The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Guadalupe box canyon

Guadalupe Box Canyon

Gilman Tunnels

One of the Gilman Tunnels in the Jemez Mountains

Exploring Gilman Canyon


The Gilman Tunnels were an important part of a railroad feeder line built to transport vast quantities of virgin timber out of New Mexico’s rugged Jemez Mountains to the AT&SF railhead located at Bernalillo. Incorporated on August 20, 1920, the Santa Fe North Western (SFNW) Railroad tracked a route west across the Rio Grande, through the Santa Ana and Zia Pueblos, and then north through San Ysidro toward Jemez Pueblo, where it ran into the first of many roadblocks.

Back in 1689, the Spanish government officially awarded the Jemez people title to the lands they occupied. This land grant, later upheld by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, conferred all rights of ownership to the Pueblo people and, according to Pueblo tradition, decreed that the land could not be sold, traded, or as was the case with the railroad, trespassed upon. Because of past transgressions, the people of Jemez distrusted the United States, its government, and all those who sought financial gain at Pueblo expense. Court battles extending well into the mid-20s delayed, but did not halt, progress of the fledgling rail line. By 1924, the SFNW passed through Jemez Pueblo, crossed the Rio Jemez at Cañon, and proceeded up the west side of a narrow valley into the canyon of the Rio Guadalupe. Up ahead lay an impenetrable box canyon.

Box canyons form in areas where layers of permeable (soft) rock lie on top of layers of impermeable (hard) rock. Over millions of years, water seeps through the permeable rock until it reaches the impermeable rock and then travels horizontally, eroding the permeable rock into steep-walled canyons or crevasses. The Guadalupe Box Canyon was formed by the torrential force of the Rio Guadalupe as it surged over the volcanic rock walls and cascaded to the canyon floor below.

Accepting the fact that they couldn’t go over the top of the canyon, the builders of the SFNW decided to go through it. Using dynamite, pick axes, and immeasurable amounts of horse and manpower, two separate tunnels were blasted through the hard rock. A series of tall timber trestles built upon rock fills that began two miles below the box canyon carried the train out of the valley and up toward the tunnels. Several times during construction, the force of the river washed out the trestles. They were rebuilt, but when completed in August of 1924, the roadbed through the tunnels, only five-eighths of a mile in length, cost more than half the total cost of the railroad.

Beyond the tunnels, the rail line proceeded into an open area. In 1924, with a workforce of almost three hundred men, the White Pine Lumber (WPL) Company sawmill began cutting and skidding logs down to Deer Creek Landing, where they were loaded on to steel log cars and transported through Guadalupe Canyon. The WPL workers and their families needed homes and a log cabin camp was set up. Known as Porter Landing, the logging camp was named after Lyman Porter who owned the company warehouse and store known as Porter Mercantile Company. Everything looked promising for the railroad and the businesses it helped create until several problems arose.

On December 31, 1927, locomotive #102 exploded, and in 1929, the stock market crashed. By 1930, the SFNW lay idle for fifteen months and was in serious financial trouble. New investors tried to breathe life into the failing railroad, but when the MPL shut down in 1931 because of low prices, the future looked grim. On August 16, 1936, two men were seriously injured when the locomotive known as Husler #104 overheated and exploded. They sued for, and obtained, substantial compensation for their injuries. The final blow came in 1937, when the logging camp at Porter was abandoned in favor of a new camp at O’Neil Landing several miles north.

In the late 1940s, a new sawmill, built by the New Mexico Timber Company, opened in the town of Gilman, located just below the mouth of the Guadalupe Box Canyon. Trucks were more cost-efficient and less dangerous to operate, so the old railroad tracks were removed and the rail bed was converted into a truck route.

As logging in the Jemez Mountains came to a close, consideration was given to disposing of the property. Efforts were made to develop vacation properties around Jemez Springs, but most of the land was deeded to the Forest Service. The tunnels were repaired, the old log cribbing was replaced with concrete panels, and the roadway was paved for automobiles.

You can follow the route of the old SFNW Railroad by driving NM 550 west from Bernalillo to NM 4 at San Ysidro and then north to Forest Route 485. FR 485 will take you through the town of Gilman, the tunnels named after William H. Gilman (one-time CEO of the SFNW RR) and into some of the prettiest, most isolated county in New Mexico. You can hike. You can camp. You can wade in the river. You can reconnect with nature. You might see bits and pieces of old buildings and railroad trestles, but you won’t see any signs telling you where you are or where you’re going. True, you might think you are lost, but once you’ve been to the tunnels and beyond, like many others who have made the trip, you will surely agree that this is a place well worth getting lost in.






Ad Rates  Back Issues  Contact Us  Front Page  Up Front  Animal News   Around Town  Arts Business Classifieds Calendar  Community Bits  Community Center   Eco-Beat  Featured Artist  The Gauntlet  Community Links  Night Skies  My Wife and Times  Public Safety Real People Schoolbag Stereogram  Time Off