By Susan Burritt, from Jemez Thunder, September 15, 1996
The Gilman tunnels, one of the more striking visual attractions in this area, have grown in popularity as a spot to visit. The tunnels were blasted through the cliff walls where the Guadalupe River runs at the bottom of the narrowest part of the canyon.
To get there, take Hwy. 4 north of the Pueblo of Jemez to the intersection of Hwy. 485, where the Jemez and Guadalupe Rivers meet. Cross the one-lane bridge, and follow the narrow, paved road up the canyon to the tunnels. There are parking pullouts just north of the tunnels. The road continues north to join Hwy. 126 about three miles west of La Cueva. The road past the tunnels is dirt/gravel and may be difficult during rainy weather. It is closed during the winter.
The tunnels are part of the history of logging and mining which once played a large role in the economy of the Jemez area. One of the last independent railroads built in New Mexico was the Santa Fe Northwestern Railway.
Constructed by the Porter family, headed by Guy A. Porter and managed by his son, Frank, the railroad was built during 1922-24 and ran from Bernalillo to San Ysidro, and then north to Jemez and Deer Creek for a distance of 41 miles.
The purpose was to transport logs out of the Cañon de San Diego Grant. The Porter’s White Pine Lumber Company railroad continued up the canyon for another six miles to the main camp of Porter, about seven miles from the junction of Hwy. 4 and State Road 485, which turns into Forest Road 376. Spurs went up other canyon.
The Gilman Tunnels on State Road 485 were blasted through the mountainside in 1923. The cost for that 3/8 mile stretch was $500,000, more than half of the entire cost of the railroad.
In 1926, the interchange between the logging road and the Northwestern Railway was moved to Porter, which at that time was a camp of 300 people, and the railway acquired trackage rights over the six miles.
In 1928, the lumber market hit a slump due to a decline in residential construction, and the company was shut down. It was revived in 1930 by investors, among them Abram Isaac Kaplan and Thomas Patrick Gallagher, both from New York. Although the company went through periods of restructuring, Gallagher remained a primary force in the operation of the railroad and later the mill.
The logging continued by rail until a tremendous flood in May 1941, when the Jemez and Guadalupe rivers washed out three miles of track and damaged several bridges. After estimating repairs to the damage at $90,000, the decision was made to abandon the tracks and convert entirely to logging by truck.
The rail bed was used for the logging road and the tunnels through Gilman were widened to accommodate the trucks. A sawmill was build at Gilman just below the tunnels in 1948.
Logging continued to decline, and attempts were made to develop the area as vacation property. When that failed, the bulk of the Cañon de San Diego Grant was deeded to the Forest Service on July 22, 1965.
The mill remained on private property and closed in the early 1970s. The equipment from the mill was moved west, and the last remains of the buildings there were removed in the late 1980s.