Silver City- Gateway to the Gila National Forest

One of New Mexico’s Unique Gems

Whether you are visiting New Mexico for the first time or you are a long-time resident, you need to check out Silver City in the southwestern part of the state.

While the city is becoming noted for its growing art scene and numerous festivals and events throughout the year, one visit and you will know why the mountains and scenery rank among the best in New Mexico.

Silver City is the gateway to the Gila National Forest, 3.3 million acres of forests, range, and wilderness. Don’t miss the Gila Cliff Dwellings where you can go inside the ancient houses. Ancestors of the Puebloan people abandoned the structures approximately A.D.1150. The buildings remain in great shape, containing the original timbers.

As we walked through the actual cliff dwellings, it was easy to imagine what it was like to live hundreds of years ago in this isolated canyon. The trail to the is about one mile and does have some steep and narrow sections, though there are benches provided so you can take a break and enjoy the view.

It’s estimated that eight to ten families occupied this village and anthropologists don’t know why they abandoned the site.

We spent a night camping here in the canyon although you could easily see the cliff dwellings and return to Silver City the same day. Bring a picnic lunch and drinks as there are no restaurants nearby.

Elk Grazing in Serene Meadows

One of my favorite places in New Mexico is Mule Creek. The scattered juniper trees, rolling hills with the mountains in the background- and I’ve never driven through here without seeing a few herds of elk grazing, either.

Since you are out of the national forest in the Mule Creek area, I recommend heading north on Highway 180 and camping near Glenwood. If you have time to spend a night or more in the forest, take advantage of campsites ranging from primitive to full RV hookups.

If you prefer indoor accommodations,  check out The Whitewater Motel or the picturesque cabins at the Los Olmos Lodge in nearby Glenwood.

You will find a unique oasis at the Catwalk Recreation Area where you can enjoy an accessible trail carved into the canyon and supported in places 20 feet above the creek bed. It was part of a mill developed in the late 1800’s and restored by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. Even in the summer, the creek remains flowing and the riparian area attracts many birds.

Birdwatchers, hikers, and photographers will appreciate the diversity of nature found at elevations from 4,200′ to 10,900 including four of the seven life zones found in the world.

Mountain bikers will find numerous trails from expert to novice throughout the forest.

Professional cyclists gather in Silver City in April for the Tour of the Gila, one of the most challenging races in North America. Participate as an amateur or enjoy the experience as a spectator as the race winds through the spectacular wilderness. If you can’t make it in April, you can still enjoy driving the 93-mile Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway which winds through this part of the state.

Add Historical Perspective at the Silver City Museum

After enjoying the natural wonders of the area, stop at the Silver City  Museum, housed in the restored Mansard/Italianate H. B. Ailman House, built in 1881. Climb the narrow stairs to the third floor and enjoy the view of the valley from the old sewing room.

The museum displays over 20,000 objects. professionally arranged to tell the history of the area. I was surprised to learn the Native Americans who lived here were the first miners of the local copper deposits which came to define the economy. I wished I had more than a couple of hours to absorb the culture and stories told here.

We finished our visit with lunch at the Tapas Tree Grill in downtown Silver City. I loved the friendly service, bright space, and the creatively prepared super-fresh food. Five stars from me!

Heading over the hazy hills toward Truth or Consequences in the Rio Grande Valley, I glanced back. It’s an excellent end to a trip- knowing you haven’t seen everything you wanted to. I will have to wait for another visit to see the largest open pit mine in the world in nearby Santa Rita, the old ghost town of Mogollon, and so much more.