Field Trips

The 14th Annual Gila River Festival offers a range of field trips that foster a deeper intimacy with the Gila River. 

On-line registration for field trips opens July 1, 2018. 

 
 
 Photo: Sonnie Sussillo

Photo: Sonnie Sussillo

Wildlife on a Scenic River with Carol Martin & Sonnie Sussillo

Thursday, September 20, 7:30 am - noon; Participant Limit: 10; Fee: $22; Difficulty: moderate

Come  join  us  to  explore  an  important  riparian  habitat  that  supports  a  variety  of  species,  including  threatened  and  endangered  species.  We  will  look  for  tracks,  signs,  and  other  indications  of  species  of  interest  along  the  way,  and  talk  about  the  dependence  of  these  species  on  a  healthy  river.  One  of  the  best  ways  to  protect  a  river  is  to  designate  it  as  Wild  and  Scenic,  and  this  stretch  of  the  Gila  is  proposed  for  that  designation.  Of  course,  we  can’t  promise  what  animal  tracks  you’ll  see  along  the  Gila  River,  but  common  sightings  are  black  bear,  raccoon,  skunk,  deer,  javelina,  great  blue  heron,  turkey,  and  numerous  small  rodents  and  reptiles.  Less  common  are  ringtail,  bobcat,  and  mountain  lion;  coatimundi  are  rare  but  found  occasionally.  It’s  a  jungle  out  there!  Bring  water,  hat,  sturdy  hiking  shoes,  sunscreen,  and  snacks.  If  you  have  a  tracking  book  and  small  ruler,  feel  free  to  bring  those;  the  field  trip  includes  a  tracking  handout.  Moderate  difficulty:  walking/hiking  up  to  3  miles  on  trail  plus  across  river  rock  and  uneven  sandy  surfaces  along  the  river.  No  river  crossings.

 Meet  at  the  Murray  Ryan  Visitor  Center  at  7:15  am,  carpool  to  the  Gila  River  Bird  Area,  and  return  to  Silver  City  by  noon.  Travel  time:  45  minutes  each  way. 

 
 Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Wild Whitewater with Dave Menzie

Thursday, September 21, 7:45 am - 12 pm; Participant Limit: 10; Fee: $20; Difficulty: easy

The  Catwalk  Recreation  Area  in  the  Gila  National  Forest  has  a  rich  mining  history  beginning  with  the  discovery  of  gold  and  silver  in  the  Mogollon  Mountains  above  Whitewater  Canyon.  In  the  1890s,  a  small  town  grew  around  a  mill,  although  neither  lasted  long.  Visitors  can  enjoy  the  beautiful  setting  by  using  the  catwalk  built  on  the  canyon  walls  by  the  Civilian  Conservation  Corps  in  the  1930s. 

In  2012,  the  Whitewater-Baldy  Fire  necessitated  the  rebuilding  of  some  of  the  Catwalk’s  trails  and  infrastructure;  the  first  part  of  the  trail  is  now  accessible  by  people  with  mobility  impairments.  Rushing  below  the  Catwalk  is  Whitewater  Creek,  a  tributary  of  the  San  Francisco  River  in  the  Gila  basin.  A  14-mile  stretch  of  Whitewater  Creek,  beginning  at  its  headwaters  near  Center  Baldy  in  the  Mogollon  Mountains,  is  proposed  for  Wild  and  Scenic  River  designation.   

On  this  field  trip,  even  those  who  think  they  know  the  Catwalk  will  gain  a  new  appreciation  for  its  natural  and  cultural  history.  Field  trip  leader  Dave  Menzie  is  a  geologist  with  a  knack  for  translating  complicated  geological  information  into  language  the  rest  of  us  can  understand  and  appreciate.   

Please  bring  hat,  good  walking  shoes,  sunscreen,  water,  and  snacks.    This  is  the  only  Gila  River  Festival  field  trip  that  is  accessible  to  participants  with  mobility  impairments.  Round  trip  trail  is  less  than  1.5  miles.

 
 Photo: New Mexico True

Photo: New Mexico True

Horseback Ride to Fort Bayard with Joe Saenz

Thursday, September 20, 9:15 am - 12 pm; Participant limit: 3; Fee: $75; 

In this  morning  horseback  ride,  participants  can  open  their  eyes  –  and  other  senses  –  to  the  beauty  of  southwest  New  Mexico,  and  experience  it  the  way  people  did  in  centuries  past.  Your  guide  is  outfitter  Joe  Saenz,  the  owner  of  WolfHorse  Outfitters.  He’s  been  taking  people  on  rides  –  short  trips  into  Fort  Bayard,  and  multi-day  excursions  into  the  Gila  Wilderness  –  for  many  years.    This  ride  is  a  great  introduction  to  your  surroundings,  plant  and  animal  identification,  local  Apache  history,  outdoor  living  skills,  and  more.    All  levels  of  riders  are  welcome.  

Outfitter  Joe  Saenz  will  call  participants  with  information  on  meeting  place,  what  to  bring,  and  other  details.

 
 Photo: Nathan Newcomer

Photo: Nathan Newcomer

The Wild Lower San Francisco Canyon with Nathan Newcomer

Thursday, September 20, 7:30 am - 3:00 pm; Participant limit: 12; Fee: $20; Difficulty: Challenging

Description forthcoming

Meet at the Murray Ryan Visitors Center at 7:15 am and return to Silver City by 3:00 pm. Travel time: 1.5 hours each way.

 

Field Trip with Archaeology Southwest

Thursday, September 20; 

 

Description forthcoming

 
 Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Rock Art of the Gila Cliff Dwellings & Spirit Canyon with Alex Mares

Friday, September 21, 7:00 am - 3:00 pm; Participant Limit: 10; Fee: $22; Difficulty: TBA

Field  trip  participants  will  travel  to  the  Gila  Cliff  Dwellings  National  Monument  to  experience  and  learn  about  how  a  prehistoric  Pueblo  people  lived,  and  how  they  depended  on  an  intimate  relationship  with  water.  

Field  trip  leader  Alex  Mares  will  lead  the  group  on  an  uphill  and  downhill  hike  to  a  12th  century  Mogollon  cliff  dwelling,  with  pictographs  inside  the  cave  ruins.  Mares  will  talk  about  the  importance  and  meaning  of  water  to  the  daily  lives  of  various  native  groups  of  the  area.  Field  trip  participants  will  also  visit  a  nearby  petroglyph  site.  

On  the  return  trip,  you’ll  stop  at  a  roadside  interpretive  display  about  the  Apache  bands  of  the  area,  as  well  as  the  Gila  River  itself.  Upon  nearing  Lake  Roberts,  there’s  a  visit  to  another  pictograph  site.  Discussion  on  the  importance  of  protecting  sacred  water,  and  the  Gila  River  in  particular,  will  be  emphasized  throughout  the  day.  

This  field  trip  visits  a  reach  of  the  Gila  River  that  is  proposed  for  Wild  and  Scenic  River  designation  –an  outstanding  way  to  defend  New  Mexico’s  last  wild  river.  

Field  trip  members  are  required  to  have  a  hat,  appropriate  footwear  for  hiking,  sunscreen,  at least  2  liters  of  water,  lunch  and  snacks  and  the  ability  to  hike  up  and  down  a  narrow  2  mi round  trip  canyon  trail,  with  an  elevation  gain  of  180  ft.  The  trail  is  at  roughly  6000' elevation,  is  unpaved,  uneven,  and  steep  in  some  places.   

Meet at the Murray Ryan Visitors Center at 6:45 am, carpool to Gila Cliff Dwellings, then rock art site near Lake Roberts and return to Silver City by 3pm. Travel time: approximately 2 hours each way. 

 
 Photo: Mike Fugagli

Photo: Mike Fugagli

Wild Birds on a Wild River with Mike Fugagli

Friday, September 21, 8:00 am - 12:00 pm; Participant Limit: 10; Fee: $18; Difficulty: moderate

Join  ornithologist  and  naturalist  Mike  Fugagli  for  a  field  trip  to  the  Gila  River  Bird  Area  in the  Gila  National  Forest.  You’ll  learn  about  general  riparian  ecology  as  well  as  birds.  This stretch  of  the  river  is  a  good  place  to  sight  the  common blackhawk,  which,  despite  its  name, is  found  only  in  relatively  undisturbed  riparian  areas.      More  than  200  species  of  birds  have been  documented  along  the  Gila  River  in  southwest  New  Mexico,  including  the  imperiled southwest  willow  flycatcher  and  yellow-billed  cuckoo.  While  you  will  not  encounter  200 species  of  birds  on  this  field  trip,  you  may  see  some  interesting  migrants  passing  through,  as well  as  year-round  residents.    Even  more  important,  as  you  walk  along  with  Mike Fugagli, you’ll  understand  the  importance  of  protecting  the  river.  Beginning  at  the  Gila  National Forest boundary,  and  continuing  for  twelve  miles  downstream  through  the  gorgeous  Gila  Middle Box,  this  stretch  of  the  river  has  been  proposed  for  Wild  and  Scenic  River  designation.  Bring a  hat,  sunscreen,  water,  snacks,  and  a  bird  guide  and  binoculars,  if  you  have  them.  This  is  a moderate  excursion,  as  there  are  no  river  crossings,  but  expect  uneven  terrain  and  some walking  through  brush.

 Meet at the Murray Ryan Visitors Center at 7:45 am, carpool to the Gila Bird Area, and return to Silver City by noon. Travel time: 45 minutes each way.    

 
 Photo: New Mexico True

Photo: New Mexico True

Horseback Ride to Fort Bayard with Joe Saenz

Friday, September 21, 9:15 am - 12 pm; Participant Limit: 3; Fee: $75

In this  morning  horseback  ride,  participants  can  open  their  eyes  –  and  other  senses  –  to  the  beauty  of  southwest  New  Mexico,  and  experience  it  the  way  people  did  in  centuries  past.  Your  guide  is  outfitter  Joe  Saenz,  the  owner  of  WolfHorse  Outfitters.  He’s  been  taking  people  on  rides  –  short  trips  into  Fort  Bayard,  and  multi-day  excursions  into  the  Gila  Wilderness  –  for  many  years.    This  ride  is  a  great  introduction  to  your  surroundings,  plant  and  animal  identification,  local  Apache  history,  outdoor  living  skills,  and  more.    All  levels  of  riders  are  welcome. 

Outfitter  Joe  Saenz  will  call  participants  with  information  on  meeting  place,  what  to  bring,  and  other  details.

 
 Photo: Nathan Newcomer

Photo: Nathan Newcomer

Gila Middle Box with Nathan Newcomer

Saturday, September 22, 8 am - 2pm; Participant Limit: 12  Fee: $20 Difficulty: Challenging

The  Gila  Middle  Box,  downstream  of  the  Gila  River  Bird  Area,  has  been  proposed  for  Wild  and  Scenic  River  designation.  This  stretch  of  the  river  features  a  wide  riparian  floodplain  straddled  by  towering  mountains  with  deeply  incised  canyons.  The  farther  one  goes  down  the  river,  the  more  dramatic  the  canyon  walls  become.  The  overall  scenery  and  visual  attractions  along  the  river  are  highly  diverse  and  appealing.  Fremont  cottonwood,  narrowleaf  cottonwood,  Arizona  sycamore  and  Goodding’s  willow  characterize  the  area’s  beauty,  and  in  many  ways,  the  riverine  solitude  offers  an  unforgettable  and  tranquil  journey  into  the  subtle  essence  of  Gila  River  country. 

This  hike  will  head  down  river  towards  the  Gila  Middle  Box  itself.  Expect  a  well-maintained  trail  with  plenty  of  shade,  along  with  numerous  river  crossings.  Participants  will  stop  at  the  confluence  of  the  Gila  River  and  Faucet  Canyon,  and  marvel  over  the  wild  river’s  geology,  scenery,  and  wildlife  attributes.    Field  trip  leader  Nathan  Newcomer  will  point  out  features  of  the  river  that  make  it  eligible  for  Wild  and  Scenic  River  status,  and  talk  about  how  this  designation  will  protect  the  Gila  River  in  perpetuity.   

Hiking  Distance:  5  miles  round  trip  on  generally  good  trails,  with  some  walking  through  vegetation.  Expect  numerous  river  crossings  (10+)  with  uneven  river  beds.  Hiking  poles  help  with  stability.  Please  wear  hat,  sunscreen,  and  shoes  that  can  get  wet.  Bring  plenty  of  water  and  snacks.

Meet  at  the  Murray  Ryan  Visitor  Center  at  12:45  pm,  carpool  to  the  Gila  Bird  Area  parking  lot,  and  return  to  Silver  City  by  5:30  pm.  Travel  time:  1  hour  each  way.

 
 Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Landscapes of the Wild Gila River with Patrice Mutchnick

Friday, September 21; 1:15 pm - 5 pm; Participant Lmit: 15; Fee: $20; Difficulty: moderate

Explore  the  riparian  forests  of  the  Gila  River  floodplain  with  this  botanically  focused  field  trip.  Participants  will  explore  the  characteristics  that  make  the  Gila  River  ecologically  unique  as  they  hike  along  the  confluence  of  Mogollon  Creek  and  the  Gila  River.  Both  Mogollon  Creek  and  upstream  stretches  of  the  Gila  River  have  been  proposed  for  Wild  and  Scenic  River  designation,  and  this  field  trip  will  reveal  the  reasons  these  streams  are  eligible.  Come  witness  how  the  power  of  flood  events  led  to  the  restoration  of  this  sycamore-cottonwood  bosque.  You're  likely  to  see  a  diversity  of  native  trees,  shrubs,  and  other  flowering  plants  in  this  trip  to  the  verdant  Cliff-Gila  Valley  and  the  magnificent  Mogollon  Box.  Appearances  by  butterflies  and  an  array  of  birds  are  also  likely.  This  is  a  moderate  hike  of  about  two  miles  round  trip.  There  is  some  uneven  terrain,  but  essentially  no  elevation  gain.  No  river  crossings,  but  it  may  be  muddy  at  river’s  edge.  Please  bring  hat,  sturdy  hiking  shoes,  sunscreen,  plenty  of  water,  and  snacks.   

Meet  at  the  Murray  Ryan  Visitor  Center  at  1:00  pm,  carpool  to  the  Mogollon  Box  Day  Use  Area,  and  return  to  Silver  City  by  5:00  pm.

 
 Photo: Denise Blake

Photo: Denise Blake

Gila River Kayaking with Far Flung Adventures

Saturday, September 22, 9 am - 2 pm; Participant Limit: 15; Fee: $85; Difficulty: Difficult

The Gila might be missing from an inventory of the world’s longest rivers, but it’s at the top of the list when it comes to rivers with heart—BIG heart. Steve Harris and Todd Schulke are two of the many river runners who drop everything to float the Gila when the water is up. To merge with the beating heart of a live river, in a region where most rivers are tamed and constrained—well, that’s what it’s all about.

Unlike many Southwestern rivers, the pastoral Cliff -Gila Valley still supports healthy riparian areas, and is an easy and lovely 1.5- to 2-mile float. Join Steve and Todd for a relaxing and informative trip down the Gila. Far Flung Adventures will provide one-person inflatable kayaks, paddles, helmets and life jackets.

NOTE: Although extensive river experience is not necessary, please be realistic about your physical condition and make sure you’re capable of performing several short carries. To prevent injuries, the Gila River Festival reserves the right to limit this excursion to individuals in good physical condition.

We will contact participants with information on where to meet. If there is not enough water to float the Gila River, registration fees will be refunded in full.

 
 Photo: Mark Watson

Photo: Mark Watson

Birds of the Wild Mogollon Box with Mike Fugagli

Saturday, September 22, 7:45 am - noon; Participant Limit: 10; Fee: $20; Difficulty: moderate

Join ornithologist and naturalist Mike Fugagli for a field trip to the Mogollon Box Day Use Area in the Gila National Forest. Mogollon Creek flows out of the Gila Wilderness Area and into the Gila River here, and this confluence is home to many species of birds, as well as other wildlife.

Field trip leader Mike Fugagli knows this area quite well. As you stroll along the river’s edge, he will point out features of the floodplain and vegetation that make this area excellent bird habitat, and present the big picture about riparian ecology. More than 200 species of birds have been documented along the Gila River in southwest New Mexico, including the imperiled southwest willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo. While you will not encounter 200 species of birds on this field trip, you may see some interesting migrants passing through, as well as year-round residents.

Even more important, as you walk along with Mike Fugagli, you’ll understand the importance of protecting the river. Upstream of the Mogollon confluence, many miles of the Gila River and Mogollon Creek have been proposed for Wild and Scenic River designation.

Bring a hat, sunscreen, water, snacks, and a bird guide and binoculars, if you have them. This is a moderate excursion, as there are no river crossings, but expect uneven terrain and some walking through brush.

Meet at the Murray Ryan Visitors Center at 7:30  am, and drive to the Mogollon Box Day Use Area. Return to the Visitors Center by noon. Travel time:  45 minutes each way.

 
 Photo: Nathan Newcomer

Photo: Nathan Newcomer

Mineral Creek with Nathan Newcomer

Saturday, September 22, 8 am - 2pm; Participant limit: 12; Fee: $20; Difficulty: challenging

See  for  yourself  why  Mineral  Creek,  a  tributary  of  the  San  Francisco  River,  has  been  proposed  for  Wild  and  Scenic  River  designation.  This  stream  features  several  narrow  slot  canyons  that  are  astoundingly  constricted  and  tight,  surrounded  by  intriguing  rock  formations.  The  geological  wonders  and  scenery  in  this  section  of  Mineral  Creek  are  truly  beautiful.  The  trail  gives  way  to  solid  bedrock  filled  with  interesting  stream-filled,  circular  potholes  in  the  stream  bottom.  These  holes  are  the  result  of  repeated  grinding  action  over  thousands  of  years  as  colored,  rounded  pebbles  and  cobbles  of  rock  from  the  bottom  of  the  holes  get  caught  up  in  the  churning  whirlpool  action  of  the  rushing  creek  waters  during  floods.    For  the  seasoned  and  curious  hiker,  and  for  those  who  relish  the  thrill  of  teasing  out  well-hidden  clues  of  times  gone  by  in  a  spectacular  setting,  a  hike  up  Mineral  Creek  to  explore  the  overgrown  remnants  of  the  all-but-forgotten  Camp  Cooney  offers  a  time-travel  journey  of  intrigue  and  exceptional  insight  into  the  early  pioneer  history  of  the  Mogollon  Mining  District.    Hiking  Distance:  4  miles  round  trip.  Expect  numerous,  usually  shallow,  stream  crossings  (10+)  and  uneven  terrain.  Please  bring  hat,  sturdy  walking  shoes  that  can  get  wet,  sunscreen,  plenty  of  water,  lunch,  and  snacks.  

Meet  at  the  Murray  Ryan  Visitor  Center  at  7:45  am,  carpool  to  Mineral  Creek,  and  return to Silver  City  by  2:00  pm.  Travel  time:  1.5  hours  each  way.

 
 Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Fly Fishing Field Trip

Sunday, September 23, 8:30 am - 3 pm; Participant Limit: 12 (including kids) Fee: $22 for adults/$12 kids (12 and under)

Join Jeff Arterburn and other experienced fishing guides from Trout Unlimited and the Mesilla Valley Fly Fishers for an outing to Lake Roberts and nearby Sapillo Creek. At Lake Roberts, you will learn the rudiments of fishing dry flies, wet flies, nymphs and streamers, the basic knots, and the first-step mechanics of casting a fly. Then head just down the road to practice your new skills on a small stream, Sapillo Creek. The where-to-go and how-to of Gila area game fish (various trout, smallmouth bass, carp etc.) will also be reviewed.  

Children are welcome on this field trip, and must be registered and accompanied by an adult.

Please bring: Your fly fishing gear (but if you don't have any we'll rig you up), hat, sunscreen, wading shoes (we'll be crossing the creek), snacks, lunch, and plenty of drinking water. 

Please note: Fishing license required. You can purchase one online at https://onlinesales.wildlife.state.nm.us.  All NM Dept. of Game & Fish rules and regulations apply.

Meet at the Murray Ryan Visitors Center at 8:15 am, carpool to Lake Roberts, and return to Silver City by 3:00 pm. Travel time: approximately one hour each way. 

 
 Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Photo: Gila Conservation Coalition

Sacred Waters: Horseback Trip with Joe Saenz

Sunday, September 23, 9 am - 4 pm; Participant Limit: 8; Fee: $95 (includes lunch) 

The  Gila  River  and  its  headwaters  have  been  sacred  to  the  Chiricahua  Apache  since  time  immemorial.  They  knew  intimately  its  waters,  valleys,  canyons,  forests,  deserts,  mountains,  and  mysteries.  On  this  horseback  ride,  outfitter  Joe Saenz  will  lead  participants  along  the  waters  of  the  Gila  River  near  the  Gila  Cliff  Dwellings  National  Monument.  He’ll  share  the  routes  and  tales  of  the  ancient  waterway,  and  stories  of  Native  Americans’  relationships  with  the  Gila.  As  you  ride  along  the  wild  river  and  listen  to  its  song,  you’ll  see  for  yourself  why  this  river  inspired  such  devotion  in  the  Native  peoples  who  lived  here  long  ago,  and  why  their  efforts  to  protect  it  continue  to  this  day.  Standing  with  them  now  are  many  others  who  have  learned  to  love  the  Gila  River  and  are  working  to  secure  Wild  and  Scenic  River  status  for  many  miles  of  this  iconic  river,  as  it  runs  through  what  is  now  the  nation’s  first  designated  wilderness  area.

Outfitter  Joe  Saenz  will  call  participants  with  meeting  time  and  place  and  information  on  what  to  bring.