Along For The Ride: Gila Bound (Part 13)
Traveling directly south from the Very Large Array, radio telescope observatory, I set my sights on the National Forests that make up the southwestern corner of New Mexico.
The road to the VLA, route 52, turns unpaved as soon as you pass the observatory, and winds for miles, through sparsely-vegetated, rolling mountains. Starting here, you’re going to want to make sure you have a full tank of gas.
Cibola National Forest
As I traveled along route 52, I came to a fork in the road. To the right, the road continued south between Cibola and Gila National Forest. To the left, the road would lead me into Cibola National Forest, toward Sargent Canyon.
It was growing late in the day, so I thought it would be wise to bear left toward Cibola and seek out a place to camp for the night. Furthermore, I have trouble resisting signs that point toward canyons!
The road into Cibola degraded from a well-traveled gravel road into a rocky forest road.
When the road deteriorates to such an extent, I engage low-range, four-wheel drive, and disengage the sway-bar. Even if the conditions don’t require low-range, I do this for improved throttle control at slow speeds, and disconnecting the sway-bar reduces the amount that the Jeep tosses from side-to-side on varied terrain, yielding a much more comfortable experience off-pavement.
Cibola quickly became mountainous and forested. The road was rocky and dusty. The trees were coniferous with the occasional rocky outcropping protruding from the hills. I passed a few active logging operations, and a few other roads that branched off to the east.
Eventually, I came to a clearing in Sargent Canyon, which seemed like a popular place to camp, as there was a fire ring, and a few other primitive campsites along the road. While I was officially in the canyon, it wasn’t as dramatic as the word “canyon” usually implies. It was more like a forested valley, but it did offer some nice, shady, low-elevation camping.
There, I parked the Jeep, popped the camper, and enjoyed a peaceful night of sleep.
Winston & Chloride
The next morning, I resumed my trek down route 52, which continued for miles. At times, the well-traveled dirt road would straighten, and I could see plumes of dust from other vehicles on the horizon. Although I could never catch up, and I passed no one.
I hit pavement near the town of Winston, which was little more than a dot on the map surrounded by National Forests, grassy mountains, and ranch lands. In the center of town was the Winston General Store, which was adorned by a single gas pump at the corner of the store. The rural general store was both charming and clearly the functional hub of the community, where one could buy groceries, guns, and liquor.
In Winston, I studied my map, and plotted my course into Gila National Forest which was a short distance to the west. This route took me through the neighboring town of Chloride, which I didn’t stop at… although I wish I had.
Chloride, New Mexico, was nestled in a valley adjacent to Gila National Forest. As I passed through, it seemed like a small, unspoiled vacation community. There were a couple of historic-looking storefronts, and I believe there was a saloon. Some folks were out walking and I was greeted by smiles and waves. I was so focused on venturing into Gila, that I’m afraid I overlooked a gem.
At the far end of Chloride’s main street was the forest road into Gila, which gave me pause, as it looked more like a private driveway. I double-checked my map, and proceeded with caution.
Into the Gila
The road into Gila from Chloride was primitive and picturesque, winding its way through a narrow canyon with multiple small stream crossings. Once again, I engaged four-wheel drive, although I didn’t encounter any terrain that was too challenging for a stock truck or SUV.
The landscape in this part of Gila National Forest is extremely dramatic. It is a mountainous woodland with towering cliffs and rock-formations protruding from the forest around every bend. It goes on like this for miles, and in an instant, it can change to lush green pastures with grazing cattle, surrounded by ancient trees.
This was the first time in my westward travels that I felt like I could be swallowed by the wilderness and never be seen again. It was a wild and sobering feeling, causing me to place greater-than-usual emphasis on preparedness and situational awareness.
At an idle pace, I drove westward along the deteriorated, primitive roads of Gila National Forest. I was captivated by everything the forest had to offer, and I wanted to see as much of it as possible...
Every now and then, when you’re overlanding across the country, you encounter a campsite that you have to spend the weekend at.
It was still early in the afternoon, and I wasn’t even looking for a place to camp. However, I was driving through a canyon, when I happened upon a grassy clearing at the foot of a rock wall. There was an indentation in the rock wall that formed a shallow cave, with a fire ring in its mouth, and a small stream trickled by.
At first sight, I knew that I couldn’t pass up this campsite.
This campsite gave me the perfect opportunity to try out my new ARB Deluxe Awning Room, which ARB had just started importing. Before, you had the choice of ARB’s very spartan walled room, or their screened mosquito room. This new “deluxe” room combines both of these products into one, offering a completely private, walled room that can be converted into an airy screened room.
It makes a great addition to my home-on-wheels, adding a significant amount of functional living space to my setup for when I feel like settling in for a few days.