Perfect Day: Gila Wilderness, New Mexico

Take a winter hike to the steaming pools of Melanie Hot Springs in Gila Wilderness, New Mexico.
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Take a winter hike to the steaming pools of Melanie Hot Springs in Gila Wilderness, New Mexico.

Matt Bischoff, a historian for California's Parks and Rec Department, literally wrote the book on hot springs—for California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, that is. For his updated NM guide (2008), he spent months scouring the Land of Enchantment for its choicest soaks. Here's his favorite, a winter hike to the steaming pools of Melanie Hot Springs.

7:32 Wake at the Gila Wilderness Forks campground, an undeveloped site set among cliffs next to the Gila River. (www2.srs.fs.fed.us/r3/gila)

8:22 Drive .5 mile south on NM 15 to the Gila River trailhead (Trail 724) and begin a 1.5-mile moderate hike downstream. Pack extra socks for hike out.

9:04 Arrive at the seventh river crossing (they're mostly ankle deep). Stay on the east side of the river and continue downstream for .1 mile.

9:11 Reach the springs: two seeps cascading into three spectacularly clear pools at the base of deep red cliffs.

9:20 Soak in the steamy 90°F water, enjoying the contrast of chilly winter air on my face.

11:36 Eat lunch, and check out the warm waterfall cascading between the springs.

1:10 Head back to the trailhead

2:28 Drive five miles northwest on NM 15 to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (nps.gov/gicl). Set out on a 1.5-mile loop from the visitor center to the multi-story stone and mud structures built into caverns in the side of a cliff between 1280 and 1300.

3:32 Keep eyes peeled for petroglyphs.

5:05 Drive back down NM 15 (southeast) 4.5 miles to Doc Campbell's Post (505-536-9551) and sidle up to the snack bar for homemade ice cream.

6:08 Eye steam rising off the Gila Hotspring, a short walk from the store. Go investigate, then strip down for another soak in the 110°F waters (gilahotspringsranch.com).