Cibola National Forest

Magdalena Ranger District

Magdalena Ranger District is comprised of four separate and distinct mountain ranges in southwest New Mexico. They are the Datil, Bear, San Mateo, and Magdalena mountains and total nearly 800,000 acres of national forest land. Elevations range from 10,700 feet on South Baldy in the Magdalenas to under 6,000 feet in the southern portion of the San Mateos. This large land area with varying elevations contains many different vegetation zones and settings for a wide variety of uses and activities. Water is scarce and yet a diverse selection of wildlife is present. Roads and trails provide reasonable access to most areas year-round, with snow hampering access in the upper elevations during winter and early spring.

Magdalena Ranger District is home to a diverse population of wildlife species that is seldom exceeded in the Southwest. Game animals include blue, Gambel's, and Mearn's quail, Abert's squirrel, Coue's whitetail deer, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, black bear, bobcat, cougar, Merriam's turkey, pronghorn antelope, and javelina. Non-game species include cottontail rabbits, blacktail jackrabbits, prairie dogs, coyotes, and a multitude of small mammals, reptiles, and birds. Raptors range from the small Kestrel falcon to the majestic golden eagle.

This list is not all-inclusive. There is an abundance of creatures on the Magdalena district, suffice to say that hunters, outdoor photographers, bird watchers, and all who enjoy wildlife will find numerous opportunities here.

The Magdalena area, like much of New Mexico is rich in history. Magdalena is named for a woman whose profile can be seen on the face of Magdalena mountain. This town originated as a rail head to ship ore from the Kelly and other nearby mines. Ore and livestock were shipped by the railroad. In active years, the Kelly mines produced nearly $60 million worth of gold, lead, silver, zinc, and copper. When the mines were depleted and trucks replaced the railroad for cattle shipment, the railroad was removed. The old train station is now Magdalena town hall.

The old mines at Kelly and Rosedale are still popular places for rock hunters; some lucky hunters still find Smithsonite, a mineral valued for its zinc content. The Kelly area is the only place in the United States where Smithsonite is found. Fool's gold and other ore samples are more readily found. The Magdalena Mountains provided timber and firewood for Fort Craig on the Rio Grande, when it was operated as a military outpost from 1854 to 1885. Mark Twain's brother raised at the base of the San Mateo mountains. There are many legends told about the area and the old timers event held annually in Magdalena the weekend after July 4 is an excellent opportunity to come in contact with story telling, yarn spinning, and the flavor of the old west.

Recreation and Wilderness
Many recreation opportunities exist throughout the district. The primary recreation available is the dispersed, primitive, unconfined acres for the adventurous visitor: backpackers, day-hikers, hunters, photographers, horseback riders, etc.; however, five small campgrounds are available for the less adventurous forest visitor. There are almost 200 miles of maintained foot and horseback trails. These trails are described in detail in a hiking guide available from the district office. The 550 miles of roads are maintained for high clearance vehicles. The Withington and Apache Kid wildernesses offer solitude and a true wilderness experience. Volunteer and partnership opportunities are used to assist the district in maintaining trails and developed sites, and in improving wildlife habitat.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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