On Horseback in the Gila Wilderness

The Gila River Festival in Silver City, New Mexico, offered a day of horseback riding in the Gila Wilderness with Wolfhorse Outfitters – oh, the ten-year-old horse-crazy girl I used to be jumped up and down in enthusiasm!  I signed up.

Ponderosa pine silhouetted against early morning cloudy skyThe dawn drive from Silver City to the Gila Cliff Dwelling is only 44 miles, but it takes almost two hours on those mountain roads.  And I stopped for a couple of photos – like the vulture tree.

Two saddles horses tied to hitching rail in meadow

There were six riders plus the guide.  After the horses and riders were paired off we headed for the middle fork of the Gila River. One of the reasons I chose this ride was the guide, Joe Saenz.  He’s Apache, knows the area well, and believes in treading lightly on horseback riders in canyonthe environment – not easy to do with seven horses.  Normally he would have us ride spread out, but after rains and a flash flood, the area was too wet.  So we were usually riding single file.  It wasn’t always easy to find safe crossings in the thick, dark mud and rocks around the stream.  And we crossed it dozens of times.

The well-trained horses stepped out nicely.  This brought back a lot of memories from past rides just from the rhythm of their walk and the sound of iron shoes on stone.  The shifting in posture as we went down rocky trails and up steep banks – it felt good to be on a horse again.  We rode among sycamores and ponderosa pines, through meadows bright with flowers and accented by black tree stumps burned in wildfires years ago.

 Saddled horses tied to trees

Cliffs and hoodoos above Gila riverWe stopped for lunch at the confluence of the Gila River and Little Bear Creek amidst sheer rock cliffs and hoodoos.  The conversation turned to place.  Joe said this is Apache country.  Sometimes they would venture east to the plains to hunt bison, but not often.  The flatness wasn’t comfortable to them.  I understand that.  I’ve seen places in Texas and Kansas where there was nothing to dent the 360º horizon.  It’s unsettling to someone used to hills and valleys.  But I have to say these narrow canyons in the Gila are almost claustrophobic for me.  Stunningly beautiful, but I long for a more distant horizon.  I think most of us have a particular landscape where we feel at home.  I plan to visit the Gila (and the plains) many more times, but they aren’t home.

Outfitter and guide, Joe Saenz

Sign for Little Bear CanyonWe rode up Little Bear Canyon and over the saddle to the west fork of the Gila.  This side was more open and more exposed – still beautiful with vistas toward the cliff dwellings.   I didn’t take many photos on the last part of the ride.  It seems the enthusiastic girl who wanted this ride had become an old woman whose knee hurt and who knew that she wouldn’t be sitting on hard chairs for a few days.  When I hurt, I couldn’t see.  I put the camera away.

Now it’s been 10 days or so, and I’m ready to go again.

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5 Responses to On Horseback in the Gila Wilderness

  1. beautiful pics..love that first one even if it is rather creepy.

  2. Caite,
    I seem to be doing creepy pictures lately! Not on purpose.

  3. I did a solo trip to the Gila Cliff dwellings many years ago and it remains one of my favorite travel memories. Love this piece, great photos and narrative. Is this tour suitable for inexperienced riders? I can relate to those aches at the end of a day outdoors in spite of the fact that I am not an equestrian:)

  4. Tricia says:

    sad to say, but i’m scared of horses, altho, my mom has 3 horses & loves trail rides… i love photographing mom’s horses, but i just don’t have the nerve to ride… i wish i could, because that’s something that I’d sooo enjoy!

    Beautiful captures =)

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