At Datil – sitting somewhere between Magdalena and Pie Town in west-central New Mexico – a lonely campground is undergoing a significant upgrade.
Construction began at the Datil Well Recreation Area Campground on May 2 and is expected to continue through July, wrote Darren Scott, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the area and is doing the work.
Although relatively desolate, the area has strong historical significance in that the area was one of 15 water wells along the old Magdalena Trail Livestock Driveway. Established in the 1880s, it stretched 120 miles from Springerville, Arizona, to Magdalena.
The recreation area was first established in 1969, Scott said in response to emailed questions, and many of the original structures and facilities remain from that timeframe and are still in use.
“The project is designed to ensure facilities are safe and accessible according to the American Disability Relief Act of 1990, while using modern technology and building materials to enhance visitor safety, accessibility, and mobility,” he said.
The project will upgrade 12 of the 22 campsites, as well as the construction of eight, new steel picnic cabanas. The campsites have barbecue grills and fire pits, although recent closure orders prohibit their use.
Other work includes the upgrade of waters systems and restrooms by replacing nine existing water hydrants, replacing more than five thousand feet of water lines, and replacing three restrooms with new toilets and facilities.
“The project will also reconstruct walkways which provide access from campground roads to the restrooms, trash bins, and campsites,” Scott said. “The site will also be updated to meet accessibility requirements, including a 40-foot-long concrete pad and retaining wall at the host site.”
It is a popular destination for RV enthusiasts as it located above the Plains of San Agustin with long views across the expanse. It is relatively centrally located to the Very Large Array, Bosque del Apache, Elephant Butte Lake State Park and the southern end of El Malpais National Monument.
In addition, rock climbers flock to nearby Thompson Canyon, looking to test their skills on the challenging Enchanted Tower.
Also nearby, the Apache Kid and Withington wildernesses are within close proximity and contact some 190 miles of trails in the Magdalena and San Mateo mountains.
The recreation area itself includes three miles of established hiking trails winding through piñon, juniper and ponderosa pine forests.
Wildlife such as elk, deer, and pronghorn are not uncommon, and the occasional large predator such as black bear, bobcat and mountain lion are afoot as well.
Because of its remoteness, the area makes a fine dark sky site for night viewing the star canopy.
The campground will remain open during construction, Scott said.
“For visitor safety, the areas where construction is taking place have been marked by safety cones and barrels, with signs announcing construction,” he said.
The Datil Well Recreation Area Campground is off of U.S. 60. Travel one mile west of Datil on U.S. 60 or south on N.M. 12.