2020 Elk Hunt @ New Mexico Gila Wilderness

Finally I had arrived in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness! It was a long drive and I completely underestimated how long the final stretch would take but I made it in one piece. Had to take a few glamour shots of the new-to-me Toyota Tacoma that handled the terrain like a champ. These photos were at Sand Point which is one of the few pullouts/parking areas that I could get everything in camera frame.

I came in from the west through Mogollon, New Mexico and went across Bursum Road (NM-159) which isn’t a difficult drive but definitely glad I have high-clearance for piece of mind. Not bad save for a few steep grades, and we saw a few sedans traverse it without issue. You can see off the left side where the forest was previously burned years ago and still recovering.

First stop was at Willow Creek Campground where my dad was already set up & scouting/hunting inside GMU 16B where his tag was valid. I didn’t get to see much here because he wasn’t finding elk in that area and we moved the next day. Weather was very hot and we estimate the elk herd moved further to the interior of this area beyond the reach of hunters on horseback, or went outside 16B completely in search of cooler temps. Overnight at camp by the creek it may have dropped to freezing (or damn close, it was COLD!). Nice camp, primitive but there are pit toilets. [NOTE: Photos from here are only with my iPhone 8, didn’t have time to play with the bigger camera. Surprisingly quality wasn’t too terrible!]

The next morning we headed east along Loco Mountain Road (NM-142) to Dipping Vat Campground which sits next to Snow Lake. Not 100% sure but I think this area is just on the boundary of the GMU. Campground and surrounding area is co-administered by the U.S. Forest Service and New Mexico Department of Game & Fish. A very nice campground with nicer/larger pit toilets and fire rings. My Easy-Up shelter was killed by the wind here but we had two so it worked out.

We scouted/hunted this area for a couple days but didn’t find much. Too damn hot. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) crosses right here at Snow Lake and we explored that area south of the campground along Gilita Creek and the Middle Fork Gila River. This photo was us heading back to camp after coming up empty on our hike and being extremely lucky to catch the sun and clouds at near perfect timing. Views & experiences in places like this are what makes it worth the trip!

Next photo is a bit random but I’m calling it my accidental re-creation of the Windows XP “Bliss” wallpaper. Eat your heart out Bill Gates. This was during our day trip driving out to Reserve, New Mexico for gas and supplies and was taken somewhere around Negrito Airport north of camp back on NM-159. Ended up having lunch at Ella’s Cafe and enough fuel to keep cruising around the mountains.

The following day we drove & scouted more entry points for Unit 16B from the north side. In the afternoon we tried a new spot at Loco Mountain. We definitely liked the terrain here more, and some other hunters said they have found turkey there before (it definitely looks like good habitat for them). Again it was very hot weather and we came up empty, but we did find old sign (scat) along our hike so possibly a good area under more favorable conditions.

Here’s my dad as I follow behind him playing role of designated camera man & gear mule. We stayed busy driving and hiking most of the time so I didn’t actually take many pictures. I tend to put the camera down especially when hunting where we get more focused on the moment at hand. Scenery atop Loco Mountain looking down to the valley is gorgeous.

Here’s a panorama shot I tried and it turned out okay. Panorama mode screws with exposure and light was a bit low here so it’s not perfect. Does give you, the reader at home, a bit more perspective how large this terrain really is. Photo below best viewed on a large PC screen, click to see in expanded high-resolution.

Panorama with iPhone 8 near Loco Mountain
Panorama with iPhone 8 near Loco Mountain

More to come in my next post, however this was nearing the end of my trip thanks to outside forces…

Author’s Note: Due to my lazy nature and/or busy schedule, I’m posting this from the future in July 2021. Original visit date September 5, 2020 which is during the time that the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. I was travelling solo and always masked up when not outdoors and socially distanced. Sadly my trip got derailed due to close contact with infected parties and I had to bail out early (luckily I tested negative upon return). Needless to say this wasn’t my favorite trip and I’ve been putting off posting it. Anyways, enjoy it now, travel safely, and get vaccinated.

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