Catron County is named after a famous attorney and Santa Fe political leader, Thomas B. Catron. Catron County became a county on February 25, 1921. Catron County is the largest county in land size in the State of New Mexico, but has the third smallest population of any New Mexico County. The county covers almost 7,000 square miles and is comprised of mostly rugged mountainous terrain. Less than 20% of the land in Catron County is privately owned with the balance of the land being public. Approximately 3,500 people make up the population of the county - this traslates to two square miles of space per person. Reserve is the County seat and largest town in the county and boasts a population of about 400.
The climate in Catron County is not gentle, but is also never dull. During the winter months there are occasional snow storms, but the majority of the precipitation comes during July, August and September in the form of dramatic thundershowers. Summer here is like summer in most of New Mexico; warm sun, refreshing air and chilly nights. There is no such thing as smog or a heavy, humid atmosphere in Catron County.
The Apache and Gila National Forests border one another in this area; the two forests combined cover much of Catron County. The Continental Divide zig-zags through this mountain complex which is characterized by rugged slopes, narrow canyons, rocky formations, clear mountain streams and evergreen forests. There is good trout fishing and big game hunting in Catron County. Elk are abundant in the area, but the area also contains deer, bear, big horn sheep, mountain lion and wild turkey as well as many other wild critters. Most sportsmen use four speed pick-ups or four wheel drive vehicles, but horse and mule are also popular forms of transportation in Catron County. There are many dirt roads throughout the National Forest in the County, but the Forest Service warns that they should be considered "dry weather" roads and should not be attempted during wet weather without first checking with the local Forest Service ranger station. A good rule to remember is that any unpaved road in Catron County is a "dry weather" road.
Catron County has many campgrounds on National Forest land with facilities. However, there are many other areas where those who enjoy being on their own can find a place under the pines to set up camp. All Forest Service ranger stations have maps of their forest districts, listing the camping areas and their facilities.
Aragon is an old Spanish settlement with about twenty ranch and farm homes scattered along the highway which continues along the Tularosa Valley.
Seven miles south of Aragon is the village of Apache Creek where the creek by the same name joins the Tularosa River. This is also the junction of New Mexico State Highway 12 and New Mexico State Highway 32.
Visitors may notice a curious thing about the fence posts near Cruzville. Some posts have a piece of wood about an inch thick and six inches square nailed flat on top of the posts. These were used to support luminaries during Christmas or other special celebrations. Luminaries are an old custom handed down from early Spanish days when little bonfires were used to light the pathway to the churches on Christmas Eve. Today, instead of bonfires, we use small brown paper bags with some sand in the bottom to support a votive candle that is lit inside.
The first settlers in the Reserve area were Spanish families in the 1860's who migrated west from the Rio Grande Valley and began raising livestock. Many of the families also settled around the communities of Aragon, Datil and Quemado. The first settlements around Reserve which sets along the San Francisco River, were called Upper Frisco Plaza, Middle Frisco Plaza and Lower Frisco Plaza. Sometime during the 1870's Milligan's Plaza was established just north of Upper Frisco Plaza. Then, when forest lands were set aside as National Forest Reserves, the name of Milligan's Plaza was changed to Reserve.
A trace of an old Spanish village still remains at Middle Frisco Plaza. An old adobe store bears the peeling words "M.D. Romero, Frisco Store" and faces a field that was once the plaza. Lower Frisco Plaza consists of a few ranch homes, barns and log corrals along the San Francisco River. This is also where the Reserve sawmill is located. The sawmill has been closed down now for quite a few years due to the loss of timber sales on National Forest land around Catron County.
Snow Lake & Willow Creek
Forest Service Road #141 travels south from Lower Frisco Plaza and is a fairly good all-weather road to travel upon to reach Snow Lake and the Willow Creek Campground area. Willow Creek Campground is one of the most beautiful mountain "playgrounds" in the state of New Mexico. There are five maintained campgrounds in the area which offer access to some of the best trout fishing and big game hunting on the Gila National Forest. There are also a few summer homes along Willow Creek on land that was homesteaded before the area was set aside as a forest preserve. The area is near the northern boundary of the Gila Wilderness Area. An unimproved "dry weather" road travels from Willow Creek to the town of Mogollon through some truly magnificent mountain scenery.
Rising majestically from the bush and grass of the San Agustin Plains, the Datil Mountains rise to an elevation of 7500 feet nestling the town of Datil at its feet. This picturesque little town was named for the yucca seedpods resembling dates (Datil is the Spanish word of “date”), and was established in 1884 when Levi and Fred Baldwin opened the first store and post office to serve ranchers. Today life centers around the Eagle Guest Ranch, a café, motel, general store, gas station, and RV park which acts as the general meeting place for the community and surrounding area. The Datil Well Campground was a cattle watering well on the; historic stock drive from Springerville, Arizona to the railhead in Magdalena, New Mexico.
In the 1900’s a day’s ride by horseback west of Datil along what is now know as US 60 sits a small community on the Continental Divide originally know as Norman’s Place. This community sits at an altitude of 7,900 feet. Clyde Norman owned the town’s only gas station and café, he began selling pies and in the 1920’s the town become known as Pie Town. In 1934 the area was opened to homesteaders who began dry land farming. They grew pinto beans until 1956 when the lack of rain and snow made farming difficult. Today an annual Pie Festival is held the second Saturday of September.
In the 1900’s and another days ride by horseback west of Pie Town will bring you to Quemado, which lies at an altitude of 6,970 feet. Quemado is the Spanish work for “burned”. In 1880 a settler by the name of Jose Antonio Padilla noticed the brush had been burned by the local Indians and named the settlement Rito Quemado. Today Quemado serves the surrounding area with cafes, motels, garages, general store, hardware store, and a high school.
Luna is a tiny sleepy historical village that was settled in the 19th Century by a sheep rancher and powerful political force in New Mexico named Solomon Luna. The area was later settled by Mormon ranchers from Utah. However, the Hough Ruin (pronounced HUFF) is just a reminder these early settlers were but newcomers, as the Hough Ruin dates back 700 years earlier. In 1995, ten rooms were being excavated by archaeologists from the Museum of New Mexico and a great kiva was discovered. After further excavation it was found this site, though to be a Mogollon ruin, was different from other ruins. It was found to be a large, L-shaped, multi-storied ruin containing 20 to 35 rooms, and two kivas. Kivas were used for religious purposes. Although a shelter was built over the excavated ruins for their protection, it has yet to be developed, due to lack of money, into a visitor’s center and historical site.
Gila Wilderness Area
The Gila Wilderness Area contains 558,014 acres and was established in 1924. This is the oldest wilderness area in the United States. The purpose of a wilderness area is to preserve the area exactly as nature made it so that the pristine beauty of the mountains will remain a source of spiritual enrichment for all time. No roads or motorized travel of any kind are allowed in a wilderness area. There is also no commercial use permitted other than some livestock grazing. Hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, hunting and fishing are allowed. there are many trails that go into the Gila Wilderness Area from all directions. It is advisable to check at any of the Forest Service Ranger Offices in the area for maps and information on the Gila Wilderness Area.
Glenwood & Surrounding Area
Glenwood is a quaint little village located in southern Catron County on US Highway 180. Glenwood has motels, restaurants and other services and is the jumping off place for several Catron County features.
Frisco Hot Springs is reached by a little dirt road south of Glenwood and four miles north of the Catron County/Grant County line. These hot springs in the cold waters of the San Francisco River have been splashed in for pleasure and used to bathe in for therapeutic reasons by prehistoric Indians, Apache Indians, pioneer settlers as well as today's travelers.
The famous Catwalk is five miles out of Glenwood and is reached by traveling up Whitewater Road along Whitewater Creek that flows through Glenwood on its way to the San Francisco River. A few remains of an old gold and silver mine are located where the creek emerges from a narrow canyon. This was called Graham and was the post office for the area. The name was changed later to Clear Creek and in 1904 the post office was moved to the present site of Glenwood. Confidence Mine was several miles up in the Mogollon Mountains and a pipeline running up Whitewater Creek furnished power for the mill. Ore was hauled down to the mill by wagons over part of the old road that went to the big mines at Mogollon. The pipeline up Whitewater Creek was 18 inches in diameter and the men who worked on it had to have nerves of steel and the balance of a cat to walk the pipeline. That is where the name of the Catwalk came from. Even today with a metal walkway that has four-foot-high metal mesh sides running on top of the pipeline, you feel as though you are suspended in mid-air. The Catwalk is 25-30 feet above the stream in a canyon that is so narrow you can almost touch the sides while on the Catwalk. In some places, the pink and purple walls of the canyon almost come together overhead. At high noon the sun finally finds it way into the deep dark canyon which remains cool even in midsummer. The Catwalk trail rises up out of the canyon and continues many miles into the heart of the Wilderness.
New Mexico State Highway 159 travels east from Mogollon into the Gila National Forest where there are several campgrounds on the way to Snow Lake near the northern boundary of the Gila Wilderness Area. A primitive dirt road continues to Beverhead which is 75 miles from Mogollon and the nearest gas station is another 50 miles past Beaverhead. At Beaverhead, New Mexico State Highway 159 meets up with New Mexico State Highway 61. NM State Highway 61 travels south to Wall Lake and then on to the road that goes from Silver City to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. This is a complete circle trip of rare scenic beauty around the Gila Wilderness Area. Wall Lake has a maintained campground and there is good hunting, trout and bull frog fishing here. The easiest route to Beaverhead is to take NM State Highway 52 about 12 miles north of Truth of Consequences and then NM 52 joins NM State Highway 59. This route is paved all the way to Beverhead.