The Forks Campground in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest is great for many reasons. The first being that it is free. Who doesn’t love free? It’s location just off of highway 15 makes it the perfect location when visiting the nearby Gila Cliff Dwellings. The views aren’t bad either as the campground is next to a very cool canyon formed by the West Fork Gila River. Once the sun goes down and you can’t see down into the canyon anymore then you can look up as the stars come out in the millions. The Gila is one of the darkest places in the contiguous United States so unless there are clouds you’ll be stargazing all night at this campground.
The only downside to the campground is the lack of potable water so be sure to bring enough water for your camping trip! (You can hike down to the river quite easily if you are in dire need of water but be sure to boil it before consuming!)
There are vault toilets that are fairly well maintained by the forest service and a large fire pit in the center of the campground if you want to have a party. I prefer to find a nice secluded site and hang out by the fire though. Whatever you do here though I’m sure it’ll be a great time!
PS. Be sure to check the fire hazards for the national forest. As a native New Mexican, Smokey the Bear wouldn’t be too happy if you started a wildfire in his home state.
Thanks! – Josh
I took this picture in early April from my campsite in the Gila National Forest of southwest New Mexico. The stars were beautiful that night and I’m really glad I got a good picture of them to remember! I hope this encourages you to get out and go see some stars for your own! The new moon will be tomorrow night (the 12th) so go find a dark area near you and stargaze a little!
Thanks! – Josh
Decoy for a Dognapper is an episode of Scooby Doo: Where Are You set in the american west with one of the main locations being a Native American cliff dwelling based on the Gila Cliff Dwellings and the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings. As a kid I loved Scooby Doo and probably watched that episode a million times so you could imagine how excited I was to visit the South Western New Mexican cliff dwellings I had burned in my brain as a kid.
The hike begins from a gravel parking lot where a park ranger warned us of the park’s large pack rat population and to be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles. After hearing his small speech we crossed the bridge over the creek that starts the trail off. On the other side of the bridge some old lady told us she had to turn around because the cliffs were too steep (I never felt like it was that dangerous but there is a steep ladder to climb down).
From here the trail turns to a clockwise loop so we took the left fork and headed through the canyon. There are many more bridges that cross the small stream flowing through the canyon.
The canyon opens up and the trail starts gaining elevation and here is where our first view of the cliff dwellings was! There is also a little spot for taking pictures with a good view of the cliff dwellings. There was a big lizard here that we looked at for a minute before continuing.
The trail climbs steeply and make a right turn making you level with and facing the dwellings. The narrow trails took us to the base of the cliff dwellings where another park ranger was answering question and telling everyone to be careful.
Unlike Mesa Verde you can still go into the dwellings in the Gila and I take every chance I take to pretend I’m Scooby Doo infiltrating a dognapper ring so I climbed up the stairs into the cool and dark cave.
The inside was empty and all that was left inside were rocks and dust. It would be fascinating to go back in time and see what the Gila Cliff Dwellings were like during their 20 year inhabitation.
After exploring the dwellings we climbed down a large wooden ladder and down to the cliff side again.
From here the trail took us downwards and around the side of the dwellings where there were many charred trees from a past forest fire. The trail goes down and back to the bridge where it all began.
At just one mile this loop trail is an easy and fun way to explore humanities past in the Gila National Forest. I look forward to my next trip here and would encourage anyone to check out Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument!
Thanks! – Josh