Popular theory says that the word Gila was derived from a Spanish contraction of Hah-quah-sa-eel, a Yuma Indian word meaning, "running water which is salty." The naming of the Gila National Forest is indicative of its interesting history and expansive beauty. This 3.3 million-acre forest, tucked away in southwestern New Mexico, is ever-flowing with an abundance of wildlife and vegetation. Exploring its varied terrain would take a lifetime and its untouched remoteness is an absolute paradise for those seeking solitude and escape from modern society's busy lifestyle.

At Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch, we are lucky to call the Gila National Forest our home. Our guided tours on horseback offer an in-depth history of the area and all those who wandered this land thousands of years before us. Begin your exploration of this expansive forest by reading on below then experience the enchantment first hand with a stay at Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch. 

Flora and Fauna

The Gila's beauty is in its diversity of rugged mountains, deep canyons, meadows, and semi-desert country. Elevations range from 4,200 to 10,900 feet. Ocotillo and cactus are found in the lower elevations, and juniper, pine, aspen, and spruce-fir forests are plentiful in the high mountains. Wildlife such as the black bear, mountain lion, elk, antelope, and wild turkey inhabit the Forest while the bald eagle and the red-tailed hawk soar in the wind. It is not uncommon to witness sightings of such wildlife while traveling to and from the ranch, while out on the trails, or while at the cabins relaxing on one of our porch swings.

Another unique beauty of the Gila National Forest is its three sweeping wilderness areas. The Gila, Aldo Leopold, and Blue Range Wildernesses offer unparalleled hiking and horseback riding.  Exploring these untouched mountainous regions of the West, the way they were always meant to be seen - on horseback, will impart an indescribable feeling of awe and wonderment. 

The Black Range Ranger District

The Black Range Ranger District is located in the easternmost portion of the Gila National Forest. It comprises 552,615 acres. You’ll pass over and through this mountain range on the drive to and from the ranch. A large portion of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness lies within the Black Range Ranger District, as well as a small portion of the Gila Wilderness.

The Black Range Mountains stand as a prominent landmark in the District. Elevations here range between 4,200 feet to over 10,000 feet. Precipitation varies from 12 inches in the southern woodlands to over 20 inches in the higher elevations. The District features a great diversity of habitats, from the desert and arid grasslands to a mixed conifer forest of spruce and fir above 9,000 feet. Pinon and juniper woodlands and ponderosa pine dominate the landscape between 6,500 and 8,000 feet.

Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Named after the famous conservationist, Aldo Leopold, whose life’s work encouraged the Forest Service in 1924 to set aside more than 500,000 acres of high mountains, streaming rivers, and serene desert land surrounding the Gila River. This land became the first federally-recognized Wilderness area in the country.

The Black Range District is best known for access to the rugged Aldo Leopold Wilderness. There are many recreational opportunities within the District for those seeking outdoor adventure. There are approximately 263 miles of trails, the majority of which are in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs along the Black Range crest and forms part of the trail system. While only two designated campgrounds exist in the District, dispersed camping opportunities abound. A large portion of the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway traverses the District as well.

Into the Wilderness

The Gila and the Aldo Leopold Wildernesses together comprise over 750,000 acres. Deep canyons with sheer cliffs and crystal clear spring-fed streams run through high mountain overlooks, open meadows, Ponderosa, Juniper and Pinyon forests. Come experience the beauty of the Gila National Forest for yourself, with 360-degree views of pristine, untouched wilderness, you’ll find no motorized vehicles, stop lights, or telephone wires here, just horse and foot travel.

A Native Past

The Gila National Forest boasts a rich history of the Mogollon and Apache Indians, Spaniards, Mexicans, ranchers, prospectors and miners. Apache Chiefs Mangas Coloradas, Geronimo, whom our ranch was named after, and Victorio. Aldo Leopold: conservationist, ecologist and author of the Sand County Almanac, and renowned lion hunter, Ben Lilly are but a few of the personalities who have left their mark in the Gila. Places within the Gila with names like Raw Meat Canyon, Tepee Canyon, and Grave Canyon tell the tales of the past.

While you’re at the ranch, you’ll see this history come to life! While riding through the boundless wilderness, take a step back in time and experience 1,000-year-old pit houses and cliff dwellings of the Mimbres people who were in this area from 200-1150 AD, search for pottery shards and artifacts, and view pictographs painted on the rock walls by these early people!

Gila National Forest history

The Legacy of Gila

During one of Aldo Leopold's hunting trips into the Gila National Forest he stated, "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then that there was something new to me in those eyes. Something known only to her and to the mountain."

"I was young then and full of trigger-itch. I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view." Such is the legacy of the Gila; a beautiful and unique forest with majestic mountains; a complex interwoven fabric of all living things.

Popular Areas

With the Gila encompassing 3.3 million-acres of land, there are many highlights to see while exploring this great wilderness. The San Francisco, Gila, and Mimbres Rivers, the Catwalk National Scenic Trail, the Pueblo Park Campground, the Gila Cliff Dwellings, Mogollon Baldy, Castle Rock, Eagle Peak Mountain, Emory Pass, and the Burro Mountains are among the many islands of beauty in the Gila. Other areas of interest include Cooney's Tomb, El Caso Lookout Tower, Beaverhead, Reed's Peak, the Frisco Hot Springs, and Cherry Creek.

New Mexico is the fifth-largest state with so much to see and do. Extend your stay at the ranch and discover all the wonders the Land of Enchantment has to offer.

Gila Cliff Dwellings
A Ghost Town | Chloride, NM

We operate in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, and we subscribe to Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.


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