Day Trip to Historic Silver City
Known for its vibrant arts community, downtown Silver City hosts a variety of galleries, gift shops, historic buildings, fine restaurants and bars, and quaint homes. It is definitely worth exploring by foot. For a glimpse of at the region’s history and archeology you may also enjoy the Silver City Museum and the museum at Western New Mexico University.
Silver City Museum: Silver City has a fascinating history, from Apache campground to Spanish settlement to bustling tent city mining camp. “The Big Ditch,” now a linear park behind Bullard St. (the current main street of town) was originally Main Street until turn-of-the-century thunderstorms flooded the town and simply washed the street away. A young Billy the Kid once lived nearby. You can learn more about the town’s rich history at the Silver City Museum, housed in a restored 1881 mansion at 312 W. Broadway. Open Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., weekends 10:00 – 4:00, $3 per person suggested donation, phone: 575-538-5921.
Boston Hill: Take a hike on Boston Hill. Just off Market St. above downtown, Boston Hill offers 12 miles of trails winding in and around many of the old mines above Silver City, giving the hiker a spectacular view of town and the surrounding area.
Western New Mexico University Museum: Home to the largest permanent collection of prehistoric Mimbres Pottery in the world, along with basketry and other artifacts. The collection includes Casas Grandes pottery, Maria Martinez, San lldefonso, and Santa Clara pottery, heirloom Navajo rugs, historic photographs of Silver City and surrounding areas, and traveling exhibits. The museum is on the University campus in Fleming Hall, 1000 W. College Ave. at the west end of 10th Street. Open daily; Monday – Friday 9:00 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday l0:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., phone: 575-538-6386.
Day Trip through the Gila National Forest
Pinos Altos: Pinos Altos, “tall pines” in Spanish, began as an early Grant County mining town when gold was discovered nearby in 1860. The town still retains its historic feel and much of its original architecture. Take State Highway 15 north seven miles from its intersection with U.S. Hwy. 180 in Silver City. Visit the Museum, the “Fort,” the old Post Office/Ice Cream Parlor, the Hearst Chapel, and the Buckhorn Saloon & Opera House (closed on Sundays).
Gila Hot Springs: Located about forty miles north of Silver City, four miles south of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Gila Hot Springs is the remains of an old ranching community settled in the 1880’s by the Hills Brothers. It was once the site of a military camp established to guard local homesteaders. Operated by the Campbell family since 1940, soaks in the hot springs are available for $3/person.
The Loop (The Trail of the Mountain Spirits): For some different but equally spectacular scenery on the way back to town, take State Hwy. 35 and loop through the beautiful Mimbres River Valley. Where Hwy. 35 dead ends at the intersection of Hwy. 152, turn right to return to Silver City. Although this route is a bit longer than simply retracing your steps, you will avoid the winding roads of Hwy. 15.
Lake Roberts: Stop at Lake Roberts, near the intersection of New Mexico Highway l5 and Highway 35. Lake Roberts is a 72-acre man-made lake in the Gila National Forest. Fed by Sapillo Creek, the lake can be fished for 10 to 14 inch rainbow trout (best late March to late May) as well as crappie, catfish, and some bass. An oasis for wildlife, it’s common to see herds of deer grazing along the road near the lake. There are numerous trails leading into the forest and a self-interpretive Mimbres Indian site.
Continental Divide Trail: A little farther down Hwy. 35, look for the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, a long, primitive hiking route. The loop made by the Trail of the Mountain Spirits crosses the Continental Divide Trail twice, accessing a l4-mile-long segment through forested country that is a visual feast of butterflies, birds, and wildflowers.
Santa Rita Copper Mine: Returning to Silver City via “the Loop” and State Hwy. 152, near the end of your journey you will pass the natural rock formation known as the Kneeling Nun. Beneath it lies the former townsite of Santa Rita, now swallowed by the gaping pit of the Chino Copper Mine. Metal has been extracted here for over two centuries, and for a few years in the early 1800’s local copper supplied the Spanish Royal Mint in Mexico City, making the torturous 1300 mile frontier journey by mule train. An overlook offers views into the incredibly deep, wide hole, today about 1.8 miles across and 1400 feet deep.
Day Trip to City of Rocks and Fort Bayard
City of Rocks State Park: This park 35 miles from the Lodge has rock formations so unique they are known to exist in only six other places on earth. Billowing volcanic ash from ancient eruptions far greater than Mt. Saint Helens welded itself together by intense heat, then slowly eroded through wind and water into fantastically sculpted shapes. Besides geology, visitors can experience a variety of southwestern plant and animal life native to the Upper Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem. The park’s desert botanical garden is home to cow’s tongue and bunny ear cacti, yucca, and towering century plants. Deer, antelope, javelina, and jackrabbits are frequently seen in the area, along with over 35 species of birds ranging from Golden Eagles to finches.
Take US Highway 180 east and south from Silver City. Travel through Bayard and past Hurley and the mine tailings of the Santa Rita pit. Turn left on NM Hwy. 6l and drive four miles northeast to the state park access road. Park hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the entrance fee is $5 per vehicle. Phone: 575-536-2800.
Faywood Hot Springs: Near the City of Rocks on Highway 61, about 2 miles from its intersection with Highway 180, is Faywood Hot Springs, a high desert oasis with many geothermal pools of different temperatures. A century and a half ago the refreshing mineral springs served as a resting place for two different stage lines running between the tiny but important settlements of Mesilla and Pinos Altos. By 1896 a hotel with 60 guest rooms, considered the finest in all New Mexico Territory, stood here, but by 1951 the hotel was gone and things had calmed down considerably. Although briefly reopened during the last decade, Faywood Hot Springs is again closed to the public awaiting its next rebirth.
Fort Bayard Historic Site, the “Big Tree”: Established in 1866, Fort Bayard was an important military outpost whose troops, including the famous Buffalo Soldiers, protected the local mining settlements of Pinos Altos and Santa Rita. The last active troops left in 1900, at which time the post became a medical facility. Currently, Fort Bayard is a wildlife refuge known for its resident elk herd. There are some enjoyable short interpretive walks through the old parts of the fort.
To tour the fort, turn north from U.S. Highway 180 at the traffic light in Santa Clara onto the Fort Bayard Medical Center access road. From Fort Bayard you can hike to an immense alligator juniper known as the Big Tree.
The Big Tree is ranked as the second largest alligator juniper in the country. It is 63 feet high with a trunk diameter of 70 in., circumference of l8 ft., and crown spread of 62 ft. The tree is accessible by hiking a 5.5 mile round trip through piñon and juniper in the foothills of the Pinos Altos Range. To visit the Big Tree, drive past the hospital complex by taking the right fork and follow the signs to the Forest Administrative Site and National Recreational Trails, (4.5 miles up the Ft. Bayard Nursery Road). The parking lot for the trail is 1/10 mile left of the fenced Administrative Site.
Dragonfly Petroglyph Site: Look for the Dragonfly Trailhead sign on U.S. Highway 180 about 1.5 miles west of the Fort Bayard turnoff. Take Arenas Valley Road northward 1 mile to the parking area at the sharp curve. Hike the more traveled trail to the right, and in about 200 yards the trail forks to make the well marked 3.5 mile Dragonfly loop. There are several nice petroglyphs in the rocks halfway, indicated by an arrow on a wordless sign. Arenas Valley Road is a short loop, so it is possible to continue along it back to Highway 180 as you return to town.
Day Trip to Mogollon
Day Trip on the Road to Palomas
Cooke’s Peak: Driving southward towards Deming on Highway180 E., the distinctive landmark on your left is Cooke’s Peak, 8000 feet in elevation. The mountain honors Phillip St. George Cooke, who led the U. S. Army’s Mormon Battalion through the area in 1846 while scouting an overland wagon route for frontier military use. Later, a Butterfield Overland Stage station and then a Pony Express station operated at the nearby spring. The Army constructed Fort Cummings near Cooke’s Spring in 1863 as protection from Apaches, and staffed it intermittently until Geronimo surrendered in 1886. Later, the Cooke’s Peak Mining District produced much metal, predominantly lead and zinc, through the years.
Pony Hills Rock Art Site: There are numerous groupings of well-preserved Mimbres era petroglyphs scattered along a hilltop boulder field. About 15 miles north of Deming, but accessible only after traveling 10 miles of unpaved road, a visit to Pony Hills is not a casual trip, but is well worth the time for rock art aficionados and seekers of adventure. The site is unmarked, but staff at Bear Mountain Lodge will happily share directions if you are interested. One word of caution while out among the boulders – you may encounter snakes. Don’t forget sunscreen and extra water.
Deming Luna Mimbres Museum: Located in downtown Deming at 301 S. Silver St., the red brick Museum was originally the first New Mexico National Guard Armory begun after statehood in 1912. Completed soon after Pancho Villa’s 1916 Raid on Columbus, the Armory later served as a community social center and a USO. Displays include artifacts and pottery of the Mimbres culture, rocks and geodes, and historical, military, and ranch life exhibits. The museum is open daily 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Sunday from 1:30 – 4:00. Closed Sunday during the summer. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Phone: 575-546-2382.
Rockhound State Park: Perched on the rugged slopes of the Little Florida Mountains 13 miles from Deming, the rocks and semiprecious gem stones in this park are yours for the taking. Search for agates, quartz, jasper, opals, and translucent chalcedony in many shades. There are short hikes and panoramic views from the highest northeast shelter. From Deming, take NM 549 east seven miles, then south on NM 143. Open daily, 7:30 a.m. to sunset; entry fee is $5 per vehicle; phone: 575-546-6182.
Columbus, NM: Thirty miles south of Deming is Columbus, New Mexico, the U.S. town famously attacked by Mexican revolutionaries under Pancho Villa on March 9, 1916. Pancho Villa State Park preserves the grounds of the former Camp Furlong, one of a string of army posts protecting the U.S./Mexico border from marauders and bandits. The park office is an original structure, as is the adjacent dining hall. The park’s 49 acres feature beautifully xeriscaped grounds and a new 7000 square foot Exhibit Hall with displays relating to the raid and the Army’s subsequent Punitive Expedition against Villa, which marked the Army’s first use of automobiles and airplanes in warfare. Highlights include a Curtiss “Jenny” biplane like those flown by the 1st Aero Squadron and a 1916 Dodge Touring Car such as used by General “Black Jack” Pershing as a field office. There are also walking paths and well-labeled botanical gardens. The Exhibit Hall is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. seven days a week. Entry fee: $5 per vehicle. Phone: 575-531-2711.
The town of Columbus itself hosts a museum, The Shrine To The Perfect Man, and, on its northwestern edge, The City Of The Sun – a community with some unique one-of-a-kind earthship homes built of “green” materials such as papercrete. tires, adobe, and discarded bottles.
Palomas, Mexico: Three miles south of Columbus is the Mexican border and, across it, the quiet, dusty town of Palomas. If you have your passport it’s easy to park on the U.S. side and walk across to shop. Visit the dentista, farmacia, or optometrist, or simply enjoy a meal and do some shopping at the famous “Pink Store.”