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Our Journey: Catron County, NM - Home of the Trophy Size Elk!

Our Journey date: 2022-12-14

In October 2022, I ran into a group of young hunters dressed in camo at the Bear Wallow Cafe in Alpine, AZ and asked if they had any luck - they grinned big and one pulled out his phone and shared this photo with me of their hunt over by Reserve. A picture is worth 1000 words and they were so proud to show off their trophy - HUGE!

Catron County is located in west-central New Mexico adjacent to the Arizona border. It's the largest county in New Mexico yet the least populated with about 3500 residents.  Reserve is the county seat and largest town in the county with about 400 residents.  It covers almost 7000 square miles and most is owned by the Federal Government and less than 20% privately owned. 

The US Forest Service, school districts, the State of NM and local government are the major employers and employees in the Agriculture/Fishing/Hunting industry. 

Larger surrounding communities are Socorro to the east, Gallup and Grants to the north, Silver City to the south, and Springerville and Alpine, Arizona to the west. The County is approximately the same distance to the major cities of Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Tuscon, Arizona.

Highway 60 traverses the County east-west from Socorro to the Arizona border to Springerville, passing thru Quemado, Pie Town, and Red Hill. Pie Town is a quirky stop along Highway 60. It gets its name from an early bakery that specialized in dried-apple pies by Clyde Norman in the early 1920s. They hold a "Pie Festival" on the second Saturday of each September and I frequently stop in for a piece of pie to go when driving thru.


Buddy and I stopped in for pie a few years ago!

It's located immediately north of the Gila National Forest.

To the east is the Plains of San Agustin, best known as the site of the Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory and radio telescope (VLA). Years ago when I first saw them I wondered what the heck they were and you could drive right up to them.  

For a while there was one along the highway so you could see it up close.

Further west is Quemado, another little community along Highway 60 offering basic services. It sure is a gorgeous area to explore!




The Continental Divide winds through the County and includes several peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation. It zig-zags thru the mountains making for beautiful rocky formations, streams, rivers and forever trees. The "Top of the World" land formation that is part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail goes thru this area along Hwy 60 just west of Pie Town.  Wow is that some fabulous landscape!  I have driven it at least 8 times in the last few months and I can't wait to see it again!  To learn more about the trail Click Here.   

Quemado Lake Recreation Area is an 800 acre lake sitting 20 miles south of Quemado on highway 32 and my is that an amazing drivealong Escondido Mountain! The trail cuts thru this mountain which is part of the Apache National Forest.


I sure got lucky on my first visit running into New Mexico Game and Fish stocking the lake. She said she was putting in 1000 rainbow trout and will put in 10,000 this month because it's a popular spot!  It sits at 7860' and offers boat ramps, piers, campgrounds, miles of hiking trails and year round fishing. Click here to visit the Quemado Lake page on the Forest Service website.  




15 minute E of Rerserve is the Apache Creek Campground in the Gila National Forest where the Apache Creek and Tularosa River meet. I stopped along the highway to snap a few photos. I was on the phone with Lynn and was describing a "cinnamon colored duck" - she researched it and turns out its a drake cinnamon teal duck and a hen.


There was also the coolest duck I've ever seen in my life with a blue beek that is a ruddy duck!  In the summertime they have rich chestnut bodies with blue bills!


There was also a beautiful heron on the shore - quite the little spot to stop and smell the roses!

There's a cute little stop west of Reserve at the intersection of HWY 180 and CR 12 the Adobe Cafe and Bakery sitting beside the Adobe Springs Inn. I've stopped a few times at the cafe and had their green chili gravy on whatever I was eating (breakfast and lunch) and their pastries and hot coffee are fabulous! I stayed a night this year at the Inn and that was a very easy process for owners not being present and a lovely room! 

In the morning I sat outside and enjoyed a cup of coffee with these 2! 



The county includes a portion of the Gila National Forest which is the oldest declared wilderness area in the USA. The Apache and Gila National Forests border one another in this area and cover much of Catron County. There is trout fishing, big game hunting, and an abundance of elk, deer, bear, big horn sheep, mountain lion, and wild turkey. There's quite a few campgrounds on National Forest land. The area claims that the hunting in southwest New Mexico ranks as some of the world’s best based on trophy size, experience, and shot success rates.

And pretty much everywhere along the way were elk and deer - especially in the early mornings and after dusk - be careful in the dark!





I bought my first piece of land at the Catron County tax sale in 2022 after 20 years of attending the NM tax sales - it's a hard one and requires large volumes of title searches prior to bidding. Since there's not a lot of land available here that makes it tougher competition. Over the years I've been repeatedly asked if I had anything for sale around Reserve by the hunters and I can see why after driving around it for a few days!

Alpine, Arizona is a little town 40 minutes NW of Reserve in the White Mountains. I describe Alpine as the playground for the Texans and Arizonas who come to the area to hunt and fish. Many of the hunters stay in Alpine for the night as there's not a lot of choices in Reserve. It's such great food and entertainment for a one light town with a few businesses! You can also pick up a fishing license and lures at the gas station at the light and their pumps are open even when they aren't!

I usually grab breakfast to go and head to the lake with my coffee! I've been fishing here several times and have spotted bald eagles and blue herons! 




Herons walking across the frozen Luna Lake in January 2022!

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Catron County Area Photos & Information

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