Book Reviews

Since maintaining this site is a spare-time activity (or, sometimes a way to recover sanity from working too hard), we have not yet had a time to visit every campground or hike every hike. We certainly are not experts in all of the fields of natural history (plants, animals, geology, etc) that apply to all of the hiking regions of New Mexico---nobody could. We find that books provide a good reference when looking for background about the natural and human history, as well as planning for new hikes, camping, etc. We carry some of the natural history books with us when we hike, as an aid for identifying what we see.

As we have time, we will review all the books in our reference library, with the hopes that you might pick the best books for your library. Plus, purchasing books using the links here is one way you can support this site.


Gila Wilderness

The first designated wilderness in the world was the Gila, set up by the US Congress in June 1924. At 558,065 acres (225,841 hectares), it is the largest in New Mexico. All access to this vast area is via the trail system; the elevation ranges from 5,700 to 10,770 ft (1,737 to 3,283 m), with portions that are dry and nearly desert to rivers and sub-alpine spruce and fir forests. This diversity means that information about the trails is necessary for anybody wanting to visit the wilderness. Someday, will have all of this information (but it will take us a long while to hike every trail in the Gila Wilderness). Until then, we have found two books that focus on hiking the Gila Wilderness.

Note that these books are about hiking in the Gila Wilderness, and therefore do not include the surrounding Gila National Forest, other than the small parts you have to hike through in order to get to the wilderness. The surrounding forest has many hikes that do not go into the wilderness (some of which we have hiked, and they will eventually appear at

Title The Gila Wilderness: A Hiking Guide Hiking New Mexico's Gila Wilderness
Author John A. Murray; from Alaska Bill Cunningham and Polly Burke; from Montana
Purchase links; a (small) portion of the purchase price will support
Publisher University of New Mexico Press Falcon
Year 1988 1999
ISBN 0-8263-1067-2 1-56044-738-9
Pages 243 339
Size 6 x 9 in 6 x 9 in
Index Yes No
Number of hikes 24 83
Hike information
  • Trail name,
  • USFS trail number,
  • Start and end elevation,
  • Vertical ascent (looks like highest - lowest, and not a cumulative total over the hike),
  • Length,
  • Seasons to hike,
  • Trail usage,
  • Difficulty rating,
  • USGS map list,
  • Topographic map showing the trail,
  • Trailhead access directions,
  • Description of the hike,
  • Photo (every hike has one).
  • Trail highlights,
  • Hike type (day hike or overnight),
  • Length,
  • Difficulty rating,
  • Seasons to hike,
  • Map list (including non-USGS maps),
  • Special considerations about the hike (e.g., hazards, late snow, etc),
  • Trailhead access directions,
  • Trailhead facilities,
  • Elevation profile of the hike (elevation at select points, joined by a line),
  • Description of the hike,
  • Key points and their mileages,
  • Overview map (not a topo, but a line drawing showing the relationship of the trail to roads, other trails, and features),
  • Options to change the type of hike, connect with other trails, etc.
  • Some hikes have a photo.
Photos, illustrations, etc B&W photos from each hike, B&W topo maps of each hike, additional photos, graphs, and overview maps with the additional information. B&W photos from selected hikes, B&W overview maps, hike elevation profiles (elevation at select points, joined by a line), a few additional graphics.
Additional features The additional features of this book are one of its strengths. This book has 74 pages of extensive information about the natural history; human history; and information about traveling in the Gila, such as hazards, weather, hunting and fishing, archaeology, wilderness ethics; a checklist of items to carry when hiking; a gazateer of wilderness place names; checklists of the birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and plants; bibliography; and information about potential grizzly bear reintroduction plans. Brief overview of the area and its history, hike finder (hikes listed by difficulty and type), wilderness ethics, hazards, bibliography, regional contact names and addresses, and a checklist of items to carry when hiking.
Review of the book

This book's strength is its overview of the Gila Wilderness. The author is a professor, and his ability to perform research shows. Rarely do you find a hiking book with so much background for the area you are hiking. The natural and human history sections provide context for what you will see as you are hiking (we really appreciate this, and stress it in the hike descriptions we write at The presence of an index is useful when you are trying to find a specific piece of information.

One question you should ask about any hiking book is, ``Did the author(s) really hike the trails they describe?'' The information in this book makes it clear that the author did, indeed, hike the trails. This first-hand experience helps ensure that the data is reliable. In checking the one trail that we have on, (Little Bear Canyon from TJ Corral). the information is correct, if a little light on details (but look at the amount of detail and photos we normally provide about a hike, more than any hiking book we have seen).

A weakness in this book is that it does not cover all of the trails. I would guess that the book is the result of a summer of hiking throughout the wilderness, a time insufficient to hike every trail.

Missing from this book is an overview map, showing the locations of each of the described trails.

The 83 hikes in this book range from 2 miles to 59.5 miles in length. Cunningham and Burke have rated them by difficulty, and a nice table at the beginning sorts them by length, as well as special attractions (hot springs, mountain peaks, canyons, etc). All of the hikes have trail maps, references to topo maps, information about the trailhead facilities, shuttle distances when appropriate, and key milestones such as trail junctions that you will reach as you do the hike. Some of the hikes also have black-and-white photos which illustrate the hike. A nice feature in this book is an elevation profile of every hike.

Some reader comments at Homepage Links indicate that this book has inaccuracies. One of the claimed flaws is a problem with the reader---confusing the Gila Wilderness with the Gila National Forest (which includes the wilderness, but also includes much more). Nobody gives other details about the perceived problems, so it is difficult to confirm or deny the problems. Only one of the hikes they describe overlaps with hikes we have hiked (Little Bear Canyon from TJ Corral). I found no inaccuracies in their description of this hike.


New Mexico has many public campgrounds. How do you know which ones are most likely to provide you the camping experience you need? One possibility is However, we have not yet visited all of the campgrounds, and not all of the data we have collected is up. Therefore, you might want a guidebook to assist your camping planning.

Title New Mexico Campgrounds: The Statewide Guide The Best in Tent Camping New Mexico
Author Christina Frain; from New Mexico Monte R. Parr; from New Mexico
Purchase links; a (small) portion of the purchase price will support
Publisher Westcliffe Publishers Menasha Ridge Press
Year 2008
ISBN 1-56579-436-2 0-89732-602-4
Pages 288 196
Size 5.5 x 8.5 in 6 x 9 in
Index Yes Yes
Number of campgrounds 175 50
Campground information
  • Campground name,
  • Location,
  • Recreational opportunities (e.g., hiking, fishing, etc),
  • Elevation,
  • Number of sites,
  • RV notes,
  • Fee (only if there is a fee, not what it is),
  • Season,
  • Nearest supply center,
  • Access road type,
  • Map (from New Mexico Road and Recreation Atlas),
  • Directions,
  • Description,
  • Name and phone number for the responsible agency,
  • Ratings for Scenery, RV suitability, Tent suitability, Shade, Privacy, Facilities, Campground activities, Area activities, and Wheelchair accessibility.
  • Responsible organization and their physical address, phone number, and web address.
  • When open for camping, and related relevant information
  • Site count and if reservations are accepted,
  • Amenities such as tables, fire rings, etc,
  • Fee(s),
  • Elevation,
  • Pet, fire, etc restrictions,
  • Directions on how to get there, including GPS coordinates,
  • Often the campground descriptions have references to nearby attractions,
  • Water information,
  • Nearest supply center,
  • Ratings for Beauty, privacy, spaciousness, quiet, security, and cleanliness.
Photos, illustrations, etc 1 color photo from almost every campground; some are of the campground, some are a vista from the campground or related photo of interest. The book has several other color photos as well. A campground map accompanies every description. No photos of campgrounds.
Additional features Well-defined descriptions of how she rated the campgrounds; Information about camping in New Mexico; Camping recommendations for various activities or interests; Sidebars about nearby sites or events you might want to know about. An overview map showing the locations of the reviewed campgrounds; A summary of why you might want to visit New Mexico (if you are here, you probably know this :-); Descriptions of the ratings, but not as well-defined as Frain's; Information about camping on tribal lands (this feature is unique in my knowledge); Camping tips, including possible wildlife problems and how to deal with them (e.g., bears); Camping equipment checklist; Sources of information (addresses, phone numbers, web sites for organizations with campgrounds).
Review of the book

Frain has done an excellent job of creating a guide to all of the public campgrounds in New Mexico. I like the look and feel, and I appreciate the thought she has put into her ratings. Working on a similar project, I understand that this is not as simple as it may seem initially.

I really like the fact that the photos in the book are color. I am sure that this raises the price, but I feel the result is worth it. The photos also provide evidence that she visited the campgrounds.

Comparing Frain's campground descriptions with those on, I was not able to find any errors in the campground data or descriptions; I did discover some omissions from the index which may lead you to think something is not covered. In some cases it was interesting to read how the campground had changed since our last visit.

If there is one word I would use to describe this book, it would be "data". Parr has collected a substantial amount of data for the book. The campground descriptions are often a continuous supply of data about the campground. While this makes the writing often choppy, you will not lack for details about the history, plant life, and other information about expected experiences at the campground.

Tent campers will appreciate the attention to detail about the quality of the sites from a tenting perspective. He also provides great information about the separation between tent campers and the RVs.

Parr seems to assume that tent campers are quiet and RVs are noisy; my experience is that either can be annoyingly loud. So, I recommend this book for people who are not into (as part of the subtitle states): concrete and loud portable stereos.

Comparing some of Parr's descriptions with those on, I see no disagreements with our data.


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