Crossing the Emory Pass – Sierra County, New Mexico

The Black Range Mountains are part of the Gila National Forest. The road above, New Mexico 152, runs between Caballo and Silver City through the heart of the Black Range Mountains crossing the Continental Divide. The drive is amazing and dangerous. Tight hairpin curves and sheer drop cliffs where ditches should be makes this an exciting drive.

The Emory Pass reaches and altitude of nearly 9000 feet and is breathtaking. It is named after William Henry Emory who crossed the Black Range in 1846 on the way with the Army of the West which marched from New Mexico to California to liberate the Californians from the Spanish. For the record many of the Californians did not want to be liberated and rose up and nearly defeated the American intruders.

There are over 3 million acres in the Gila National Forest. It encompasses the entire Black Range and is as rugged of a mountain range as any. Part of the national forest is known as the Leopold Aldo Wilderness Area. It comprises nerly 300k acres and includes much of the Continental Divide in this region.

Leopold Aldo was born in 1887 and fell in love with the outdoors at an early age. He eventually went to Yale Forest School and joined the U.S. Forest Service which had just been established in Arizona and New Mexico. In 1922 he developed a plan to manage the Gila National Forest as a wilderness area, the first of its kind. A few years later he wrote the first textbook on wildlife management. He became the first wildlife manager in the nation. He died from a heart attack fighting a neighbor’s grass wildfire in 1948.

At the top of the pass is the Continental Divide. A hiking path runs the ridge that makes up the divide for 30 miles. The hike meanders through the depths of the Black Range where legends of lost gold and stories of Apache wars abound. The Apaches used these mountains regularly before they were driven out.

This is the view from the top of the pass at the Continental Divide. There is a pullout here and this is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. I got out here and the smell of pine and melting snow made me feel at home. It smelled like the Upper Pennsula of Michigan.

The Continental Divide Hiking Trail, a rough and treacherous trail. Not for the faint of heart.

Passing the Divide, streams run to the west and the melting snow is feeding the mountain streams. This is one of the origins of the Gallinas River. Driving down the other side of the pass, the stream grows as the elevation drops.

The speed through here is slow. When the say 15 miles an hour for a curve, heed it. This is a place where going into a ditch puts your vehicle in the top of a 40 foot tree. It takes time to negotiate this road with hairpins and S-curves. The beauty is magnificent and worth the drive.

This picture is looking back at the Black Range from the West. Back down in the desert lands, the trip almost seems like a dream, the wondrous world that exists in the Emory Pass, is behind, but it will be there for the next time I decide I need a fix for the Black Range Mountians.

For more from Mikel B. Classen visit his website at www.mikelclassen.com

Writing and Photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright 2020 by Mikel B. Classen

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