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On Walkabout On: New Mexico Highway 180 To the Gila Mountains

I have driven up to New Mexico’s Gila Mountains before and on my prior trip I drove through the eastern portion of the mountain range on New Mexico Highway 152 which eventually connected me to the road that leads to the incredible Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  On my prior trips to the Gila Mountains I have always found them to be one of the most scenic areas of the state.  The Gilas are a rugged and remote mountain range in the southwest corner of the state that is a perfect place for people seeking solitude in the outdoors because there are so few people who live or even visit this part of the state.  To further explore the Gila Mountains my wife and I decided to take a trip and explore the western portion of this mountain range by hiking up the Catwalk Trail.  We drove to Silver City, New Mexico and from there drove north on Highway 180 towards the Gila Wilderness:

Map from Sunset Magazine.

These mountains are protected as part of the Gila National Forest which encompasses over 3.3 million acres of publicly owned land.  The national forest was established in 1905 and is the 6th largest in the nation.  The diversity of this national forest is incredible since it encompasses everything from dry desert scrubland, to lush forests, rugged canyons, and mountains that rise over 10,000 feet in altitude.  The remoteness of the Gila Mountains has allowed it to become home to a wide variety to wildlife to include deer, elk, bears, and mountains lions.  A number of maps of the Gila Wilderness can be downloaded from the National Forest Service website.

When driving north from Silver City the mountains are always hovering off in the distance as the highway crosses a vast and rugged desert:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

While driving along the highway I happened to spot this old cemetery along the side of the road:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

The desert appeared to have long ago reclaimed this old cemetery:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

I would assume the people buried here must have been homesteaders that once grazed cattle in this area that were probably as tough and rugged as the mountains that their final resting place had a spectacular view of:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

Looking from a distance it is actually hard to believe that just a short distance from this dry desert is a lush alpine landscape that was once home to such famous Native-Americans as Geronimo and Victorio:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

As we continued to drive further north on Highway 180 we came to nice lookout that provided some further views of the Gilas:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

Here is a close up look at a prominent canyon that can be seen from the lookout:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

The high mountain at the center of the below picture is actually of the high point of the Gila Mountains, Sacaton Baldy Mountain that rises to an elevation of 10,658 feet:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

Besides the views of the mountains there was an area along Highway 180 just south of the small village of Pleasanton that offered views of some spectacularly eroded cliffs:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

After seeing these eroded cliffs I wanted to hike up into this valley and check it out but unfortunately I just didn’t have enough time available to do so, oh well maybe next time:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

Picture from the Gila Mountains

Eventually Highway 180 reached the small town of Glenwood where the turn off to the start of the Catwalk Trail is located.  The Catwalk is trail that was constructed decades ago by miners that hung suspension bridges through a narrow canyon to access their diggings.  The miners are long gone but the Catwalk remains a popular hiking destination for visitors to this area of the Gila Wilderness.  The trailhead for the Catwalk is located just outside the town in a wide valley with a creek flowing through it.  Along the hillsides the remains of the past mining operations that made the Catwalk can still be seen:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

Here is a closer look and the mining remains:

Picture from the Gila Mountains

From here is where our hike up into the Gila Mountains along the Catwalk Trail begins.  It would prove to be one of the most awesome as well as unusual trails I have hiked on in New Mexico.

Next Posting:  The Catwalk Trail

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