Magdalena Ranger District

Contact Information

District Ranger: Tina Cason
District Address: 203 First St., Magdalena, NM 87825
Phone: 575.854.2281


Tracing its roots from 1899 with the creation of the Gila Forest Reserve and its name from 1906, the Magdalena Ranger District has been a part of Magdalena's economic life for nearly a century. This long history makes the U.S. Forest Service the oldest continuous business in Magdalena. At approximately 800,000 acres (320,000 hectares), the Magdalena Ranger District is the largest of four mountain Districts and four grasslands administered by the Cibola National Forest.

The District itself is composed of four separate and distinct mountain ranges in southwest New Mexico covering the three counties of Socorro, Catron, and Sierra. The ranges include the Datils, Bears, San Mateos and Magdalena Mountains. From the peak of South Baldy at 10,700 feet dropping in elevation to under 6,000 feet in the southern portion of the San Mateos, varied topography and ecosystems can be found on the district.


While historic logging and mining days are all but over, many other opportunities exist on the district. Recreational activities include hiking, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, hunting, and four-wheeling to name a few. To host these activities, the district has five small-developed campgrounds including Water Canyon, Springtime, Luna Park, Beartrap and Hughes Mill. With limited use of the campgrounds primary recreational values are the many dispersed, primitive, and unconfined acres. Created in 1980, the Apache Kid and Withington Wilderness' are located in the San Mateo Mountains. Some 190 miles of trails are located throughout the district centered primarily in the Magdalena and San Mateo Mountains. Maintained roads total about 500 miles with another 600 miles of unimproved roads. Thompson Canyon is a noted popular rock climbing area with the challenging Enchanted Tower.


The district has an extensive grazing program with 40 grazing allotments and 41 permit-tees that supports the area's ranching base. As a whole, the District is generally open to the grazing of livestock, primarily cattle with 8,000 permitted livestock. Unlike other areas of the country, many allotments are grazed yearlong with some grazed seasonally. Grazing plans are developed for each operation based upon characteristics of the land and are implemented to ensure sustainability. These plans are used to enhance such things as watershed management, wildlife habitat, recreational demands as well as other concerns, while still utilizing grazing resources.

Picture of a grass filled valley in the southern San Mateo Mountains.


Mule and whitetail deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion, turkey and pronghorn antelope are all common game species. An array of birds including small European falcons (kestrels) and golden eagles and small mammals can also be found throughout most of the District. Sensitive, threatened, and endangered Mexican spotted owls and peregrine falcons are also present. The lack of permanent fresh water on the district detracts from any fishery.

Mule Deer in the Apache Kid Wilderness in summer velvet


The district has a small but active timber program, focused on forest restoration and improving wildlife habitat, it also supports a large firewood program. House logs, posts, poles, and vigas are available on a limited basis. Christmas tree permits are also sold.

Fire Management

The District has a number of fire dependent ecosystems. To support these ecosystems, a comprehensive fire program is in place to appropriately manage both wildfires and prescribed fire. A fire management plan is in place for the Apache Kid Wilderness and Withington Wilderness that would allow for wildland fire use with planning currently occurring to expand such use to all of the San Mateo Mountain range. With the realization of the benefits that fire provides, management ignited prescribed fire is being used in numerous areas of the district in support of ecosystem management and wildlife habitat improvement.

Three lookout towers located on Mount Withington, Grassy Mountain, and Davenport Mountain are maintained on the district, staffed by seasonals and volunteers. The fire management program employs the majority of the seasonal staff and is used to complete various projects on the district. With many fires occurring in inaccessible areas of the district, a heavy reliance is placed on hand crews as a suppression resource. Besides the regular Forest Service employees, the district sponsors the Magdalena Southwest Firefighting crew composed of individuals from the Alamo Navajo Reservation, Socorro, and Magdalena area.

The wildland/urban interface concentration is low compared to other areas of the west, but two primary areas of concern do exist adjacent to the forest. These ever increasing areas include Hop Canyon and the Datil area. Interagency cooperation and working directly with homeowners should help improve this situation and hopefully prevent serious and future conflagrations.

East Magdalena Prescribed Burn

Cultural Resources

There is a long, rich history of human occupation of the lands managed by the District. Archaeological and historic sites are evidence of the diverse use of the lands spanning several thousand years. These resources are fragile and irreplaceable. Federal law prohibits disturbance to sites, or removal of artifacts from sites.

Read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act

Click on the link below to learn more about the history of the Magdalena Ranger District and the surrounding area.

Magdalena History by district Archaeologist Matt Basham

Magdalena Archaeology Site


Although the area has a rich history of mineral exploration, there are no major producing operations on the district today. Limited recreation exploration does occur. Operable quantities of coal, gold, silver, uranium and manganese may exist. Explorations for oil and gas have occurred in and around the areas although no active operations are in place today.

Special Uses

Numerous special use activities or facilities are found on the district including state and county roads and highways, telephone and power lines, communication sites, waterlines, and private roads. The largest special use permit is for the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research. Under Congressional designation, 31,000 acres are held as the Langmuir Research Site to encourage scientific studies in atmospheric processes and astronomic events. The internationally known laboratory is administered by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and is located on South Baldy. Also located on this site is the Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO), that is primarily intended for astronomical research.