Silver City is situated on the southern border of the Gila National Forest, a 3.3-million-acre region in southwest New Mexico. This national forest, which is just slightly smaller in acreage than the state of Connecticut, includes 170 miles of the Continental Divide and ranges in elevation from 4.500 feet in the Chihuahuan Desert to nearly 11,000 feet at the summit of Whitewater Baldy. In its boundaries are three national wilderness areas (in which the only travel permitted is by foot, horseback, or canoe; there are no roads):
Gila Wilderness, which was the nation’s first designated wilderness (established on June 3, 1924); 558,065 acres
Aldo Leopold Wilderness, named for the great conservationist who’d urged the establishment of the Gila Wilderness; 202,016 acres
Blue Range Wilderness, which adjoins Arizona’s Blue Range Primitive Area along the borders of the two states; 29,304 acres
The Gila National Forest also includes Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, the home to Mogollon Native Americans in the 13th century which was established as a national monument in 1907.
It’s also home to a number of developed campgrounds, one of which is the Cosmic Campground: the first designated International Dark Sky Sanctuary in North America as well as the first to be situated in a national forest. Dark Sky Sanctuaries are areas established to preserve their light-free environments at night; they’re great for stargazing and other astronomical research.
Nancy and I planned to go to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, where dogs aren’t allowed, on Sunday, January 16, and the dog-boarding business in Silver City didn’t accept dogs on Sundays, so we dropped Gunther off on the morning of January 15 (he had a terrific time on the weekend, by all accounts) and headed to one of the many hiking trails in the Gila National Forest, Big Tree Trail.
True to its name, the Big Tree Trail leads to an alligator juniper tree that towers over most of the other trees in the area. The trail connects with a number of other named trails in the immediate area, making for a number of different one-way and loop hiking options. Our hike turned out to be a five-mile loop, and it was a fantastic experience.
After a pleasant snack break at a picnic table underneath the Big Tree, we began our return to the trailhead.
The Big Tree hike was immensely rewarding, and Nancy and I are looking forward to enjoying more hikes in the area when we return to Silver City.