Soak in Aldo Leopold’s Favorite Pool
Turkey Creek Hot Springs
Gila Wilderness, New Mexico
If Turkey Creek was good enough for Aldo Leopold (a reported hot springs enthusiast who roamed this region while dreaming up the idea of federally protected wilderness), it’s good enough for you. On a map, the four-mile stroll to Turkey Creek looks deceptively simple. Don’t be fooled. This challenging scramble plunges you through multiple creek crossings in a canyon that has no maintained trails. What it does have is a diverse mix of flora and fauna: The Gila Wilderness, where the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert ecosystems slam into the tail end of the Rockies, is uniquely biodiverse. Expect to see everything from shambling black bears to scurrying javelinas to Mexican wolves on the prowl.
The Turkey Creek hike starts out innocently enough, with the main trail unfolding along Turkey Creek for two leisurely miles. But once you pass Skeleton Creek, things get confusing: The path splinters into a maze of user trails with cliffs rising up both sides, slickrock traverses, and mandatory brisk-water wading. What’s more, there’s no guarantee you’ll even recognize the springs when you reach them. Spring floods obliterate the rock-walled tubs that soakers often build. But the camping is plentiful, unregulated, grassy, and tucked in the trees. Several pools dot the creek, and a large swimming hole fills with hot springs runoff, making it a perfect all-day-dunking temp. Ready for more hiking? Backtrack down Turkey Creek and hit theTurkey Creek Trail before heading north another 22 miles into the secret valleys and ponderosa-filled forests of the Mogollon Mountains. Connect with the Little Creek Trail, and follow it 12 more miles to the ruins of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (where you can leave a shuttle vehicle).
From the town of Gila, follow Turkey Creek Road north until it ends at the Gila River. Wade the Gila to the Turkey Creek Trail (#155). Hike for 2.5 miles, turn up Skeleton Canyon, and climb to the rim of Sycamore Canyon, heading off-trail to follow the creek upstream for about 1.5 miles to the springs. Turkey Creek Hot Springs UTM: 12S 0734871E 3666079N Info Gila National Forest: (505) 536-2250; www. fs.fed.us/r3/gila. Pick up Matt Bischoff’s Touring New Mexico Hot Springs ($13, Falcon Guides) and consult the USGS Canyon Hill and Canteen Canyon quads. Season Summer and fall. Spring can bring high waters.