in the northeast corner of the Gila Wilderness, you can find Black Mountain (9,303 feet). Black Mountain is less than 10 miles from the ranch and is one of our local landmarks.

What Makes This Wilderness Area Unique?

Gila Wilderness

U.S. Wilderness Areas do not allow motorized or mechanized vehicles – including bicycles. Roads, buildings, logging, mining, etc. are not permitted. Only foot and horse traffic is allowed. However, the Gila Wilderness is not completely untouched. The Mimbres people lived in this area over 1,000 years ago, leaving behind cliff dwellings, pottery shards, arrowheads, pictographs, and other evidence of their culture. 500 years ago, the Chiricahua band of Apache came into the Gila and dominated throughout the late 19th century. Geronimo himself considered his birthplace to be at the headwaters of the Gila River. Less than 50 years after the Apaches were gone from the forest, the National Forest System designated the Gila Wilderness the first wilderness area.

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold is considered the father of the United States’ wilderness system. He was a renowned conservation pioneer. His vision was to set aside large tracts of undeveloped land. He wanted to give people an opportunity to escape. As is still true today, the urbanization of America constricts people to landscapes filled with cars, buildings, and other trappings of civilization.

Gila Wilderness










In his classic text, A Sand County Almanac, you can read more about Aldo Leopold.

“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect,” Leopold wrote in the introduction to his A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There. Published posthumously, the book lays out his notion of land ethic—a relationship between people and nature. “Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free.”


“Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order…. I contrived to get the Gila headwaters withdrawn as a wilderness area, to be kept as pack country, free from additional roads, ‘forever.’” Draft forewordCompanion to A Sand County Almanac.

After the Gila Wilderness became the first federally recognized Wilderness area in the country, it served as a model for future wilderness preservation. Leopold worked for the newly formed Forest Service whose management policies of its vast natural resources were for the betterment of humanity. However, after spending time out in the wild, Leopold’s opinions changed. He began to believe that the best management policy for natural resources would be to simply leave them alone.

Leopold had spent time in southwestern New Mexico and felt the Gila was the best choice for wilderness preservation. Not only had the Apache kept settlers out for hundreds of years, but the topography of the region had also prevented development. In honor of his contributions, a quarter-million acres next to the Gila Wilderness was set aside as the Aldo Leopold Wilderness.

Celebrate the Gila Wilderness Centennial

What better way to celebrate the Gila Wilderness Centennial than by booking a trip to Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch today? Contact us for availability.