Sharing the Ranch Life in New Mexico

by Hidden Trails 06/01/2007

Sharing the Ranch Life

“The cowboy spirit lives on in southwest New Mexico”
Article by D.K Tani


I suppose I was on the verge of being spoiled.  After all, I had been to a few special guest ranches and seen some mighty picturesque country.  But as impressive as my forays into Wyoming and Arizona have been, nothing prepared me for my first visit to the Gila Working Ranch a year ago.  I’ve since returned twice to replenish my cowboy spirit.  I can’t seem to get enough of the endless vistas, spectacular Southwest beauty, adventurous horseback riding and the perfect pair of hosts, located in Gila, 30 miles northwest of Silver City.


Owners Alan and Debbie Eggleston relocated from Colorado and bought the Gila Ranch only six years ago and have been accepting guests for the past four.  In that short time, however, they’ve created the perfect “western rider’s ranch.”  Under their vision, the Gila Ranch blends the traditional and contemporary into an ideal embodiment of ranching life.  It’s no statistical anomaly that guests fortunate enough to discover the Gila Ranch return again and again.


The 30,000 acres (deeded and leased) provide plenty ­­­­---- and I mean plenty ---- of room for exploring.  After three visits and riding at least 225 miles, I still have scratched the surface of seeing the ranch.  We easily logged 25- to 30 – mile, all – day rides.  I love to get plenty of working rides at guest ranches.  To me, that means loads of cattle and ranch work, precisely that type of experience I can’t get back at my urban home.


The ranch offers that and so much more.  The landscape is so stunning that I was torn between working rides and exploring rides.  Lucky for me, on every visit, I had the perfect blend of both --- often in the same ride.  Not only is there always another dramatically different view from atop the next ridge or around the next bend, but, as Debbie says “The views change so much with the time of day and season of year.”


Adventure Rides


            While the ranch offers rides suitable for all skill levels, it’s ideal for advanced and intermediate riders.  On each of my three visits, nearly all the guests possessed strong to excellent riding ability.  Many were experienced horse people who have owned horses at some point.  The number of guests on each visit ranged from five to nine people.  The limited number of guests allows the ranch to respond to requests for a customized riding experience.  And by that, I mean all guests sufficiently challenged by the riding offered.


            Alan, a retired commercial airline pilot, leads many of the rides himself.  When he does, he embarks on his trademark adventure rides.  Alan revels in blazing trails and exploring new country.  He epitomizes “the road less traveled” ---- or rather the road that’s not yet traveled.  Fortunately for Alan and his guests, the ranch offers endless opportunities for his adventure rides, whether it’s over steep, hilly country or wide sandy washes for plenty of miles-long gallops.  We encountered frequent 60-degree inclines to be rewarded at the top of the ridge with a 270 and 360-degree views. 


            During November through February, where the weather is brisk, these adventure rides take on a particular thrill.  The ranch calls these adventures the “Wild Bunch Hole-in-the-Wall” rides.  The common theme to these extreme rides is that they’re all done “hard and fast” and typically cover at least 2 dozen miles.  Other than those parameters, the rides are unstructured.  On one Hole-in-the-Wall ride, Alan led us on a favorite ranch activity: a wild cow hunt.


            The wild cows represent the modern generation of the original ranch settlers’ Herefords of 100 years ago.  These cows roam the more rugged areas of the ranch, which have plenty of dense brush in which to hide.  With each generation, the cows have adapted to their environment, as they proved adroit at evading capture.  On this ride, our stated goal was to spot, encircle, hold rope and brand at least one of the robust animals.  The riders in our group, who each had participated in several gathers before, thought we were prepared for the wild cows.  After all, the strategy sounded similar.  We soon learned that what sounded good in theory failed in practice.


            The wild cows weren’t accustomed to horses and riders, so they immediately took off when they saw us as for as 60 to 70 feet away.  We were further handicapped by the overgrown, thick stands of juniper, mesquite, cholla, devil’s claw and manzanita.  The wild cows merely barreled through these plants, which seems to swallow them as they propelled up and plummeted down steep hillsides.


            For a couple of hours we chased in vain, our horses honest and willing.  We ran after the cows when we could, but only often we could only watch as they disappeared over the top of the next ridge.  Although we failed to catch and brand a wild cow, I suppose we were lucky that we at least managed to spot three groups of them (we thing all but one cow was unbranded) and, at times, get as close as 10 feet, if only fleetingly.  Undeterred by our incomplete achievement, we nevertheless agreed the chase was worth it.



Recovery Activities


            For guests recovering from a wild-cow hunt or another adventure, days spent closer to ranch headquarters are equally challenging and fun-filled----plus kinder to the body.


            We took a crash course in roping from the ranch foreman, Maurice.  In a single afternoon Maurice taught us to build a loop, catch a “cow bale” while standing on the ground, do the same while sitting atop a patient, standing horse, and then practice breakaway roping on real calves in the arena.  Our success rate didn’t rival the pros, but in that short time we did improve and everyone learned valuable tips.


            On other days we helped with more sedate chores like driving some ranch horses to pasture, or we gathered, branded and pushed cows.  The ranch does its spring and fall cattle work over several weeks, using any or all several corrals scattered throughout the property.


            For history or nature buffs, there are several interesting rides, as well.  The Gila ranch adjoins the Gila National Forest and sits at the western edge of the Gila Wilderness.  Riders follow the numerous creeks and canyons formed by towering, rippled walls.  During our rides we spotted bears, Rocky Mountain sheep and deer.  The ranch property itself contains places to explore.  Wrangler Sandy can lead riders to the remnants of the settler’s stone cabin or a homestead adobe more than 100 years old.  Also, because the area was once home to Chircahua Apache, the ranch property boasts American Indian ruins 800 to 1000 years old.


The Stock

The rnch has more than 60 well-trained, sure footed, highly conditioned horses, mostly from Mexican Mustangs.  Aside from the Mexican Mustangs, the Gila ranch also has a few Arabians, a Thoroughbred-cross and a few Paso Finos.  They’re breeding program crosses Arabian Stallions with Mustang mares.


            The ranch generously attends to its horses, rarely allowing them to work without a days off.  With the large number of horses and limited guest capacity, guests experience several well-broke horses.  Every horse I rode was well mannered, responsive, fit and cowy.  Other ranch residents include a small herd of buffalo that roam in a huge pen adjacent to the corrals; a pair of llamas also roams the grounds.



Scenery and Amenities


            The  ranch lies southwest New Mexico, and its 4500-foot elevation makes it an ideal year-round choice.  During the fall cottonwoods and sycamores lining year-round Bear Creek bursts into shades of chartreuse and fluorescent yellow.  In the summer, during the area’s monsoon season, the ranch explodes into all shades of green and other vibrant colors as the grasses and wildflowers take in water.


            The ranch serves great home-style meals, featuring excellent beef and buffalo.  Guests enjoy comfortable cabins complete with relaxing porches.  Although you probably won’t want to leave the ranch, Silver City is 40 minutes away.


            Debbie describes it best, “Sharing this lifestyle is really important to us.  Keeping the cowboy spirit alive and well is what it’s all about.”


For more information or reservations, please check out the Hidden Trails website at:

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