Southwestern Mexico – Uncovering Some Real Gems

Posted on November 18, 2015

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IMG_2460Southwestern New Mexico is a beautiful place – rugged and remote in a majestic, but formidable way.

The terrain perfectly parallels the lives of its early residents, back in the days when mining meant survival for Silver City, Pinos Altos, Tyrone and countless other little towns.

Sprinkled through this once ore-rich area, these were rough and tough places to live and earn a living.

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Image: silvercitytourism.org

We spent some time in Silver City, a town with a population of about 10,000.

They’ve been pretty successful in re-inventing themselves as an artsy/boutique-y/foodie kind of place, catering to tourists but still managing to keep a small-town friendly feeling.

Smithsonian.com placed Silver City at number 18 on its 2014 list of the 20 best American small towns to visit, calling it an “authentic New Mexico experience”, which, I suppose, it is.

Silver City got its start as a silver mining town in the 1800’s, but today copper is king and is now the basis of the town’s economy, along with tourism.

IMG_2465We visited the Gila National Forest and did the 1 mile walk/climb (!) to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument site.

We were able to walk through a series of simple rooms carved into the cliffs by an ancient people called the Mogollons over 2,000 years ago.IMG_2476

Mines and the evidence of mining can be seen everywhere, from the 24/7/365 activity at the Chico Mine to the huge reclamation project now underway at the Freeport-McMoRan mine at Tyrone.

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Chico Mine from the vista point along the highway.

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Reclamation project at the Tyrone Mine. Image: nmcopperrules.com

And speaking of Tyrone, while visiting the Silver City Museum we read – apparently not very carefully – about the Tyrone Mine and the town of Tyrone.

We drove over to where we’d seen a “Tyrone” sign, and stopped and asked a lady out in her yard where the town was. She laughed, saying she and her husband wondered the same thing when they arrived in the 1960’s.

Turns out the village of Tyrone was built on top of valuable ore. Eventually the mining monster gobbled up both the business district and the miner’s homes.

In the 1950’s the company relocated its employees to a “new” Tyrone – an area of tract houses with no business district. There’s nothing left of the “old” Tyrone except bits of rubble here and there.

The same thing happened in Santa Rita. Those born there – mostly children of Mexican miners – refer to themselves as having been “born in space”.

However, that didn’t happen in Pinos Altos.

Gold was discovered there in 1837, beginning a long and bloody conflict between miners and the Apaches.

The town developed around a general store built in the mid-1860’s. The Mercantile served both miners and U. S. Cavalry scouting parties from nearby Fort Bayard, stationed there to keep tabs on the Indians.

IMG_2636That building still stands in Pinos Altos, though it doesn’t appear to be used for anything today. However, the nearby Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House are up and running.

The original saloon was opened during the waning months of the Civil War. The current building, and the opera house next door, are made up of a mixture of parts and pieces from other old PA buildings that hit the ground years ago.

download (4)The bar and back bar, we were told, are of unknown origin but were freighted in by wagon “way back when.”  Not much record keeping goes on, I guess, when you’re busy digging for gold and dodging Indians.

Today’s Buckhorn Saloon is actually a nearly-fine dining restaurant, complete with a naked lady painting,  catering to both tourists and folks from the surrounding area.IMG_2504

The Opera House, featuring a stage, elevated box seats and a Gay Nineties atmosphere, is used fairly regularly for a variety of events.

The Kingston Trio once performed here, and today a schedule of local musical performances and Old West stage presentations keep the old floorboards vibrating.

We were told the Buckhorn is for sale.  Hopefully someone will come along to discover and appreciate this real gem, hidden away in the rugged mountains of New Mexico mining country,

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