Posted: July 16, 2021

The Gila Wilderness

I was assigned the topic, “nude camping.” With most of the nude camping I’ve done, there’s not a lot to write about. You go to a nudist resort. You take off your clothes and pitch your tent – insert a sleeping bag, blankets, an air mattress, or a foam pad – and hope it doesn’t rain (lots of occasions), snow (once at a mid-winter board meeting at Emerald Lake near Houston), or get really hot (several places in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Missouri). My claim to fame for nude camping is that an Oklahoma City TV station videotaped me setting up my tent at Oaklake Trails, though I never got to see the video.
Nude camping is largely in the past for me. When I was 76, I lost my Explorer when a tie-rod broke or came loose. As I waited for my rental car at Northside Ford in San Antonio, I discovered that a one-year-old Explorer and a 10-year-old motorhome cost about the same. With the difference in convenience and comfort, only once has 78-year-old Teddy pitched a tent in a nudist resort since the death of the Explorer (though I’m not quite at the point of a fellow Presbyterian minister in West Texas who said roughing it was having to stay at a Holiday Inn because there was no Hilton).
So what do I still do that’s close to nude camping? Nude backpacking, of course. The main place I’ve backpacked nude is in the Gila Wilderness of Southwest New Mexico. The forks of the Gila River are warm enough in the summer for getting in, and there are several hot or warm springs. I wear shorts for about a quarter-mile, then it’s free-hiking, with the breeze blowing and the sun shining everywhere except where I have shoes and socks. When I encounter clothed hikers, I ask if they are offended by nudity. Only once has someone, a very heavy woman on a very weary-looking horse, said yes. I have a towel draped in one of my backpack straps that I can use as a temporary sight barrier. The best response I’ve gotten was a person in a group of four at Pedernales State Park in Texas, who said he was only offended by his own nudity.
This may sound surprising, but you don’t have to be in great shape to backpack in the Gila. I have backpacked other places, where you have to make a certain number of miles, or you don’t have water. In the Gila, you can just follow a river for as many or as few miles as you like without carrying water. In fact, there is a half-mile hike from the visitor’s center to a hot spring, which I once did on crutches. Also, as the Gila Wilderness is half-a-million acres, you can take a several-hundred-mile trip.
AANR encourages nude recreation in “appropriate and legal” locations. Public nudity is not officially legal in the Gila, but with half-a-million acres, the chance of encountering others is remote, and there’s always that handy towel. Once, while hiking nude some ways from the visitor’s center, I was overtaken by two rangers (one male and one female) on horseback. As I was reaching to cover up with my towel, they said not to bother.
Anyone interested in joining me on a nude backpacking trip can contact me at

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