Silver City a Gem in New Mexico

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Silver City is located in Grant County in South Western, New Mexico. It was founded in 1876 after being established as a Spanish settlement in 1870, prior to that it was an Apache campsite. It’s located in an area we know for mining silver, gold, copper, lead, and zinc. Its beginning history was tumultuous including clashes between settlers and Native Americans and with many infamous inhabitants and visitors to the area. Silver City’s proximity to the Butterfield trail as well as the several narrow gauge railroads traversing the area allowed a bustling community to develop.

Billy the Kid

Billy the kid was born in New York, NY in 1859 as Henry McCarthy. By most accounts Henry was a typical energetic and polite kid. After his father died at the end of the Civil War he was raised by his mother and step-father. The family moved around before settling in Silver City in 1873, shortly after Henry’s mother died of tuberculosis. His step-father abandoned him and he became an orphan at fifteen.

Henry was first arrested for stealing food when he was sixteen years old and then again for robbing a Chinese laundry. He escaped and became an outlaw and fugitive. There is much mystery concerning his life and alleged deeds. He is suspected of killing twenty-one men before his own death at the age of twenty-one.

Butch Cassidy and his “Wild Bunch” also frequented the city’s saloons. Between Apache attacks and forts being built to protect miners and settlers the area is rich in history. Many movies and television shows have been written about these larger than life characters. It’s amazing standing in these places and imagining the sights and sounds of what daily life was like.

The Big Ditch

The Big Ditch, now home to San Vicente Creek, was once Main Street. Shortly after the formation of the community the city’s streets were laid out stretching from North to South with little consideration for drainage. Tent cities quickly transformed to cabins and businesses lining the sides of Main Street. Unfortunately when the summer rains came over the Gila Wilderness and Pinos Altos mountains the city’s Main Street flooded and washed away.

Over the years citizens adapted to this cycle and established sidewalks which were much higher than street level and continuously repaired seasonal damage. Unfortunately, over the years with deforestation and development of crop and grazing land, an enormous flood occurred in 1895. A swath 55 feet deep was completely washed away. The businesses lining Main Street no longer had a street in front of them. They had to use their back doors to allow customers access to their businesses.

For years after the flood, the area was treated as a sewer and dumping ground. A local preservation movement was formed after the demolition of a historic train depot. This area is now a beautiful park in the downtown. Many pedestrian bridges traverse the “ditch” which allows for a nice loop walk around the creek. Take time to explore the businesses who have embraced the history and restorations which have happened. The city provides a home to many eclectic and talented artists and there are many galleries.

Gateway to the CDT (Continental Divide Trail)

The Continental Divide Trail is 3028 miles, stretching from Chihuahua, Mexico to Alberta, Canada. The mountains which encompass the continental divide traverse from the southern tip of the Andes in South America to the frozen North of the Bering Strait. Precipitation falling on the western side of this ridge finds its way to the Pacific Ocean and conversely precipitation to the east makes its way to the Atlantic.

Silver City’s location provides a convenient location for CDT hikers to access services and re-supply. There are many miles of trail which traverse the mountains just on the outskirts of the community. Thus, the community provides a much appreciated respite to many thru-hikers.

Santa Rita Copper MIne

Santa Rita Copper Mine is run and owned by Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. Native Americans were believed to be the first miners in this area harvesting copper for jewelry and trading. An Apache man showed a retired lieutenant colonel of the Spanish army an outcropping of copper. He staked a claim and began mining, soon afterwards a wealthy merchant purchased his claims and took over the operation.

In 1853 this region was part of the Gadson Purchase and became part of the United States. As infrastructure and safety improved and mining was re-imagined by two top-notch engineers, open pit mining began. Today it is one of the oldest mines in North America. The mine operates 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year. It is more than a mile across and over 1600′ deep. The mine produces copper in two different processes based on concentration. Both methods produce over 100 million pounds annually.

Little Walnut Trail System

The Little Walnut Trail System is located a few miles from the center of Silver City. It is part of the Gila National Forest and is adjacent to Gomez Peak Day Use Area. There are reservable group areas as well as many picnic areas for day use visitors. These trailheads also provide access to the Continental Divide Trail.

We combined a hike to Gomez summit with a loop around the base of the mountain. It was about 4.5 miles and close to 900′ of elevation gain. The trail was a moderate grade with a mix of rocky and gravel surfaces. We did not see any mountain bikers however there were some bicycle tracks. There are many loop options creating the perfect hike for any ability.

Eighty Mountain via Pinion loop trail was our second hike in this trail system. Our loop was about 4.5 miles with just over thousand feet of elevation gain. Another great hike surrounded by alligator junipers, agave, birds and butterflies. The lower part of the trail was smooth with great footing, as we approached the saddle the terrain became steeper and rocky. I was glad I had my trekking poles. We are hoping to have time for a few more hikes before we leave this area.

Fort Bayard Trail System

Our first visit to the Dragonfly Trailhead was to hike the Dragonfly loop and easy 3.5 mile loop with only a few hundred feet of elevation gain. Our mission was to find the petroglyphs. We knew the approximate location because of the research we did ahead of our hike. When we reached the creek we knew we were close, we searched and searched. After we were certain we could not find them we continued our hike down through the creek when we approached our final crossing and saw the trail was climbing out of the creek.

We knew we had missed them. After a quick discussion we decided to turn around, hike back-up the creek and look again. The expression “If it was a bear it would have bitten us” comes to mind. When we approached the area we had previously searched, there it was hidden in plain sight! We both laughed and couldn’t believe we had walked right around them! After our lunch we completed our hike, our 3.5 mile loop became 5 miles because of our oversight. It was a wonderful day!

Mountain Biking Paradise

Our next trip to the Fort Bayard Trail System was with our bikes. It was awesome! Miles of single track from beginner to expert. The Tommy Knocker 10 was taking place when we first arrived in the Silver City area, it is endurance mountain bike race open to teams, duos and solos. The goal is to ride the most laps of the fourteen mile route in ten hours. One man and a couple male teams completed ten laps in the allotted ten hours. Wow!

Jess and I have a more relaxed riding style, primarily consisting of us trying not to crash! Many of the trails are smooth single track with gradual elevation gains. Perfect riding conditions for our talent level. We have gradually become better bikers but still have much to learn. My favorite part of parking at the Dragonfly lot is that most of the trails are uphill from there, which means a wonderful downhill ride back to the car.

Biking and hiking are similar to me, I love doing the work at the start of the journey. I feel comfortable pushing myself past my comfort zone. Adapting to hiking down into canyons like we often do in this western environment has been challenging. When climbing a mountain we can turn around and head down if we need to, however when you drop several hundred feet into a canyon you have to be able to climb back out. I feel we are tempted to push ourselves less. Challenges come in many ways both physically and mentally and we love the game.

The top competitors in the Tommy Knocker 10 completed ten laps. More than I could ever hope to do as an individual. We will continue to work on our skills and enjoy the ride!

Mimbres Cultural Heritage Site

We visited the Mimbres Cultural Heritage Site as we explored the local area. A $3 per person donation is recommended and it is currently open Saturday and Sundays from 11-3. The site Preserves the remains of an ancient Pueblo community. They are known for having some of the best Mimbres pottery. They are also a Harvest Host property.

Whitewater Canyon- Catwalk

The Catwalk Recreation Area is about an hours drive north of Silver City on highway 180. It is a series of elevated walkways above Whitewater creek. It is named for the original wooden plank walkway which sat atop a steel pipe which brought water to the ore processing plant. Today the ADA accessible walk ways offer a unique glimpse into the geology of the area.

As in other places we have visited, the rocks tell us a story and allow us to have a glimpse into the past. Volcanic activity thousands of years ago has left behind incredible formations, as well as being the reason there are many local hot springs in south western New Mexico.

Whitewater Canyon was a central location in the mining industry in this area. Water from the creek was used in mining operations, in addition to running generators supplying the local town with power. The mines ceased operations after 1942 and there were few visitors to the area. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) rebuilt the Catwalk as recreation attraction for the Gila National Forest.

The Catwalk

The loop around Whitewater creek is about a mile. The walkways are awesome providing an incredible vantage point to view the creek from above. The trail to the right side of the creek is completely ADA accessible with paved walkways, which combines with a trail following the left side about half mile up the creek creating a nice loop. Watch our video of the walk here.

At the junction point there is a large viewing area, shortly after a stairway leads down to the creek. A creek crossing is required at this point if you would like to continue your hike up the canyon. As we were visiting after a weekend with heavy rains and spring snow melt we decided it would be best to call it a day and stay out of the creek.

A parking fee of $3 is required or an America the Beautiful pass is also accepted. In addition, there are two crossings of the Whitewater creek along the drive to the day use area. We crossed with our Subaru Crosstrek but if the creek was any higher it probably would have been a poor choice. A high clearance, heavy vehicle would increase your ability to get access to the parking area.

Silvacreek Botanical Garden

The Silva Creek Botanical garden is located across from Virginia Street park two blocks north of highway 180. Gila Native Plant Society manages the garden. Many groups and individuals have donated resources, time, and money, as well as securing grants to make this park possible. Volunteers maintain the gardens.

It was a pleasure strolling through the well labeled native plants. The sculptures and benches add to the charm and serenity of the place. A wonderful place to visit to learn the names of local plants and enjoy the peacefulness of the location.

Emory Pass

Emory pass is located on the continental divide in the Black Mountain Range and is at an elevation of 8166″. It is named after William Henry Emory who crossed in 1846 with the Army of the West as they were on their way to California to free the Californians from the Spanish. We drove highway 61 from City of Rocks State Park to highway 152 near San Lorenzo.

Highway 152 is a two lane paved road, traversing through the mountains. We drove our Subaru and enjoyed a wonderful day exploring the many day use areas and campsites along the road. Much of the road follows Iron creek and provides great picnicking spots. We did see multiple RV’s along the route including one very long fifth-wheel. If you plan to drive your RV plan for extra time and ensure your passenger doesn’t mind heights.

In 2013 a lightning strike started a fire that engulfed this area. At the time New Mexico had received less than half of the amount of rainfall in the previous month, leading to high fire risk. The Silver Fire burned quickly and exhibited extreme characteristics. The fire burned 138,698 acres. Eleven years later the scars of this fire are visible in many areas.

City of Rocks

City of Rocks State Park has been our home base for our Silver City adventures. In this one picture Jess captured three LTV’s enjoying the park. The park is unique in its formation and deserves its own blog. I’m looking forward to compiling the information we are communicating to visitors into one piece available to everyone.

Whisky Creek Zocalo

Whisky Creek Zocalo (Zocalo means the public square of a Mexican city or town) is a family run restaurant bar and so much more. We met friends here for dinner and were delighted with what we found. There’s indoor and outdoor multi-use spaces, everything from concert and performance spaces to market and plant nursery. A full wall mural by Nicole Graf is just one of the unique artist touches.

They are open Wednesday – Sunday and have their concert scheduled on their website. Jess and I both enjoyed local brews. Their specialty is flatbread pizza made in a traditional horno oven. Plant-based cheese and soyrizo are available to anyone who chooses. We loved the stuffed mushrooms and both ordered a pizza so we could have leftovers. One pizza would have sufficed for the two of us but two is definitely the way to go. Who doesn’t like pizza for breakfast?

Jess and I seldom eat out because of the difficulty finding restaurants that serve any plant-based products. Typically ethnic eateries including Mexican and Chinese food places have vegetable options. Because we owned a restaurant we prefer to spend our money at local places, but it’s rare that we find a local mom and pop with options like this. Excited to go back and this time we need to say hello to the goats!

Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery

Little Toad Creek is located in the downtown and is another wonderful option. They brew many of their own beers in their Silver City location. This flight offered us the ability to try some of their signature brews. Their menu is pub-style with several vegetarian options as well as a plant-based burger substitute. Our beers and food were both delicious.

We enjoyed the vibe sitting at a high top table in the bar area. The place was packed, but our service was great and our food was ready quickly. There are bands performing most weekends and many activities throughout the week including trivia. This is definitely a place which felt like home. People were friendly and everyone knew each other’s name. What we experienced at both restaurants was that small town welcoming atmosphere.

Silver City has been an eclectic welcoming place. There are many community events from carnivals and festivals to world class cycling. The Gila wilderness provides ample space to spread out and enjoy nature and Silver City provides the perfect place to come together as a community. What began as a mining community is now so much more. I have barely scratched the surface of the businesses and opportunities which exist here. Maybe there will be more Silver City in our future. Live Simple Live Happy

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