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Salt Creek Wilderness

General Location Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws Trip Planning Images
A striated face of red rock, surrounding a turquoise pool of water far below.
Library image #1884: A view of The Inkpot, one of the sinkhole lakes found in the Salt Creek Wilderness.


The United States Congress designated the Salt Creek Wilderness (map) in 1970 and it now has a total of 9,621 acres. All of this wilderness is located in New Mexico and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Migratory waterfowl may consider this a sufficient winter home, but birders will see it as paradise. From October through February, the seasonal wetlands of 24,609-acre Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge play host to 5,000 to 20,000 ducks, 10,000 to 30,000 geese, as many as 30,000 cranes, and countless white pelicans and snowy egrets. The uplands, by contrast, are chock-full of quail, roadrunners, pheasant, desert cottontail rabbits, and black-tailed jackrabbits. More secretive but still to be found are mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, and badgers.

Three tracts make up the refuge: the South Tract is primarily farmland; the Middle Tract holds refuge headquarters and Bitter Lake (named for its water, which tastes sour to many people and often dries up in summer, leaving nothing but a white alkaline bed); and most of the North Tract is designated Wilderness. Salt Creek itself runs through the center of the Wilderness, an area of native grassland, sand dunes, brushy bottomlands, and a northern boundary distinguished by its red-rimmed plateau, all just west of the Pecos River.

Planning to Visit the Salt Creek Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
    • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
    • Camping and campfires are not permitted in the Salt Creek Wilderness.
    • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
    • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
    • Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into smaller groups.
    • Repackage food to minimize waste.
    • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
  • Travel on Durable Surfaces
    • Durable surfaces include established trails, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
    • Protect riparian areas.
    • In popular areas:
      • Concentrate use on existing trails.
      • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
      • Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
    • In pristine areas:
      • Disperse use to prevent the creation of trails.
      • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
    • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
    • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
    • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
    • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
  • Leave What You Find
    • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
    • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
    • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
    • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
  • Respect Wildlife
    • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
    • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
    • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
    • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
    • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors
    • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
    • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
    • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
    • Take breaks away from trails and other visitors.
    • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.