Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 23, 2019

Silver City Bound: New Mexico

Winter is the time to consider prospects for upcoming travel destinations once spring and summer arrive.

Always on the list for prospective travel here at Under Western Skies is New Mexico.

Ghost Ranch NM horizon Brad Nixon 146 (640x480)

The southwestern portion of New Mexico is less-visited than the areas near Albuquerque, Santa Fe/Taos or — in the mountains and desert of the southeast — Ruidoso, Las Cruces and Carlsbad Caverns.

I’ve given the southwest of New Mexico short shrift in this blog. Silver City and the nearby Gila Wilderness are worthwhile travel destinations.

Silver City NM map Google

Four hours from Albuquerque, 3 hours from Tucson, Silver City sits at 5,900 feet elevation, and is a base from which to explore the area. The old downtown preserves much of the character of the picturesque old western mining town. Here’s Bullard Street.

Silver City NM Brad Nixon 054 (640x434)

The tall building on the left is the town hall. You can see a view of Bullard looking north from a live camera on top of City Hall at this link.

Mining Town

Soon after the arrival of Spanish explorers, copper and then silver mining became primary businesses, hence the town’s name. The vast Santa Rita open pit copper mine still operates a dozen miles east of town on Route 152. I wrote about its intriguing history here.

Silver City was a rough-and-tumble place. It was also poorly planned. In 1895, heavy rain sent a wall of water down Main Street, parallel to Bullard, one block east. Main Street became — and remains — a 50-foot deep ravine. The buildings along the east side of Bullard once fronted on Main, but over the years they’ve been reconfigured to have their front entrances on Bullard, which is now the main street. Here it is at first light on a summer morning.

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21st Century Shifts

The downtown reflects the attraction Silver City now has for artists and craftspeople, with galleries and boutiques scattered throughout the dozen or so blocks. The local Mimbres Region Arts Council sponsors numerous festivals and events throughout the year. Check their calendar at this link.

There are some local restaurants downtown, and two old theaters. The Silco opened in 1923 and has a checkered past, converting several times from theater to retail and back again. Once again a theater, it show movies in a 156-seat venue. When I was there, a number of years ago, the Silco’s exterior was unrestored, and I didn’t notice it. 311 N. Bullard St.

I did notice the Gila Theater.

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Built in 1950, it’s also had its ups and downs. As the photo above shows, it had been vacant for several years when I was last in Silver City. According to Cinematreasures.org, the interior features large murals of native American scenes. The space now houses a wellness center, but I can’t attest to the condition of the murals. 413 N. Bullard St.

There’s a wide variety of architectural styles and periods in the old section of town. There are some idiosyncratic ones, like this sort-of-southwestern-adobe Art Deco.

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A portion of the downtown is an official National Historic District.

There are traditionally styled Victorian and Edwardian area residences, including this one on Broadway.

silver city vincent nixon 20070725 100 680

Silver City is the county seat of Grant County. The courthouse is an incongruously monolithic block of severe, Streamline Moderne, built in 1930.

grant co court brad nixon 20070724 060 680

The Silver City Museum occupies the quirky Italianate brick H. B. Allman House of 1881.

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I didn’t tour the museum. Its website suggests most of its collection focuses on the area after the arrival of the Spanish, but there are at least some artifacts from the region’s remarkable Mimbres culture (see below for the Mimbres). The museum is located at 312 W. Broadway. Closed Mondays and the four major holidays. Check the website for hours.

Also a University Town

With about 3,500 students, Western New Mexico University is a little less than a mile northwest of the Town Hall.

wnmu vincent nixon 20070723 05 680

I highly recommend a visit to the WNMU Museum in Fleming Hall, 1000 W. College Ave. Open weekdays, but check the website. They’re just completing a major renovation as I type, due for a 2019 opening.

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The museum has the world’s largest collection of pottery from the prehistoric Mimbres culture, which flourished in the Mimbres River valley near Silver City from about 1000 – 1130 c.e. They were potters of prodigious imagination and skill.

mimbres property u new mexico 4610 680

Space won’t permit me to tell a fraction of the Mimbres story, a farming and hunting culture who built large semicircular pueblo-style communities around open plazas. They were contemporary with portions of the Chaco Culture to the north, a little before the prime of the Mesa Verde cliff-house culture in Colorado.

These Mimbres wares were photographed in the University of New Mexico Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, but are representative of the Mibrenos’ brilliant work. Click on the photos for larger views:

Much of their cultural remains were destroyed by looters, making the existence of the WMNU Museum collection critically important.

There is one extant Mimbres site now open for visitors to see. I haven’t visited it, because it only opened to the public after my trip there. Here’s the website for the Mimbres Culture Heritage Site, on highway 35 east of Silver City. It’s open daily from April to November, Friday through Sunday the rest of the year, but check the website to make certain.

Daily Life

Silver City does offer a variety of retail, grocery, services, accommodations and restaurants. They’re primarily located along U.S. Route 180, northeast of downtown.

City of Rocks

I wrote previously about one local attraction, 32 miles into the rocky desert southeast of the town: City of Rocks State Park.

city of rocks NM Marcy Vincent 034 - PS1 (640x480)

It’s worth a few hours’ visit. Camping and some facilities available onsite.

Into the Wild

A primary reason to stay in the Silver City area is to visit the wild, beautiful Gila National Forest, north of the town, which includes significant wilderness areas, as well as prehistoric structures at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

gila cliff vincent nixon 078 680

Click on this link to read my article about Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and the surrounding Gila Wilderness.

I wrote at greater length about the Mimbres culture at this link.

Have you visited the area? What else do you suggest for visitors? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2019. Some photographs also © M. Vincent, used by kind permission. Photographs of Mimbres wares by Brad Nixon and M. Vincent, properties of University of New Mexico Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.

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Responses

  1. Very much enjoyed reading this post. My son enjoyed his visit to New Mexico a couple of months ago and was able to visit several national parks and monuments in the Santa Fe area

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s not a portion of the state that doesn’t have enormously worthwhile places and things to see. I’m pleased he got to visit!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed revisiting this wonderful area through your post. I look forward to returning, with the Mimbres Cultural Heritage site, renovated WMNU museum and more outdoor adventures on the agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve spent a little time in New Mexico, and my experience supports your assertion that there’s hardly an area of the state that doesn’t offer something of value. I’ve not been in the western half, though. I roamed the east, north and NE a bit, especially around Trampas, Chimayo, Abiquiu and such. I’ve seen some Mimbres pottery; it would be worth making a trip to explore the area and those museums.

    Just out of curiosity, I wondered how long it would take me to get to Silver City (without side trips). As always, the distances amuse. Very roughly, it’s 685 miles from LA to Silver City. From Houston to Silver City, it’s 898, and you need 744 of those miles just to get to El Paso.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When Texans run out of things to do, there’s always this. Take directions to ANYWHERE, and then ADD the distance to get across the Texas border! The advantage is that you get to pass by a lot of fascinating things along the way!
      Every sales organization in the old days had some story of the regional manager who told a distributor in, say, El Paso, to get a delivery to somewhere like Texarkana.
      “Have the Chicago office send it,” the response would go. “They’re closer!”
      There are a handful other collections of Mimbres ware with some public access, and, of course, no museum has everything on display. The Maxwell at U. of NM has a fascinating exhibit that includes a fair number that were on display when we shot the ones in the post. We may not have been permitted to photograph at WNMU, but we also had a more limited camera then.
      A couple of Arizona universities have collections, too.
      Look for my blog post about why there are so few Mimbreno artifacts. It’s a horrific tale from which archaeology will never recover.

      Like

  4. That’s an interesting association you make when you say southwestern adobe Art Deco. Certainly one can see some similarities of style when comparing SW Native American art and Art Deco, particularly the strong repetition of geometric patterns.

    Nevertheless, it is very doubtful that Art Deco, which originated in Europe in the 1920s drew any inspiration from Natiive Americans, as it was principally a reaction to the biomorphic forms of Art Nouveau and was inspired by newly developing technology (think machine aesthetic).

    It is interesting, however, how similar art forms can exist in parallel universes without ever intersecting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really should’ve tried harder to be more obviously tongue-in-cheek, but, yes, there’s SOME resemblance. Form is function, and there are only so many functions for a building, so it’s no wonder there’s an underlying resonance of forms.
      Thanks for the observations.

      Like

      • Native American art is colorful and beautiful. I am curious about the reason or inspiration for their emphasis on the geometric patterns that feature so prominently in their art in New Mexico and the southwest. Do you frequent travelers to and writers about the SW U.S. have any insights on this?

        Like

  5. Interesting pictures of Silver City.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a colourful area, isn’t it, Brad? I’d love to visit. I did notice a Restless person had already been around 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have not been to Gila Cliff Dwellings, but I would love to go. It looks very interesting. I read a novel a couple years ago, in which they were a part of the story. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really, that’s fascinating. It figures they’d make an excellent setting for an author to use. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person


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