New Mexico's Gila region in the southern Rocky Mountains is a spectacular contrast of diverse cultures and rich with historical legends and facts.
Some early residents here were ancient Indians such as the Mogollons who made the magnificent 40 room Gila Cliff Dwellings their home, followed by the Mimbrenos, (Willow People) who's highly sought after black and white pottery can still be found marking burial sites throughout the Gila. These towering cliffs are also the birthplace of the fierce Apache warrior, Geronimo.
Mangos Colorados (Red Sleeves) and his son in law, Cochise, roamed these wild mountains and forests as well. The U.S. Cavalry built the old wagon trail, now NM Hwy. 15, to hunt all these elusive Apaches. Having lived in the Gila most of their lives, however, they managed to outwit and outmaneuver them for years.
Outlaws, such as Billy the Kid, who lived in Silver City, and the Hole in the Wall Gang were also known to the Trail of the Mountain Spirits. In between “forays” the outlaws hired on as cowboys for local ranches and worked the mines on occasion.
In Pinos Altos, at the south end of The Trail of the Mountain Spirits on route 15, you can still see ruins of old mines and appreciate a quaint museum dedicated to the original miners of the 1800's. While you meander around this historical town, take the time to have a tasty meal and entertainment at The Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House across the road.
After leaving Pinos Altos, be sure to continue along Hwy. 15 to the Cliff Dwellings, where civilization ends...and the Gila Wilderness begins. (No motorized traffic allowed beyond this point.) Just before you reach this destination, however, stop at the Gila Hotsprings. A visit there is well worth the time!
As you backtrack on 15, look for the Junction of Hwy’s 15 and 35. Here you'll find the newly re-opened Little Toad (that's what Sapillo means!) Tavern and fine dining room. Turn left on 35. A short picturesque stretch along the Sapillo Creek will bring you to our Lake Roberts Store & Cabins... just this side of the lake itself.
The cabins are on the old Brannin homestead. The Brannins were early settlers of what was then called the Upper Sweet Grass. According to some folks, women shaped the settlements west of Melville and Grannie Brannin's hospitality and cooking are still legendary.
Less than a mile further along the route 35 loop of The Trail of the Mountain Spirits, you will suddenly come upon Lake Roberts, understandably called the “Emerald of the Gila, against a backdrop of open sky and multi-hued mountains.
At the Upper End of the lake, and if it happens to be Saturday, you can enjoy German food at the Spirit Canyon Lodge and Cafe. If you’re in the mood for a worthwhile hike while pausing there, view the petroglyphs at Pictograph Canyon right across the street.
Continuing from there on Hwy. 35, little more a stone's throw away is the GOS, one of the oldest ranches in New Mexico. As you drive through its vast mountain meadows and pass through shaded areas of Ponderosa pines, imagine countless herds of cattle passing through this very spot, under the watchful eyes of cowpunchers “riding for the brand.” Roundups were common all along 35, even just a few years ago.
From there you are not far from the Upper Mimbres Valley, where you can stop and check out the Archaeological Visitor's Center or try some Mexican food at the Mimbres Cafe. If it's Thursday, check out the local farmer's market in Mimbres from 3:30-5:30, and if it's the 3rd Sunday, head to the Mimbres Roundup Lodge for some Bingo!
Speaking of good eating...at Lake Roberts Store and Cabins, we will be offering an outside barbeque in the summer months. And as always...you can count on on traditional good cooking and old-fashioned western hospitality!
Whether you are here for the Old West history, to horseback or hike a trail, hunt, fish, or just to relax among the pines and wildlife, your visit to The Gila will not be forgotten.