Catron County Guide
Last updated on Thursday, February 20, 2003
The positive aspects of straw bale building in terms of cost and labor are considerable. Are there other reasons to use this type of construction? Kanely points out that there is "a warm feeling to the whole house." That remark can be construed a couple of ways. The warmth of the house is enhanced by the 20-inch-thick walls, which provide considerable insulation. The construction technique of covering the inside walls with two coats of concrete followed by two coats of plaster also lends a rustic and homey feeling.
The dirt road south from New Mexico Highway 12 is rough and dusty. Eventually, we turn east and approach a ranchhouse where the road vanishes at a corral filled with cattle. I stop and wait a respectful time for someone to request that I stay out of the corral. Even though Bat Cave is on public land, I prefer to notify the rancher of my presence. On an earlier visit, permission was freely given. This time, no one from the ranch appears. I make my way through the corrals and cattle to the other side of the corrals and a primitive road scored with deep ruts. A vehicle can easily become stuck on the high center. To compound the difficulty of reaching Bat Cave, the lowest point of the entire Plains of San Agustin is near. In wet weather, this road borders a playa and should be avoided. We continue east, skirting the edge of steep hills that flank this southwestern edge of the plains.
I think Big Rock is on Gilita Creek, though I’ve never really looked at a map, maybe five miles or so downstream from the Gilita campgrounds. The trail always appears to be well beaten, but we’ve never seen anyone else on it. Seasoned hikers would probably consider it an easy stroll, but for city folks unaccustomed to carrying 20 or 30 pounds on our backs, it’s challenging. You wind your way along the stream, frequently wading to follow the trail markers carved into trees along the path. The scenery is beautiful, the mountain air cool and fragrant, and the only sounds are the birds and the rattlings and squeakings of our backpacks. Finally, you wade the stream for about the hundredth time, climb up the bank and find yourself in a clearing circled by great old trees. Then you see the Big Rock, standing almost like one of those giant stone faces on Easter Island.
A broad spectrum of scenery awaits the traveler who takes New Mexico Highway 12 through Reserve north to Datl. Though sparsely settled there are sheep, cattle and horse ranches throughout the four settlements along this area, Cruzville, Apache Creek, Aragon and Old Horse Springs.
Along U.S. 60 in the northern part of Catron County, the largest county in New Mexico, three towns interrupt the remote mountain landscape. Datil, Pie Town and Quemado are a day's horseback ride from each other. Pickups have replaced the horses, but ranching remains the main occupation in the area although real estate development is gaining a toehold.
The Smallmouth Bass may well be our finest freshwater gamefish; I think he is. Clearly, he is superior to his bass cousins. The White Bass is a small, staid, tasteless fish compared to the Smallmouth, a school fish given to running, en masse, in man-made lakes. The White Bass is a common fish. The Largemouth Bass has too large a following to be as easily dismissed as the White Bass. It is likely that the Largemouth is the single most sought after species in North America. I think this is because the Largemouth is ubiquitous, at least in the nation's lakes and reservoirs, strikes viciously on artificials, and is a great leaper. The Largemouth is a better eating fish than the White Bass and, all said, is a very good fish; but not even the Largemouth tournament winners and aficionados will claim their fish has the speed, élan or strength per pound of the Smallmouth.
If the perfect dayhike combines beauty, drama, and moderate physical activity, then a dayhike to the Frisco Box is perfection. The drive to the trailhead is scenic. The walk is pleasantly level. And the 3 mile trek climaxes in a startling box canyon the width of a large living room. Through this room flows the San Francisco River. Craggy rock walls rise above the stream bed, which in many places is also the canyon bottom. Amid this harsh geology, cottonwoods and alders have found a foothold, adding further lushness to the green of Virginia creeper, grapevine, willow, and wild rose.
You sit around enough campfires or barrooms with enough fisherman and you realize that every one of us is pleased to argue for our favorite fish, favorite fishing spot, and favorite method of pursuing fish. Like the endless debates over guns, game animals, and calibers, these are arguments that won't go away, and that outdoor writers will forever milk for copy.
Hot springs in the Gila vary in their accessibility. A trip to the Middle Fork hot springs, for example, only requires a half hour walk and a couple of river crossings, while others are a full day's hike and an overnight stay away. But whether you're feeling adventurous or mellow, you can always find a chance for a relaxing soak in a beautiful outdoor setting. With a little exploration, visitors can discover quiet, remote springs.
When my husband and I dug the foundations for our home in the Mimbres Valley of southwestern New Mexico, we found a metate - a large grinding stone - buried two feet deep. We had selected this building site, with its view of a distant mountain peak, because it was close to the Mimbres River but not close enough to be flooded in a rainy season. Now we knew that another family had made this same decision. Perhaps a thousand years ago, they too had chosen this place for their home.
January, the start of a new year, a new century, a new millennium. A year, a blank slate in which the furnace hasn’t yet broken, the road hasn’t mudded out, the chimney hasn’t caught fire, the pump hasn’t quit. All these joys of winter life in Datil’s Swingle Canyon are yet to come.
Just eight miles from the Arizona border on U.S. Highway 180 is the small mountain village of Luna, New Mexico on the San Francisco River. This area was in the vast sheep ranching realm of Don Solomon Luna in the 19th Century. He was a powerful political force in New Mexico, and the settlement took his name. Later Mormon ranchers from Utah settled in the area. Today there are 62 families and 165 full-time citizens living in Luna, according to the Granary Gazette.
March, whether lionish or lambish, is a month of motion in upper Southwest New Mexico. Snowbirds from Minnesota and Michigan crowd U.S. 60 with their fat motorhomes, heading back north from the sun-burnt winter in the deserts of Arizona and California. The highway is further clogged by residents of southwest Catron County departing during school’s spring break for exotic destinations like Alamogordo or Las Cruces.
From the fertile San Francisco Valley, the rugged Mogollon Mountains look unattainable. However, the lure of riches made them attainable to the prospectors and miners who discovered silver there in 1870. The range of mountains was named either for a parasitic mistletoe called mogollon or for an early Spanish governor named Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon. In either case, the locals pronounce the name muggy-yone.
Flatlanders need not apply. The road to Mogollon, known as the Bursum Road, climbs 2,080 feet from the San Francisco River Valley to the old ghost town, nestled in the Mogollon Mountains. “That doesn’t sound so bad,” you might say, but the climb is seven miles in length - over 2,000 feet in seven miles, and not one of the switchbacks has guardrails.
Reserve, with 400 citizens, is the largest town in and county seat of Catron County, which is the largest county, by area, in New Mexico. At more than 7,000 square miles, Catron County is larger than a few Eastern states. With a population of only 2,900 people, the county is as sparsely populated as many an old West frontier area.
The Bursum Road runs throughthe middle of Mogollon. Photo by Carla
One of my favorite drives is along the Bursum Road, which
turns east from Hwy 180 about 4 miles north of
Glenwood and climbs to Mogollon,
Willow Creek, and Snow Lake. The Bursum Road
takes the traveler from desert heat at the San Francisco River
to alpine woods of aspen and fir in the Mogollon Mountains.
It came as a surprise to find out that not everyone finds
this enchanting drive the perfect summer outing. What's the
The Catwalk, a National Recreation trail
along the canyon of Whitewater Creek, is a
unique feature of southwestern New Mexico. Located five miles east of Glenwood (take Hwy.
180 to 174), it presents an
always vibrant journey along a path reflecting the region's mining history. The
canyon was used as a hideout by both Geronimo and Butch Cassidy.
The Catwalk follows the path of the pipeline
built in the 1890s to deliver water to the mining town of Graham. Workmen who
had to enter the canyon by crawling atop the narrow pipeline named the route the
The high valley in which the tiny town of Luna, New Mexico, sits is surpassingly beautiful.
The San Francisco River courses by under enormous cottonwood trees, and the
green valley stretches between piney mountains. Luna itself, rustic and basic,
could hail from an era when cowpokes rode alongside their herds, ropes a-twirl,
spurs flashing in the sunlight.
Actually, an even more radical time shift is required of
the visitor who would take in everything Luna has to offer. With the re-opening
of the Hough Ruin (pronounced HUFF), one
must stretch one's imagination 700 years back in time, when another civilization
peopled this lovely valley.
It's no secret why we call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. Our state
possesses some of the nation's most beautiful natural wonders, including
Carlsbad Caverns, Taos' Moreno Valley and
White Sands National Monument.
Having grown up in Silver City at the doorstep of the
Gila National Forest, I have always felt very lucky to have
come from such a special place. During my time as a Senator, I've worked to help
promote New Mexico and its splendor as a tourist destination - because it's
important to our people, our economy and also our sense of pride in our home
Around the 4th of July every year, Roswell, New Mexico hosts a UFO festival built
around the Roswell Incident. Months before, the motels in and around Roswell can
be sold out. The hoopla included a parade, film festival, rock concert, costume
contest, bicycle run and a glow-in-the-dark golf tournament. Any spare time the
visitor had could be spent at the two UFO museums. Any spare money could be
spent for T-shirts, toys, gimmicks and statues that only the outer limits of the
imagination can curb.
But what about the other UFO crash in 1947, the one on
the San Agustin Plains?