In Datil — located somewhere between Magdalena and Pie Town in west-central New Mexico — a remote campground is getting a major 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 does work.
Although relatively desolate, the area has strong historical significance in that it was one of 15 water wells along the old Magdalena Trail cattle 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 email questions, and many of the original structures and facilities date from that period and are still in use.
“The project is designed to ensure the facilities are safe and accessible in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, while using modern building technology and materials to improve safety, accessibility and visitor mobility,” he said.
The project will upgrade 12 of the 22 campsites, as well as construct eight new steel picnic huts. Campsites have barbecue grills and fire pits, although recent closure orders prohibit their use.
Other work includes upgrading water systems and toilets by replacing nine existing hydrants, replacing over five thousand feet of water pipes, and replacing three toilets with new toilets and fixtures.
“The project will also rebuild the walkways that provide access from the campground roads to restrooms, garbage cans and campsites,” Scott said. “The site will also be updated to meet accessibility requirements, including a 40-foot-long concrete slab and retaining wall at the host site.”
It is a popular destination for RV enthusiasts as it sits above the San Agustin Plains with long stretch views. It is located relatively central to the Very Large Array, Bosque del Apache, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and the southern end of El Malpais National Monument.
Additionally, climbers flock to nearby Thompson Canyon, looking to test their skills on the challenging Enchanted Tower.
Also nearby, the Apache Kid and Withington Wilderness Areas are nearby and contact some 300 miles of trails in the Magdalena and San Mateo Mountains.
The recreation area itself includes three miles of established hiking trails winding through pine, 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 cougar are also present.
Due to its remoteness, the area makes a beautiful dark sky site for nighttime star gazing.
The campground will remain open during construction, Scott said.
“For the safety of visitors, areas where construction is taking place have been marked with safety cones and barrels, with signs announcing construction,” he said.
Datil Well Recreation Area Campground is off US 60. Travel one mile west of Datil on US 60 or south on NM 12.