Woody's Corral in the Gila National Forest is a one-stop shop. This beautiful area has immense variety in terrain: more than 1,400 miles of trails; ancient cliff dwellings; four of the six life zones (areas with similar plant and animal communities); hot springs; 360 miles of streams; and five lakes.
Woody's Corral is in the Gila National Forest (575/388-8201; www.fs.usda.gov/gila) near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, 44 miles north of Silver City, New Mexico, on Highway 15. Woody's Corral is about a two-hour drive from Silver City.
The roads are very windy, and the last five miles are extremely steep! Be forewarned: This isn't a road for worn-out brakes.
The Gila National Forest contains the nation's first designated wilderness; the Gila Wilderness Area. We have Aldo Leopold to thank for this 558,000-acre wilderness. Leopold was a United States Forest Service employee who worked tirelessly through conservation efforts to safeguard the Gila forest.
Today, the Gila National Forest encompasses three wilderness areas: the Gila; the Aldo Leopold; and the Blue Range.
There are approximately 1,490 miles of trails crisscrossing the Gila Wilderness. You can ride the shoes right off your horse and never worry about mountain bikes or motorized vehicles.
Near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument there are two primitive campgrounds with corrals for horses; TJ's Camp and Woody's Corral.
We stayed at Woody's Corral, which consists of four large corrals and a good-sized water tank with a working water tap.
(Note that while we were there, the water tap at TJ's Corral wasn't working due to flood-damaged water lines. The corrals were useable, but we'd have to haul water.)
Camping spots are nondesignated, so it was up to us to select which shady tree we wanted to camp under. This is a scenic, spacious camp, and best of all, free!
The visitor center, about a mile from Woody's Corral, is a rich source of information. Here, you can learn about trails, animals, the area's history, and unique geology.
It's always fun to ride straight from camp. From Woody's Corral, we had four gorgeous rides. The rides had diverse terrain, including ridge tops, deep canyons, old growth forests, lush meadows, hot springs, rivers, and pictographs.
Here's a photo gallery from our trip. (For more on our trip to Gila National Forest, see Postcard From … New Mexico, The Trail Rider, November/December'11.)