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Nestled within the beautiful Gila Valley, Gila and Cliff are situated on opposite sides of the Gila River where it exits the vast, rugged, mountainous terrain of the Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness.
Both communities share a rich ranching and farming heritage that began with the first pioneer settlement in the area during the mid-1800s. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, the legendary LC Ranch was headquartered in Gila. The LC Ranch was a huge operation which at its peak at the turn of the 20th century ran some 60,000 head of cattle, herded by some 75 wranglers over an area 40x60 square miles (roughly 1.5 million acres) that stretched from near the headwaters of the Gila River in the Gila Wilderness west to the Arizona border and from Mule Creek south to about what is now Interstate 10. This agricultural heritage continues to flourish today, as evidenced by the numerous large ranches found throughout the broad Gila Valley. The Cliff/Gila school, for grades K-12, is the home of the Cowgirls and Cowboys, whose championship boys and girls basketball teams have a large following, and where every spring a day is set aside for students to ride their horse to school. The Grant County Fair is held in Cliff annually in late September and showcases the best local student talent in everything farming and ranching. Each community has its own post office, and there are numerous churches, a local market, a hardware store, a small cafe and sandwich shop, a gas station/convenience store, library, health clinic, senior center, community center, tennis courts, and a playground.
The centerpiece of the area is the Gila River, the last free-flowing river in Southwestern New Mexico. From prehistoric times until about 1400 AD, the agriculturally-oriented Mogollon Pit House and later Pueblo Cultures thrived in the Gila Valley at numerous habitation sites along the Gila River and its tributaries of Mogollon Creek and Bear Creek. Along these dependable watercourses, these ancient cultures grew crops of maize, corn, and beans in the rich floodplain soil, supplemented by the abundant game and fish found in the adjacent mountains and the Gila River. In later years, from the late-1600s to the late-1880s, this area was a favorite homeland of the nomadic Chiricahua Apache, whose presence in the Gila Valley remained a persistent threat to the early pioneer settlers up until the surrender of Geronimo in 1886.
Surrounded by the 3.3 million acres of the Gila National Forest, the Gila/Cliff area makes a perfect base for visitors who enjoy all types of outdoor pursuits in a pristine natural environment, such as hiking, birding, rock hounding, camping, hunting, and fishing. A variety of short and long-term lodging is available in the area, as well as camping in the Gila National Forest.
The hiking opportunities readily accessed from the Gila/Cliff area are unsurpassed, offering a wide range of established trails from easy to challenging.
The Billings Vista Overlook, along the Gila River in the Burro Mountains, downstream of Gila/Cliff, is the starting point of an easy, relaxing hike along the river's floodplain, beneath a canopied riverine forest dotted with towering ancient cottonwoods and sycamores.
Upstream from Gila/Cliff, another easy hike is found at the Nature Conservancy's Gila Riparian Preserve that will take you to the Gila River Gauging Station and a great lunch spot along the shaded bank of the river. Longer and more challenging hikes abound, from all-day treks such as a challenging hike to Turkey Creek Hot Springs (requiring numerous fords of the Gila River and some strenuous boulder hopping up Turkey Creek) to extended backpacking expeditions on one of a multitude of trails that lead up into the high-country of the Gila Wilderness.
Birding in the Gila/Cliff area is excellent, offering a wide array of habitat, from riverine forested floodplain to mesquite- and cactus-covered mesas, to juniper- and pinon-covered foothills, to soaring fir- and spruce-covered mountains up to 11,000 feet in elevation. Both the casual and avid birder can expect to find an extremely broad range of species at all times of the year. Over 300 different species of birds have been recorded in this area, including numerous rare and uncommon species such as the Sand Hill Crane, Bald Eagle, Willow Flycatcher, Common Black Hawk, and several species of hummingbirds, including Black-chinned, Broadtail, and Rufous, as well as the large Elegant and diminutive Calliope. Indeed, it is a birder's paradise in the Gila/Cliff area.
Good fishing can usually be found in two locations. Bill Evans Lake Reservoir, which once held the New Mexico record for a 15 lb. largemouth bass, is stocked with rainbow trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, sunfish, and catfish. If flowing water is your preference, there are miles of opportunity along the Gila River, where small and largemouth bass, trout, and channel and flathead catfish can be caught.
Most New Mexico species of large and small game animals are abundant within the vast public lands of the Gila National Forest, Federal Bureau of Land Management and State of New Mexico, including elk, mule deer, bear, and javelina. Various annual seasons exist for different districts within the area for both bow and gun hunting.
At night, the view of the Milky Way from anywhere in the Gila Valley is incredible! There are no lights to interfere; just dark, dark skies alive with millions of stars when the moon is new. At full-moon time, the moon's brilliance is amazing, so bright you can roam outside without a flashlight, beautifully silhouetting the mountains of the Gila Wilderness against the night sky.
All in all, the Gila/Cliff area is a great place to settle in for a few days or a longer stay and spend your days exploring all that Grant County has to offer the visitor, without the noise and activity of more populated areas.