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Snapshot: Gila Wilderness

In the 3.3 million acres of the Gila National Forest, visitors experience the rugged wilderness that thrilled naturalist Aldo Leopold nearly 100 years ago.

The forest includes three wilderness areas — the Blue Range, Aldo Leopold and Gila Wilderness. The Gila Wilderness was the first wilderness area in the United States.

Camping, fishing and walking the Catwalk National Recreation Trail, where visitors climb catwalks and suspension bridges along an 1890s pipeline, are popular attractions.

The Gila ranges from low river valleys to dramatic mountains and deserts, much of it off-limits to cars. Visitors feel like they are “getting back to the way the West used to be,” says forest supervisor Kelly Russell.

The area also includes Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, where the Mogollon people lived from the 1270s to early 1300s.

In Silver City, two hours south, visitors can learn about mining history and check out charming Victorian homes and a lively art scene.

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