Gila River Valley

Gila River Valley, New Mexico

Located 30-miles northwest of Silver City, New Mexico, the small and historic town of Gila is situated on the banks of the Gila River. The region epitomizes the delicate and complex relationships that exist with regard to land-use among indigenous people, ranchers, agro-business, mining, environmentalists, and their associated politics. The Gila River emerges from the vast Gila Wilderness and incorporates a watershed of over 60,000 sq. miles. Flowing south out of Box Canyon the river's identity shifts to one of agricultural and ranch use.


32 55'33.5"N 108 35'25.6"W


Gila River Valley

The Gila River transitions from the wilderness at Box Canyon where it becomes useful to ranchers who irrigate fields that support livestock.


The LC Ranch

The Lyons and Campbell Ranch Headquarters is located in the tiny village of Gila, by the Gila River, New Mexico State Road 211, about a mile east of its intersection with US Route 180. At its peak around 1900 the L.C. Ranch controlled over one million acres, carried a herd of 60,000 head, and shipped up to 30,000 head of cattle to market per year. It employed up to 75 cowboys working seven chuck wagon teams on the open range and 100 Mexican families working the irrigated farmland along the Gila. Stretching along the Gila River approximately 30 miles south to Silver City, the LC Ranch was one of the largest in the United States. Thomas Lyons and Angus Campbell formed a partnership around 1879 based on their mutual interest and talents related to mining in the area. The evolution of the LC to cattle ranching and its role in the settlement of the Gila River Valley was a complex interaction of business partnerships, land ownership, water rights, politics, and indigenous nations, against the backdrop of the unruly territory of the southwest. The ranch became unsustainable following Tom Lyons murder in El Paso, TX (1917), despite attempts by his widow to continue the business.

The buildings associated with the ranch changed ownership several times, but ultimately became the perfect match for the Ocheltree family in 1961. Their passion for Spanish architecture and extensive private collection of antiques was a unique pairing. Unfortunately, the historical ranch buildings, now on just 5 acres, had long become uninhabitable and their furnishings disappeared, save for a chuck wagon food station and a prize fish mounted in the saloon. Four generations of this family have worked to repair and restore the "Spanish Hacienda" with authenticity and appreciation for its origins and history. Today the rooms are filled with the period art and furnishings collected by Arturo (retired opera singer), his wife Bonnie, and sons Alex and Tino.

As it was for Tom Lyons and Angus Campbell, the path leading to ownership of the LC Ranch for Arturo and Bonnie Ocheltree was uncharted and anything but predictable, yet the LC remains a unique location with stories to tell.

Interview with Alex Ocheltree.


The Smith Ranch

The Smith Ranch, located 3 miles south of Cliff, New Mexico and located on the Gila River is home base for the L&J Ranch. Purchased in 2001 by Russell Smith the ranch was once part of the expansive LC Ranchera. Mr. Smith, a graduate of MIT in Nuclear Egnineering, relocated to Cliff after working at both Los Alamos and Sandia Laboratories where he specialized in nuclear reactor safety research.

Horses and Grapes: Interview with Russell Smith.


Gila Valley Infrastructure

Raising cattle for beef in New Mexico is a long tradition in Grant County, despite the many challenges. More land is needed here for raising cattle, as the arid landscape does not provide natural food and water availability. Groundwater is essential for growing alfalfa in laser-leveled fields, some with irrigation ditches, allowing cattle to graze. As ground water becomes increasingly scarce due to drought, ranchers hoped for additional water from a diversion on the Gila River that would supply a reservoir in nearby Box Creek Canyon or Turtle Creek, bordering the Gila Wilderness. The recent legislation to prevent any diversions to the river denied the possibility of additional water. Finding water is only one obstacle ranchers face, as the price for beef is essentially controlled by 4 companies (Cargill and Tyson Foods (US), JBS and National Beef Packing (Brazil). These companies face an antitrust suit for the organized effort to underpay the producers (ranchers) and over charge the consumers in the grocery store, making cattle ranching non-profitable.

Rural regions of the United States are susceptible to poor infrastructure and broadband coverage. Access and adoption in rural areas is linked to increased job and population growth, higher rates of new business formation and home values, and lower unemployment rates. In 2021 the Federal Government allocated approximately $65 billion to improve broadband Internet access in rural areas and make broadband more affordable for low-income households across the U.S. The laying of fiber optic cable in the Gila River Valley will bring a much neede resource to the community .

The Tyrone mine location produced deep blue and pale green turquoise, mined as early as prehistoric times, however turquoise mining stopped when copper extraction using crushing and acid wash destroyed the turquoise (1967). Today, Tyrone is an open-pit copper mining complex owned by Freeport-McMoRan, an international company with assets exceeding $42 billion as of 2020. Copper is extracted using sulfuric acid in a process termed. "copper leaching". The company uses groundwater from multiple resources and is credited with one of the nation's top reclamation plans, that will pump water long after the copper is gone to prevent flow back into the wider water table. Freeport-McMoRan estimate a 350% increase in the need for copper if the world moves to clean energy solutions (electric cars) by 2050.

Water, wind and sunlight are the bsis for survival in the Gial River Valley enabled by both old and new technolgies of intervention and resource management and often occupying the same sense of place.



Gila a is a city located in Grant County New Mexico. Gila has a 2020 population of 226. The population has decreased by 28.03% since 2010 census which recorded a population of 314. The average household income in Gila is $93,159 with a poverty rate of 0.00%. The median home value is 86,169, and the median property value is $239,300. The median age in Gila is 55.8 years, 56 years for males, and 55.6 years for females.

The San Isidro Mission in Gila was founded in 1835, dedicated to farmers and crops, was an outpost of the St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Silver City. The valley was attractive for human settlement because the Gila River was one of the few dependable water sources available. The valley near the present day town of Gila was the homeland of the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricanua Apache. Adjacent to the San Isidro Mission is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Founded in 1879 by company of 29 Latter-day Saints, they believed the Gila River Valley would become the home for thousands of members. That did not happen as the high-desert climate and remoteness would prove to be an insurmountable challenge.

Both the Catholic Church and LDS leaders encouraged their members to be good neighbors. Collectively, these pioneers cut canals through the desert soil with horse plows, wooden scrapers, and shovels to divert water from the Gila River for the production of crops and food. In time, more than 40,000 acres of farmland were under irrigation.

Investment in the edution of children is essential to the long-term survival of rural communities. Students often have to balance the responsibilities associated with family owned ranches and farms with expanding horizons through their studies. The Cliff K-12 Public School serves the student population from the rural communities of Cliff and Gila New Mexico and reflects the proud heritage of the ranching community

The Iron Bridge that crosses the Gila River near Cliff, NM, is an artifact from another time. Built in 1915 by the El Paso Bridge & Iron Company of El Paso, TX, the Iron Bridge provided an important route that met the needs of the ranching community, including those of the LC Ranch. In 2007, the property was purchased by the NM Department of Fish & Game and the Nature Conservancy'sGila River Preserve and is now only accessible to pedestrians. The old paved road connecting to the Bridge has surrendered to the constant meandering of the riverbed due to changing water levels and the consequential erosion, demonstrating the adaptive character of the river in relation to human intervention.

The final resting place for generatons of ranching and farming families is evidenced in two side by side cemetaries, Catholic and Protestant, along a lonely stretch of road in high desert terrain immeidately outside the small town of Gila, New Mexico.

While the Gila River Valley balances its complex relationship to the environment, it is emerging as an attractor for those with the financial resources to purchase the romanticsim of ranching.



Soil sampling along the banks of the Gila River off Bill Evans Lake Road near Cliff, New Mexico.

Water sample from Smith Ranch,Gill River Valley

Various metal artifacts uncovered on the Smith Ranch.

The water source for the Tyrone Mine is a diversion on the Gila River that pumps water to Bill Evans Lake, a popular 65-acre reservoir for fishing and camping. Water rights for 14,000 ft. of water/year was secured by Phelps Dodge through extensive land purchases in 1955, anticipating the future needs of the Tyrone open pit copper mine. From Bill Evans Lake, the water is pumped more than 12 miles uphill to the mine operations site.

Mircoscopic comparison of 3 water samples:

A. GLEACEAU Smart Water. Vapor distilled water and electrolytes. Purely balanced pH.

B. Gila River water from Cliff, New Mexico.

C. Horse trough water from the Smith Ranch.

Archeological dig on the Smith Ranch in search of evidence of indiginous peoples, specifically pottery shards of Apache origin

Audio Sample from the morning meeting of the old timers at the Last Chance liquer store.

1 1/2 hourcConversation between aging cowboys from Buckhorn.

Telescopic views of Prescott Prarie.