Thursday, August 13, 2009

Camping In The Gila National Forest, Part 3

By Richard Torres
This is the third installment of a series of articles about camping in Catron County. With the richness and beauty of the grand outdoors right at residents’ doorsteps, it is time to once again experience the call of the wild.
The Gila National Forest offers many possibilities for recreational activity. Fishing, ATV riding, hiking, mountain biking and exploring are available. Multiple camping areas abound to fit everyone’s needs. Once the traveling rig is loaded with supplies, extra gas and water, an understanding of following rules and regulations, load the passengers and hit the road.
A little more than 14 miles northeast of Reserve on Highway 12 is the Apache Creek cutoff for Forest Road 94. For our trip, this is the entry into the Gila National Forest. A wonderful campsite is just off the highway. Vault toilets, cooking grills, huge ponderosa pine trees and spacious campsites make it an ideal first-night stay. No cell phone service is available at the site.
Forest Road 94 is a maintained dirt road. A fifth wheel, travel trailer, truck and trailer or a vehicle on a day trip can navigate the road. For the next eight miles, the road turns and climbs up a small series of hills.
After about 21 miles of traveling, travelers reach a nice flat area with plenty of trees and a couple of narrow forest trails (4033Z and 4035N) to explore. Primitive camp sites are available in that area.
A few miles further, the road forks. Forest Road 289 to John Kerr Mountain, less than a mile, is an option. The junction abounds with trees, and with plenty of primitive sites available, it would be a wonderful camping area.
Continuing on Forest Road 94, the next 14 miles is a beautiful ride. Squirrels and turkeys were seen during the day. It is elk country, with plenty of other wildlife in the area.
The road begins to descend to the wide-open plains known as Collins Park. The road forks again just past that area. The adventure continues on Forest Road 28, which is a right turn toward Willow Creek and Snow Lake. For the next five or six miles, the road climbs through low brushy hills.
After another five miles of driving, the road tops off on a plateau. Trees are huge, with many spacious areas to camp. A narrow forest trail (141) is available to explore. That is another excellent camping area. No cell phone service is available.
Just two miles further is a fork in the road. Turn left to Willow Creek and Snow Lake (Forest Road 28). Continue straight ahead (Forest Road 141) to Reserve (35 miles): upward and onward … straight ahead.
Just past that junction is Forest Trail 4044G. It is narrow and bumpy; if one can traverse for less than a quarter-mile, there awaits a beautiful camping area. There are trees and trails to explore there. Numerous flat spots are available for trailers and tents to position for camping. Downed wood for a nice campfire at night is to be had there.
Eleven miles further down the road is Forest Road 153. Between the two spots are plenty of opportunities to pull over and take pictures, eat a snack, sneak in a nap or just enjoy the scenery and ride.
It was at the junction for Forest Road 153 that this reporter met KC Gehrt, wildlife conservation officer for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Gehrt, 30, has been assigned to the Gila National Forest for the last three years. Recently engaged to Amanda Ruzicka, he lives in Reserve.
“The Gila has a lot to offer in the way of recreation. Be safe, respect the forest and people can have a wonderful time out here,” he said.
Gehrt patrols an area bordering between Luna, Alma, Beaverhead and Quemado. “Visitors to the Gila need to be prepared. Take a few extra minutes before you leave to visit the Gila to be sure you have not only what you need, but what you may need,” he said. “Rules and regulations are enforced. If
you have any questions regarding these, call or visit us. I get a lot of questions regarding ATV usage, and I am happy to inform our guests on these regulations.”
Born and raised in Nebraska, Gehrt developed a longing for the high country.
“I knew someday I would have a job in forestry, and here I am,” he said. “I enjoy what I do and look forward to helping when I can.”
Forest Road 153 is fewer than three miles long, ending in a wide-open flat area. After exiting a vehicle, one can’t help but notice all the young trees engulfing the area. Not just any young trees … they sure look like Christmas trees.
Back on Forest Road 141, the road becomes a blacktop heading into Reserve. With stops included, the trip took fewer than six hours, covering about 85 miles.

Photo caption: KC Gehrt and his hound dog helper “Tibbs” pose. Photo by Richard Torres


  1. Richard, thanks for such a great post! There are so many options for exploring - you've outlined some that I plan to check out! For those outdoorsmen who are not familiar with arid areas, I implore you to bring TOO MUCH water!! It may look green, but this is arid country. You'll go through a lot of water!

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