America has a seemingly endless amount of names to designate public lands to be preserved forever. Most commonly we know national parks, national forests, state parks/forests, national monuments, recreation areas, etc. But before we had all these different designations, there were only a few and we can thank a couple special people for recognizing the phenomenon of natures systematic, beautiful chaos. Wilderness.
That's right. This is the Wilderness and Friendship Tour, after all, did you not expect me to have a few impassioned outbursts of love and appreciation for actual Wilderness?
The first Wilderness was the brain-child of conservationist, forester, all-knowing naturalist Aldo Leopold. While working for the National Forest Service in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, Aldo Leopold proposed the first designated wilderness area, the Gila Wilderness.
Understand why I wanted to visit this place? The first Wilderness ever! Thank you Aldo Leopold. The GW is 1.3 million acres of savage beauty, unforgiving terrain, diverse ecosystems and wildlife you only find in a place of acreage in the millions. P.s. the Gila National Forest which encompasses the GW is 3.3 million acres. I don't think you could see all of this place in a lifetime.
I didn't try.
Now, I have to give some credit to my friend Kerri for the recommendation to visit a specific area within the Gila. I was pretty set on visiting the first Wilderness but when Kerri mentioned a series of hidden hot-springs, I began planning immediately. And dreaming.
When I walked into the district ranger office in Silver City, I did the typical Aaron move. That's really just wearing an enormous smile, introducing myself and announce where I am going and that I'd like as much information as possible.
Because the GW is so large, not everyone who works at the district ranger knew where I was talking about, so my inquiry spun into an hour and a half conversation on conservation, ecology and pure excitement.
All good things people. The staff were so warm and friendly, with all the reasons to be. When your job is to manage and care for millions of acres of wild, public land and sharing that with the curious and adventuresome, who could have a bad day?
Stay tuned for the meat and taters of this unforgettable leg of the Wilderness and Friendship Tour.