Silver City's downtown Historic District, the first such district to receive National Register recognition, is a must for visitors. The downtown core is marked by the extensive use of brick in construction: Brick clay was discovered in the area soon after the town's founding in 1870, and an 1880 ordinance prohibited frame construction within the town limits. Mansard-roofed Victorian houses, Queen Anne and Italianate residences, and commercial buildings show off the cast-iron architecture of the period. Some are still undergoing restoration.
An 1895 flood washed out Main Street and turned it into a gaping chasm, which was eventually bridged over; finally, the Big Ditch, as it's called, was made into a green park in the center of town. Facing downtown, in the 500 block of North Hudson Street, was a famous red-light district from the turn-of-the-century until the late 1960s.
Billy the Kid lived in Silver City as a youth. You can see his cabin site a block north of the Broadway Bridge, on the east side of the Big Ditch. The Kid (William Bonney) waited tables at the Star Hotel, at Hudson Street and Broadway. He was jailed (at 304 N. Hudson St.) in 1875 at the age of 15, after being convicted of stealing from a Chinese laundry, but he escaped -- a first for the Kid. The grave of Bonney's mother, Catherine McCarty, is in Silver City Cemetery, east of town on Memory Lane, off US 180. She died of tuberculosis about a year after the family moved here in 1873.
Way Beyond Silver -- Silver City has become an artists' mecca, as creative people retreat to the small town for the peace it offers. You can spend a fun day wandering the streets. Some of my favorite shops and galleries include Silver City Trading Company's Antique Mall, 205 W. Broadway (tel. 575/388-8989), which is packed with a range of items, from fun junk to Western antiques. Copper Quail Gallery, 211-A N. Texas St. (tel. 575/388-2646), offers wonderful regional art; look for artful landscape photos by Allen Sanders. Imaginative fiber art adorns the walls at Yello on Yankee, 108 W. Yankie St. (tel. 575/534-4968; www.susanszajer.com). Meanwhile Elemental Arts, 106 W. Yankie St. (tel. 575/590-7554; www.gourdweb.com), offers fabulous folk art, much of it made out of gourds by Valerie M. Milner. Also look for oil paintings here by Chris Alvarez. A fun stop for coffee and a look at period photos of Silver City's "Big Ditch" is Yankie Creek Coffee House, 112 W. Yankie (tel. 575/534-9025), open Monday to Saturday 7am to 6pm, and Sunday 7am to 4pm. If you're craving a cold treat, head to Alotta Gelato, 619 N. Bullard St. tel. 575/534-4995; www.alottagelato.com), serving a broad range of gelato flavors, including Romeo and Juliet, their primo chocolate chip. Open Sunday to Thursday noon to 9pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 10pm.
Thar's Copper in Them Thar Hills -- Southern New Mexico has carried on its mining legacy into the present, with two fully operating mines. South of Silver City 12 miles on NM 90 is the Freeport-McMoRan Tyrone Inc. Open Pit Copper Mine (tel. 575/538-5331). Some 60 million tons of rock are taken out every year. Former mine owner Phelps Dodge consolidated its Tyrone holdings in 1909 and hired famous architect Bertram Goodhue to design a "Mediterranean-style" company town. Tyrone, later referred to as the Million Dollar Ghost Town, was constructed between 1914 and 1918. A drop in copper prices caused it to be abandoned virtually overnight. After a pre-World War II incarnation as a luxurious dude ranch, Tyrone lay dormant for years until the late 1960s, when the town made way for the present-day open pit mine and mill.
The oldest active mine in the Southwest, and among the largest in America, is the Freeport-McMoRan Chino Mines Co. Open Pit Copper Mine (commonly called the Santa Rita Copper Mine; tel. 575/537-3381) at Santa Rita, 15 miles east of Silver City via US 180 and NM 152. The multicolored open pit is a mile wide and 1,000 feet deep, and can be viewed from an observation point. Even if you scorn such catastrophic gashes in the earth, it's worth stopping to look out over the mine. Unfortunately, no tours are available at this writing.
Exploring the Area
North of Silver City -- The virtual ghost town of Pinos Altos, straddling the Continental Divide, is 6 miles north of Silver City on NM 15. Dubbed "Tall Pines" when it was founded in the gold- and silver-rush era, Apache attacks and mine failures took their toll.
The adobe Methodist-Episcopal Church was built with William Randolph Hearst's money in 1898 and now houses the Grant County Art Guild. The town also has the Log Cabin Curio Shop and Museum, set in an 1866 cabin (tel. 575/388-1882), and the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House.
South of Silver City -- City of Rocks State Park (tel. 575/536-2800), 25 miles from Silver City via US 180 and NM 61, is an area of fantastically shaped volcanic rock formations, formed in ancient times from thick blankets of ash that hardened into tuff. This soft stone, eroded by wind and rain, was shaped into monolithic blocks reminiscent of Stonehenge. For some, the park resembles a medieval village; for others, it's a collection of misshapen, albeit benign, giants. Complete with a desert garden, the park offers excellent camping and picnic sites. It's also a renowned spot for bouldering, a type of rock climbing in which participants don't use ropes. Day use is allowed from 6am to 9pm for $5 per vehicle; a campsite costs $8 to $18. The visitor center is typically open from 10am to 4pm, but its hours vary, depending on volunteer staffing.
West of Silver City -- US 180, heading northwest from Silver City, is the gateway to Catron County and most of the Gila National Forest, including the villages of Glenwood, Reserve, and Quemado.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.