A Summer in Silver City, New Mexico

September 25, 2009

Until early this year, Silver City was a wide spot on the road to the Gila Wilderness. Skirting the unlovely edges of this former mining town, we were perplexed by the ads touting it as a tourist destination for heat-weary Tucsonans. However, it was a convenient place to rendezvous with our friends from Albuquerque on our way to a post-New-Years gathering at the Wilderness Lodge. We ended up spending the night, and discovered that Silver City has a matching lining that includes an extraordinary number of excellent galleries, a few first-rate restaurants, and that all-important urban accessory, the independent coffee house.

We all fell in love, but Kit and Ann went on to consummate the relationship, trading a summer in their magnificent rammed earth house in the Tucson Mountains for a summer of house sitting on a windy ridge overlooking Silver City.

As the end of summer approached, and with it, the end of their house-sitting gig, Kit and Ann stunned us all by purchasing a second home in Silver City. "La Choza des Colores" is a 1920s-vintage miners' cottage and a former artist's residence within walking distance of downtown, and Dennis and I were honored to be among the first guests!

Silver City is in that delicious phase that comes after the homeless guys have moved out of the old warehouses — and before they're all snapped up by big-time real estate developers. Starving artists and small-time entrepreneurs can still afford to occupy the historic buildings they have rehabilitated with such grace and ingenuity.

It's a real community. There's a weekly farmers' market with actual farmers offering genuine locally-grown produce for sale at real prices. Flea markets here sell more than the usual assortment of over-priced antiques. On Bullard Street, even newcomers are stopped every few feet for a conversation with their neighbors. And local businesspeople are working hard to build an industrial base that could offer an alternative to the eventual "Santefornication" of Silver City.

And just 40 miles up the road is the nation's first designated wilderness area and the largest roadless area outside of Alaska. On this trip, we introduced Kit and Ann to the Catwalk. The Catwalk Trail follows the path of an old pipeline through Whitewater Canyon, along a pipeline that was built in the 1890s to provide water to a mill in the former mining town of Graham, New Mexico.

Though I have hiked this trail at least five times since my first trip to the Southwest in 1998 — my first "documented" visit was in 2002 — it's always a pleasure. And on this visit, in addition to a pleasant hike, we were thrilled by the sight of a group of four or more bighorn sheep sunning themselves on a rocky knoll overlooking the canyon.

We're happy in our brick tent in the Sonoran Desert, but it's not hard to see why our friends have established a "pied à terre" in Silver City. It's a wonderful part of the world — but don't tell anybody!