Sunday, November 16, 2014

Silver City, New Mexico

November 9-15, 2014

A mostly straight and level road for 52 miles through ranching and mining country to Silver City, New Mexico.  As you get near Silver City you see the huge Chino Open Pit Copper Mine off to the right.

View from the highway with copper mine in distance 
We had a reservation at the Silver City RV Park for an overflow site with water and electric.  This campground has a unique coffee and mini donut shop in their office.  We initially were planning to spend three nights here, but decided to extend our stay to a full week as we like it here and we have another full week to get to Phoenix.

Silver City RV Park

Silver City on first impression is one of the coolest small town we have visited this year.  It is one of those towns that is showing up on several "best" small towns in America lists. They take pride in being 90 miles from the nearest mall and 45 miles from a chain restaurant.  They are stretching this claim to fame a bit as there is a Walmart, McDonalds, Burger King, and numerous others on the outskirts of town.    

Silver City was smarter than most other frontier towns in that they required buildings to be of masonry construction and thereby fireproof. As a result most of the original buildings have survived.  On second thought, they were not that smart as the original Main Street was built in a natural "Arroyo" which turned into a creek during summer rain storms that ultimately washed the street away.  This area is now cleared and converted into a park area that is known as "The big ditch".  Downtown Silver City is mostly art galleries, artsy gift shops, coffee houses, cafe's, restaurants, antiques, thrift stores and such.  Also a restored Hotel, an old theater undergoing restoration and a museum. We also found a nice bakery and bought a loaf of green chile cheddar bread, very good.  They add chili to practically everything in New Mexico.

The Gila Theater under restoration

Silver City mural

Nicely repainted
The Palace Hotel in Silver City

Many great murals and artwork in town

There are many colorful, artistic shops and galleries in town

A view down in the Big Ditch

Building for sale

County Courthouse

Billy the Kid is all over town as he lived in Silver City as a youth

The Buffalo Bar

Six miles north is the old mining town of Pinos Altos, settled in 1850 that sits right on the Continental Divide.  The town is very rustic with many old historic adobe buildings with the main attraction being the "Buckhorn" Saloon.  The Buckhorn appears all original on the outside, but has been totally restored inside and is one of the oldest Taverns in New Mexico.  It has the original old bar that was transported by ship around the Cape of Good Horn to San Francisco and then by wagon to get here. The decor is done as a wild west Saloon with a mounted Buffalo head on the wall, a mountain Lion, a fire place and couple of Shady Lady paintings.  It has a full kitchen, two dining rooms, an attached Opera House and is regarded as one of the best restaurants around.

Exterior of the Buckhorn Saloon

Interior of the Saloon

A few miles north of Pinos Altos on route 15 north is the "Arrasta Site".  It is a old Spanish gold mining site with the remains of an Arrasta which is  a primitive, but effective method of separation the gold from the ore.  There were a number of holes in the ground from past digging and many waste rock mounds.  If you sit quietly and meditate a bit, you can imagine that you are walking in the footsteps of the miners.  I hoped to find an missed gold nugget (they must be there), but sadly no luck.

The reconstructed Arrasta

All I found was many healthy Agave plants

Route 15 north continues to the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument and the route is called the "Trail of the Mountain Spirits".  It is a wild, narrow, winding road with dozens of hairpin curves climbing over about three mountains peaks through mostly uninhabited forest land.  I didn't prepare well for this trip, had no snacks or drinks for the ride and thought there would be some small store along the way.  There wasn't !  I arrived at the National Monument about noon, no food at the visitors center either, but at least they had free water.  I rode to the trailhead for the Cliff Dwellings, received the usual park rules and orientation from a friendly park volunteer.  The one mile trail to the Cliff Dwellings crosses over the Gila River a couple of times and then passes through a wooded area before going up to the Dwellings in the rock face.  The Dwellings are built inside a huge cave, there are about 40 rooms, very well protected.  The Mongollon people lived in this area from about 1100 to 1300 AD, but the rock and mortar Cliff Dwellings were built from 1276 to 1287 based on the carbon dating of the wooden beams used in the construction. These people moved on mysteriously, most likely due to drought conditions around 1300.  The Apache then took control although they did not live in or disturb the Cliff Dwellings.

View of the Gila River at the Cliff Dwellings

The Cliff Dwellings are built inside the caves

View from inside the cave looking out

The masonry work has held up well as it is protected inside the  cave

There was a roof on this originally

Another interior view

We stayed close to town on Wednesday going to the Silver City Museum housed in a beautiful turn of century Victorian house.  They had  good exhibits on the Gila River Wilderness area along with biographies on the heroes and architects of southwestern and National Wilderness designated park areas.  We're talking about people such as Aldo Leopold, Gifford Pinchot, Clinton Anderson and Howard Zahniser.  Also interesting stuff on the original test to become a forest ranger, mainly how to ride a horse and shoot a gun.  Also the history and many photographs of the flood waters on Main Street that resulted in the "Big Ditch".

Gifford Pinchot

Lots of mines in the Silver City area

A photograph of the Big Ditch after a flood
We had lunch at "Diane's Restaurant which seems to be a local favorite and we do understand why, it was great.  Then some shopping at a couple of thrift and antique stores where Twinkles in particular loves to find a bargain.  Next was a coffee at a funky coffee shop called the "Yankie Creek Coffee House", (No Starbucks here !), with a definite hippie vibe.  This town seems to be inhabited by many silver haired relaxed, quirky, happy hipster folks.  I am very upset that the Buffalo Saloon in Silver city seems to closed and there really isn't a real neighborhood dive bar around.  There is a brew pub but it's more like a restaurant and the decor is kind of "Goofy".  The only thing lacking in this town is a good neighborhood bar.

The Buckhorn Saloon has live music on Mondays and Wednesdays mostly for the dinner crowd, so I went to check it out.  I sat at the bar and immediately this man next to me started talking to me and it turns out he lives in the Silver City RV Park, same as us.  He was a talker, non stop, but did have good stuff to tell and was rather interesting.  Consequently I didn't hear much of the music, but it was just as well, it was easy listening, soft, boring anyway.  I learned some things about the restoration of the building and was able to go into the attached Opera House to look around. The restored interior of the Saloon is practically all new inside the original old adobe building shell.  They did a realistic looking restoration using the original bar but it is almost too perfect, looks too new, wish they left it a little rougher.  

We have missed most of the current cold arctic blast here, but not all, it is close to freezing in the early morning and this RV seems to have little to no insulation.  We just pulled out our heated blanket which works beautifully when it gets cold.  I prefer to shut the furnace off overnight as long as it remains above freezing outside.   

It was time for a hike on Thursday so it was off to the Fort Bayard Wildlife Refuge where we hiked the "Big Tree Trail".  It was across a mostly open area with lots of young trees and old stumps from the pioneer days when they cut everything down.  Somehow, miraculously this one massive Alligator Juniper tree escaped, estimated to be 600 years old.   It was a really impressive tree, better than expected, unbelievable size for a Juniper.  Another hike on Friday on a trail along the Continental Divide where we saw many rocks with small specks of gold that were pretty interesting.  Also we saw a few Tarantula Spiders along the way which I would admit are a little scary.

Colorful Lichens on the rocks

The Big Tree

In the sunlight this rock sparkled with gold 

View from the trail

This was a small Tarantula

View of the huge Santa Rita Mine

The colors were beautiful

Sunday afternoon from 2 - 4 PM is live music at the Yankie Creek Coffee House, a very cool friendly place.  It was  two veteran musicians who went by the name of "The loose Blues Band" who were really great and played a lot of the kind of fingerpicking bluesy/country/folksy stuff that I love.

Loose blues band

This is our final stop in New Mexico, it's nice to end it on a high note, now it's back into Arizona. 

The next stop is Willcox, Arizona.

Twinkles and Slick

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