From Albuquerque, drive about 77 miles south on Interstate 25. At Socorro, head west on U.S. 60 about 60 miles until you reach the town of Datil. Take New Mexico 12 south and west for 67 miles to Reserve. Take New Mexico Highway 435 until it becomes Forest Road 141 and continue for 35 miles and look for signs to Snow Lake campgrounds. From Snow Lake campgrounds, you can choose among several trails into the wilderness.
EXPLORING ON HORSEBACK
Gila Wilderness Ventures, (575) 539-2800, www.gilawildernessventures.com.
Gila Wilderness Expeditions, (866) 242-3500, www.gilawildernessexpeditions.com.
Gila Hot Springs Ranch, (575) 536-9551 or (575) 536-9314, www.gilahotspringsranch.com.
Rates vary by outfitter but generally are about $190 per person per day, including food and use of a horse. Some packages include use of a cabin outside the wilderness; others provide guests with access to a campground where you pitch a tent.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Elevation in the Gila Wilderness ranges from about 5,000 to 10,000 feet. Temperatures in September range from the high 80s during the day to the mid-40s at night. Carry plenty of water and avoid traveling alone. Expect wildlife. Don't expect cellphone service.
TO LEARN MORE
Visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/gila; for more on the cliff dwellings, go to www.nps.gov/gicl/.
See more photographs as well as video of the Gila Wilderness at latimes.com/gila.