APHA
Wanderlust—Travel & Adventure

Gathering in the Gila

Experience the wilderness of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest from the best perspective—on the back of a horse.

Article and photography by Abigail Boatwright

Hours from any city, smartphone or GPS connectivity, Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch is an outpost on the edge of the largest range of wilderness in the continental United States. But guests visiting this New Mexico treasure aren’t huddled in tents eating army rations. From the time you arrive at the ranch until you leave, you’ll experience abundant hospitality, chef-prepared meals, comfortable lodging and quality time with good horses—all while surrounded by awe-inspiring natural scenery.

Going Off the Grid

Meris and Seth Stout started Geronimo Ranch about 12 years ago with Meris’ parents, Diana and Harry Esterly. The husband-and-wife team set up the accommodations, built an infrastructure to harness solar energy, hired a small band of staff and carefully acquired the right horses and tack to make guest rides safe and enjoyable. They also planned every step of the sometimes all-day trail rides they lead around the Gila (pronounced HEE-lah) National Forest.

Meris and Seth Stout started Geronimo Ranch about 12 years ago with Meris’ parents, Diana and Harry Esterly. The husband-and-wife team set up the accommodations, built an infrastructure to harness solar energy, hired a small band of staff and carefully acquired the right horses and tack to make guest rides safe and enjoyable. They also planned every step of the sometimes all-day trail rides they lead around the Gila (pronounced HEE-lah) National Forest.

To get to the ranch, you’ll take a winding road through desert mountain ranges, grassy meadows and sentinel stands of ponderosa pines. Cross the Continental Divide, heading west as you travel deeper into the Gila National Forest. Once you arrive—elevation 6,500 feet—you’ll likely be greeted by Meris, waving and wearing a wide smile as she welcomes you home for the duration of your visit—one of several snug, immaculate cabins, decorated with equine accents and comfortable furnishings, along with a gas fireplace to keep you warm.

Seth’s the appointed tour guide, helping guests orient themselves with the property as they learn about the ranch’s dedication to life off the grid. Nearby, large pastures house the ranch’s 29 horses, and several colorful Paint Horses add flashes of chrome to the mixed-breed menagerie.

Guest trips can be customized for length—most stay between three and seven days—and with multiple trails available, you could ride every day for a week and see a different part of the Gila Forest each time.

Scratch-made meals feature fresh, seasonal ingredients—an impressive feat, considering the chef, Fred Locklear,is working with solar/generator power, and the closest grocery store is 2 ½ hours away. Seth and Fred make a weekly supply run, and Fred whips up delectable creations—Santa Fe chicken, potatoes au gratin, spaghetti squash, salad with homemade dressing, apple crisp with homemade salted caramel ice cream—for up to 16 people at a time, three times a day.

Scratch-made meals feature fresh, seasonal ingredients—an impressive feat, considering the chef, Fred Locklear,is working with solar/generator power, and the closest grocery store is 2 ½ hours away. Seth and Fred make a weekly supply run, and Fred whips up delectable creations—Santa Fe chicken, potatoes au gratin, spaghetti squash, salad with homemade dressing, apple crisp with homemade salted caramel ice cream—for up to 16 people at a time, three times a day.

“We like to horseback ride on vacation when we can,” Terri said. “We planned our vacation around coming here. And then figured out the rest of it.”

A father named Stuart Poltrock from Michigan, his 16-year-old daughter Maggie and her 17-year-old friend Ava Brown were visiting Geronimo for the first time. They wanted to find a guest ranch that wasn’t snowed under in the spring to go riding; going “unplugged” was an added bonus for Stuart.

“It was really nice not to have any distractions,” Stuart said. “I couldn’t do any work, so I had to think differently. It was great to spend time with Maggie. We just had a good time.”

The three girls ride regularly; the adults less so, but all were excited about their time in saddle the first day.

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This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2019 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.

Real-Life Riding

Author Abigail Boatwright shares her Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch experience:

Riding out the back gate of Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch into the Gila National Forest, riders travel through Ponderosa pine forests, up to the top of a mountain that overlooks the Black Range on trails Seth and Meris Stout, owners of the ranch, created. As far as the eye can see is the Gila. Three different wilderness areas combined adds up to 3.3 million unspoiled acres. Seth explains that because their ranch is the only one offering trail rides in this remote part of the Gila, sometimes they won’t see another human on a ride for an entire year.

“We’ve had people start crying when they get to ‘the top of the world,’” Meris says. “Some guests really love the feeling of the wide-open spaces and how much room there is out here.”

One route allows guest to pass through Cox Canyon and on into what Seth and Meris call the Dwelling Canyon, where you’ll stop for a picnic lunch. Meris points out cliff dwellings, pictographs from the Mimbres people dating back 1,000 years, evidence of Basque people and tin miners who all used the same canyon over the years. Back on horseback, you’re liable to get a sore neck craning to see all the scenery and multicolored walls of rock.

“There’s so much history right here,” Seth says. “We show guests historic areas that have been here for a thousand years. But it’s our responsibility to make sure it lasts another thousand years.”

On a second day of riding, Meris, Seth and Joe take riders through canyons for much of the day: Taylor Creek Canyon, “The Narrows” and Beaver Canyon. The horses navigate dozens of little water crossings with ease, allowing riders to take in the springs and beautiful 500-foot canyon walls. The Narrows is like something out of a movie—sheer walls 30-50 feet apart, with a creek in between and a couple of bends to make things interesting.

Riders can spot cattle, birds, and even a squad of javelinas during the ride. After a picnic lunch, guests spend time exploring, wading in the creek, relaxing in hammocks or at the base of shade trees before mounting back up to return the way they came.

Seth and Meris are knowledgeable about the area’s history, wildlife and plants, and share their expertise with guests throughout their time together.

“We’re stewards of the land, and we take care of this land—it takes care of us too,” Seth says. “We feel it’s our job and our responsibility to share, teach about and show it to our guests, but still preserve it.”

Far from reciting dry facts, the Stouts love introducing guests to the spectacular nature that surrounds the ranch.

“We have a deep connection with the land, the country and the area,” Seth says. “We’re trying to give that connection to other people. We love it when we ride to a spot and stop and we hear ‘Wow.’ That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’re working for. We love [this land] so much, and we’re super lucky, fortunate and thankful to be here.”

“We want to share our appreciation for it with others, and teach other people how to care for it too,” adds Meris.

Returning through a portion of canyon nicknamed “The amphitheater,” Meris drew on her theater training from her previous life and sang “Back in the Saddle Again.” The old tune echoed all around the horseback riders as they returned to the ranch after the soul-satisfying trail ride.

 

Take a ride with Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch

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