If you’re looking for a place to retreat where there’s few people around, where you can enjoy peace and quite, then you can hardly do any better than living in Catron County, New Mexico.
As of the 2010 census, the population was 3,725, making it the third-least populous county in New Mexico. This translates to two square miles of space per person.
Named after a famous attorney and Santa Fe political leader, Thomas B. Catron, Catron County became a county on February 25, 1921. The county covers almost 7,000 square miles and is comprised of mostly rugged mountainous terrain. Less than 20% of the land in Catron County is privately owned with the balance of the land being public. Reserve, the County seat and largest town in the county, boasts a population of about 400.
Catron County Climate
The climate in Catron County is not gentle, but is also never dull. During the winter months there are occasional snow storms, but the majority of the precipitation comes during July, August and September in the form of dramatic thundershowers. Summer here is like summer in most of New Mexico; warm sun, refreshing air and chilly nights. There is no such thing as smog or a heavy, humid atmosphere in Catron County.
The Apache and Gila National Forests border one another in this area; the two forests combined cover much of Catron County. The Continental Divide zig-zags through this mountain complex which is characterized by rugged slopes, narrow canyons, rocky formations, clear mountain streams and evergreen forests. There are good trout fishing and big game hunting in Catron County. Elk are abundant in the area, but the area also contains deer, bear, big horn sheep, mountain lion and wild turkey as well as many other wild critters.
There are many dirt roads throughout the National Forest in the County, but the Forest Service warns that they should be considered “dry weather” roads and should not be attempted during wet weather without first checking with the local Forest Service ranger station. A good rule to remember is that any unpaved road in Catron County is a “dry weather” road.
Catron County has many campgrounds on National Forest land with facilities. However, there are many other areas where those who enjoy being on their own can find a place under the pines to set up camp. All Forest Service ranger stations have maps of their forest districts, listing the camping areas and their facilities.
Gila Wilderness Area
The Gila Wilderness Area contains 558,014 acres and was established in 1924. This is the oldest wilderness area in the United States. The purpose of a wilderness area is to preserve the area exactly as nature made it so that the pristine beauty of the mountains will remain a source of spiritual enrichment for all time. No roads or motorized travel of any kind are allowed in a wilderness area. There is also no commercial use permitted other than some livestock grazing. Hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, hunting and fishing are allowed. There are many trails that go into the Gila Wilderness Area from all directions. It is advisable to check at any of the Forest Service Ranger Offices in the area for maps and information on the Gila Wilderness Area.
Catron County Towns & Communities
Aragon is an old Spanish settlement with about twenty ranch and farm homes scattered along the highway which continues along the Tularosa Valley.
Seven miles south of Aragon is the village of Apache Creek where the creek by the same name joins the Tularosa River. This is also the junction of New Mexico State Highway 12 and New Mexico State Highway 32
Visitors may notice a curious thing about the fence posts near Cruzville. Some posts have a piece of wood about an inch thick and six inches square nailed flat on top of the posts. These were used to support luminaries during Christmas or other special celebrations. Luminaries are an old custom handed down from early Spanish days when little bonfires were used to light the pathway to the churches on Christmas Eve. Today, instead of bonfires, we use small brown paper bags with some sand in the bottom to support a votive candle that is lit inside.
The first settlers in the Reserve area were Spanish families in the 1860’s who migrated west from the Rio Grande Valley and began raising livestock. Many of the families also settled around the communities of Aragon, Datil and Quemado. The first settlements around Reserve, which sets along the San Francisco River, were called Upper Frisco Plaza, Middle Frisco Plaza and Lower Frisco Plaza. Sometime during the 1870’s, Milligan’s Plaza was established just north of Upper Frisco Plaza. Then, when forest lands were set aside as National Forest Reserves, the name of Milligan’s Plaza was changed to Reserve. A trace of an old Spanish village still remains at Middle Frisco Plaza. An old adobe store bears the peeling words “M.D. Romero, Frisco Store” and faces a field that was once the plaza.
Snow Lake & Willow Creek
Forest Service Road #141 travels south from Lower Frisco Plaza and is a fairly good all-weather road to travel upon to reach Snow Lake and the Willow Creek Campground area. Willow Creek Campground is one of the most beautiful mountain “playgrounds” in the state of New Mexico. There are five maintained campgrounds in the area which offer access to some of the best trout fishing and big game hunting in the Gila National Forest.
Rising majestically from the bush and grass of the San Agustin Plains, the Datil Mountains rise to an elevation of 7500 feet, nestling the town of Datil at its feet. This picturesque little town was named for the yucca seedpods resembling dates (Datil is the Spanish word of “date”), and was established in 1884 when Levi and Fred Baldwin opened the first store and post office to serve ranchers. Today life centers around the Eagle Guest Ranch, a café, motel, general store, gas station, and RV park which acts as the general meeting place for the community and surrounding area.
In the 1900’s a day’s ride by horseback west of Datil along what is now know as US 60 sits a small community on the Continental Divide, originally know as Norman’s Place. This community sits at an altitude of 7,900 feet. Clyde Norman owned the town’s only gas station and café. He began selling pies and in the 1920’s the town become known as Pie Town. In 1934 the area was opened to homesteaders who began dry land farming. They grew pinto beans until 1956 when the lack of rain and snow made farming difficult. Today an annual Pie Festival is held the second Saturday of September.
In the 1900’s and another days ride by horseback west of Pie Town will bring you to Quemado, which lies at an altitude of 6,970 feet. Quemado is the Spanish work for “burned”. In 1880 a settler by the name of Jose Antonio Padilla noticed the brush had been burned by the local Indians and named the settlement Rito Quemado. Today Quemado serves the surrounding area with cafes, motels, garages, general store, hardware store, and a high school.
Luna is a tiny sleepy historical village that was settled in the 19th Century by a sheep rancher and powerful political force in New Mexico named Solomon Luna. The area was later settled by Mormon ranchers from Utah. However, the Hough Ruin (pronounced HUFF) is just a reminder these early settlers were but newcomers, as the Hough Ruin dates back 700 years earlier.
Glenwood & Surrounding Area
Glenwood is a quaint little village located in southern Catron County on US Highway 180. Glenwood has motels, restaurants and other services and is the jumping off place for several Catron County features.
- Frisco Hot Springs: Reached by a little dirt road south of Glenwood and four miles north of the Catron County/Grant County line. These hot springs, in the cold waters of the San Francisco River, have been splashed in for pleasure and used to bathe in for therapeutic reasons by prehistoric Indians, Apache Indians, pioneer settlers as well as today’s travelers.
- The Famous Catwalk: Five miles out of Glenwood and is reached by traveling up Whitewater Road. A few remains of an old gold and silver mine are located where the creek emerges from a narrow canyon. This was called Graham and was the post office for the area. The name was changed later to Clear Creek and in 1904 the post office was moved to the present site of Glenwood.
More Information About Catron County
For more information and credit to much of this article is accredited to “Catron County The Best Kept Secret in New Mexico”
Moving To Catron County
If you’re getting ready to scale down your life and you’re looking for a place where life is slow, the sky is big and blue with views forever, then a property in Catron County should be on your short list. We invite you to view our listings, or if you’re in a hurry, why not allow us to assist you with your search. Just tell us what you’re looking for and be on your way. We’ll develop a list of candidate properties for your review.