The Gila National Forest offers plenty of camping opportunities in a picturesque mountain pine woods environment. The elevation is high enough to provide a little bit of relief from the summertime heat and there are plenty of cozy shady spots to be found. During autumn the temperatures are comfortably cool and the big crowds have all gone home, so finding a place to set up a basecamp in the Gila National Forest is easy to do this time of year.
The main local tourism attraction is the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, which draws a steady flow of visitors throughout the year. Because this is a remote area, modern accommodations are few and far between, so camping really is the best option when planning a cliff dwellings tour. After the busy summer tourist season is over, the open campsites are much easier to find, even at the convenient roadside campgrounds. Basically, the only other fall season campers in these woods are hunters with deer or elk tags. These people tend to prefer campsites a little bit deeper in the forest when setting up a basecamp.
Roadside campgrounds can be an iffy option, depending on the location or reputation. Some roadside campgrounds have a reputation for being a place where the locals go to party on the weekends, while others are nothing more than a gravel pad that is not suitable for tent camping. The National Forest roadside campgrounds can be a roll of the dice, but if the nights are icy cold, the chances are that any noisy weekend warriors will call the party off early in the evening and some peaceful quiet can be found.
The Iron Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest is a good example of a roadside campground that can either be a weekend party haven or it can be quite peaceful. This all depends on the weather and when the first cold front rolls through, it is as if somebody turned out the lights. I did an overnighter at this campground during a cold night in the fall season and this convenient roadside campground was practically empty. In fact, the only disturbing noise that was heard while inside the tent was a pack of javalinas that were searching for easy to grab food at dawn.
Javalinas make unmistakable little pig sounds that are easy to recognize even when they cannot be seen. These little creatures are closely related to tapirs and they are not in the pig family of animals, but their behavior is the same as a wild boar. The little javalinas can become extremely aggressive when cornered or when they smell food. Javalinas have been known to attack and chew through tents when they smell something to eat, so it is best to use Bear Safe Food Storage methods when camping in javalina territory. In my case, the early morning pack of javalinas outside were not a worry, because I never bring food inside a tent!
I rarely do roadside campgrounds, but the Iron Creek Campground certainly is one of the best that I have run across! There are only a limited number of campsites, but there is plenty of shade to be found under the tall trees, which is quite appealing. There are a few hiking trails in this area and the location is close to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, so this actually is an ideal spot when doing a tour. The Iron Creek Campground is definitely worth checking out when the busy summer season is over and the nights are icy cold!
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