Seniors Explore the Gila Wilderness

The Best Top 10 Lists is a place where I could spend hours. The Top10Zen is a great example that features sites for the best top 10 foodies, hikers, top hotels and a host of other topics for senior travelers to consider. That’s where I first read about the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.

The 3.3 million acre National Forest is located in southwestern New Mexico just north of Mexico and east of Arizona. It is dominated by the Gila River and the mountain ranges, ridges and canyons that make up the surrounding terrain. The Wilderness is a vast tract of 438,000 acres, set within the much larger Gila National Forest.

The Gila Wilderness was designated the world’s first wilderness area back in 1924, so it has some history to go with the site. Occupied by the Mogollan people around AD 1000, the Gila Wilderness still contains cliff dwellings and some ancient and cultural ruins.  The surroundings at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument are much as they were when the Mogollon people inhabited the rock houses in the late 13th century.

The region is home to the Mogollan Mountain Range, canyons, grasslands, forests and some hot springs, which just might be why the Indians settled there.

Some of the more dangerous wildlife found in the Gila include bear, mountain lion, and the Mexican gray wolf. The Gila Wilderness offers plenty of hiking trails, some covering extensive distances in complete isolation of all civilization.

They say that the Mogollon Indians lived there for only ten years, nearly 700 years ago. I want to know who figured that out. That’s pretty short span of time. The Mogollon used the cliff dwellings, built with stone, mud and timbers, as a base for farming, hunting and fishing and the remnants remain.

Studious seniors will find a great deal of history and interesting facts on the Gila Wilderness National Park on the Wikipedia site. The ancient Puebloans of the Mogollon area used native plants for food, medicines, clothing and tools. The yucca plant was very useful as the fibers were made into twine, nets, baskets, even paint brushes. Sandals, made from yucca, can be seen in the Visitor Center Museum.

Senior Hikers

The essence of a wilderness area is that the dedicated senior nature lover must expend his or her own energy to get there, by hiking. There is a recently completed 48 mile loop in this great wilderness and as per the usual, trails are scant, pretty much no maintenance, and it doesn’t matter if you have a map or GPS, you’ll be dusting off your trail finding skills.

And senior birders… bird, animal and insect life is abundant and varied  and presents a constantly changing cast of characters and activities depending on the time of year. The Gila area provides sanctuary for Golden Eagles, Rufous Hummingbirds, Great Blue Herons, Greater Roadrunners, Summer Tanagers and Cardinals to name but a few. It’s a birders paradise.

So bring along a good pair of field glasses and enjoy the peace and quiet of the Wilderness.  jeb



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