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Gila Wilderness, N.M.

Like thousands of travelers who visit the Gila Wilderness annually, I had come to see the hardscrabble patch of New Mexico that became the model for every protected wilderness in the country. I came to explore the same rocky trails cut by the Apache warrior Geronimo, homesteaders and gun-packing fugitives. But most of all, I wanted to see whether America's first wilderness area -- protected 84 years ago from roads, cars and other modern intrusions -- was still as pristine and untamed as Leopold had intended.

Surrounded by towering canyon walls and clawing tree branches, I could see that Leopold's vision for this land prevailed; it was beautiful, wild -- and even a bit scary.

-- Hugo Martín

Read more: Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico is the untamed West

Planning your trip:

Visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/gila; for more on the cliff dwellings, go to www.nps.gov/gicl.

Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
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