By Andrew Collins
Photos by Jay Hemphill
New Mexico Magazine
While eating breakfast at downtown Silver City’s Tre Rosat Cafe, I overheard a couple chatting at a nearby table. “Twenty years ago they were calling this town the next Santa Fe,” said a woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties. “It never happened.” Her husband nodded in agreement. “Too far from the interstate,” he added.
Amen, I thought to myself.
Don’t get me wrong—I love my former home city of Santa Fe. But one thing that makes New Mexico special is the diversity and singularity of its communities. From Albuquerque to Zuni, no town is quite like any other.
Silver City was founded 150 years ago, on the heels of a silver-mining boom. Many who live in this sunny hilltop town of about 10,000 on the fringes of the Gila Wilderness still work in the mining industry, but Silver City and surrounding Grant County also claim a sizable number of artists, entrepreneurs, retirees, educators, students, and outdoorsy individualists who love it here precisely because it’s unlike any other place in the Southwest—or the world, for that matter.
I fell hard for Silver City the first time I visited, about 15 years ago. Entranced by the slow going drive through the Black Range along breathtakingly circuitous N.M. 152, I quickly delighted in the remarkable variety of one-of-a-kind restaurants and funky boutiques along downtown’s colorful commercial drag, Bullard Street. Adjacent to a minimally inhabited national forest nearly the size of Connecticut, Silver City might just be New Mexico’s ultimate destination for getting away from it all without actually having to forgo exceptional dining, distinctive accommodations, and top-notch arts and cultural attractions.
My hope is that predictions about Silver City’s imminent transformation into the next this or that prove forever incorrect. Here are 25 attributes of Silver City that make it such a charmed place to live and visit.
1. Scenic Routes
Every road into Silver City is a stunner; two of New Mexico’s national scenic byways pass through the region. From the northeast, hop onto the 50-mile southern leg of the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway (geronimotrail.com), which begins in Caballo and follows N.M. 152 up through Hillsboro and Kingston before switchbacking through the Black Range over 8,228-foot Emory Pass. The Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway (tmsbyway.com) runs north along N.M. 15 from Silver City, passing through Pinos Altos, over the Continental Divide, along a ridge that leads across sweeping White Horse Mesa, and to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. It’s just a 45-mile drive, but allow 90 minutes. The byway then backtracks to N.M. 35 near Lake Roberts, cutting southeast through the picturesque and secluded Mimbres Valley down to San Lorenzo, where it intersects with the western terminus of the Geronimo Trail byway.
2. Cool Spirits and Hot Springs
Situated along the Trail of the Mountain Spirits, the tranquil Little Toad Creek Inn (575-536-9649, littletoadcreek.com) makes an ideal base for visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings or partaking of the several geothermal hot springs in the area (mynm.us/gilasprings). The inn has simple lodge and “bunkhouse” rooms, and the restaurant serves eclectic fare. You can also sample house-crafted beers and spirits, from hearty stout to spiced rum, produced at the on-site brewery and distillery. In Silver City, you can sample these beverages at the rollicking LittleToad Creek Brewery & Distillery tasting room and tavern. (575) 956-6144; littletoadcreekbrewerydistillery.com
3. High-Country Hikes
Just outside the city, the massive Gila Wilderness beckons hikers of all abilities with dozens of spectacular excursions, from rambles through coniferous forests to treks high up above the tree line. Nab a full list of popular day hikes at the Gila National Forest ranger office in Silver City (575-388-8201; mynm.us/gilahikes). If you have time for just one good trek, make it the Signal Peak hike (Trail No. 742). Just 14 miles north of Silver City, the five-mile round-trip ramble leads to one of the highest points in the Pinos Altos Range. At the top, you’re treated to 360-degree views from the Signal Peak Fire Lookout.
4. Coffee Klatches
Silver City’s bohemian vibe is strongest in its homey coffeehouses. In a cozy brick bungalow, the former Three Dogs Coffeehouse reopened with new owners as the Jumping Cactus (503 N. Bullard St.; 575-654-7367; on Facebook). Stop by for Vietnamese iced coffee, honey-almond scones, or a hearty breakfast frittata. A stone’s throw from several art galleries, intimate Yankie Creek Coffee House (112 W. Yankie St.; 575-534-9025; on Facebook) serves delicious teas and coffees as well as rich homemade ice cream. And longtime favorite Javalina Coffee House recently moved to 117 West Market Street. Inside this sunny adobe storefront space, you can nosh on pies and bagels and watch everything from poetry slams to local music acts; there’s a lovely patio out back. (575) 388-1350; on Facebook
5. Child’s Play
A family-oriented testament to Silver City’s vigorous community spirit, downtown’s Penny Park is an extensively equipped one-acre playground that was constructed by volunteers in the late nineties and then completely rebuilt—this time using fire-resistant, splinter-free materials—following a devastating fire in 2011. This shaded wonderland of balance beams, climbing structures, swings, and slides is anchored by a pleasant picnic area. (575) 538-3731; townofsilvercity.org
Ready to shed your coat? Then there are 20 more cool places to check out in and around Silver City, please visit , New Mexico.org.
You won’t be disappointed……