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Mimbres Valley, Lake Roberts, Gila Hot Springs — trail of the mountain spirits

By Dianna Kendall-Dobbs

Last updated on Monday, December 30, 2002

Lake Roberts. Photo by Dianna Kendall-Dobbs
Lake Roberts. Photo by Dianna Kendall-Dobbs
Hidden away in Southwest New Mexico lies the Trail of the Mountain Spirits, a loop drive through the historically rich and beautiful Mimbres Valley, Lake Roberts, and Gila Hot Springs area, still called the Inner Loop by most locals. Intriguing stories about this area abound, beginning with the ancient Mogollon, Mimbreno and Apache Indians and continuing to the 1500s and beyond when Spanish settlers, mountain men, soldiers, miners and cattlemen arrived.

The Trail begins at the desert floor, east on Highway 61, off NM 180, midway between Deming and Silver City. From this point in the Lower Mimbres Valley, it is about 42 miles to Lake Roberts and 72 miles to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The area population is about 5,000.

Legendary Cooks Peak towers above the foothills to the south. On the left is the privately owned Faywood Hot Springs, visited for spiritual and health reasons since prehistoric times. The springs are a natural geothermal source of 130 degree water that flows from the top of a tufa dome at 5,020 feet above sea level.

A little further up the road, perched upon the upward sloping landscape, is the volcanically formed City of Rocks State Park, providing overnight camping and designated picnic areas.

Climbing into the rugged rolling hills along the Mimbres River, as you progress along Highway 61, the small ranching and farming communities of Dwyer, Sherman and San Juan come into view.

Turning north at the old Spanish settlement of San Lorenzo, Highway 35 gently winds through the sprawling Upper Mimbres Valley, a farming and ranch community seeing strong residential growth over the past ten years. Several small groceries, restaurants and businesses line the first five mile stretch of the road paralleling the Mimbres River.

Just beyond the Mimbres Store, built and owned by Jake and Ina Osborn since 1963, is Bear Canyon Lake, a small dam with good fishing that includes a picturesque, intermittent water fall. Constructed in the 1930s, it has long been a favorite fishing hole of locals.

Climbing further into the pine country of the Gila Forest, you may see elk, deer, bear, cougar, and a variety of other creatures as the Mimbres River and the Black Range rise to the north and east.

Heading west, away from the Mimbres River, unique sandstone cliffs overlook many prehistoric Mimbres Indian sites. Today this area is the home of private residences, and a landmark of modern times, Camp Thunderbird.

If you head north at the Continental Divide, elevation 6,600 feet, on Forest Road 150, the Outer Loop traverses some of the most rugged but beautiful back country in the Gila, including Wall Lake and Snow Lake.

Back on NM 35 awaits a breathtaking view of one of the oldest ranches in the area, the G.O.S., framed by the majestic mountains of the Mogollons.

Eight miles further hides the Sapillo Valley and the Emerald of the Gila Forest, Lake Roberts. Constructed in 1963, this 73 acre lake is home to a vast variety of flora and fauna. It supports outdoor recreation of many kinds, the Lake Roberts General Store and Cabins, several food and lodging businesses, and the communities of Lake Roberts Heights, Lake Roberts and Trout Valley.

At the junction of NM 35 and 15, Grey Feathers Lodge and Restaurant greets you before you head north into the heart of the Mogollons. At the Coppers Vista, altitude 7,100 feet, the vast and rugged Gila Wilderness reaches to the horizon.

A difficult 6 percent down grade brings you to the confluence of the middle fork, west fork and east fork of the Gila River. Scattered through out the canyons is the old ranching community of Gila Hot Springs, settled in the 1880s by the Hills brothers. In 1929 Doc Campbell relocated to the area and built Doc Campbell's Post in 1963. Currently it is also a residential, small business, and recreation area.

The road dead ends at the ancient Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The return to Silver City via Pinos Altos is a two hour drive on a densely forested, winding mountain road.

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