New Mexico day one
22.09.2011 - 22.09.2011
Having collected our hire car from the Hertz office at El Paso Airport we drove north along I10 towards the border with New Mexico. And talking of borders, from the road we had a clear view of the one between the USA and Mexico proper off to our left, with a lot of high fences, the Rio Grande beyond, and beyond that the houses of Ciudad Juarez.
Entering New Mexico
Crossing into New Mexico we swung west past Las Cruces, which we planned to visit on our return to the airport at the end of our trip, still on I10. We stopped briefly in Deming for a coffee and to pick up picnic supplies. I photographed a shiny Harley Davidson bike parked outside the coffee shop – such photos were to become a recurring motif on this trip.
In a Deming coffee shop, and Harley parked outside
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rocks panorama
Our first proper stop was at this small but fascinating state park some miles north of Deming. If you like unusual landscapes and photogenic rock formations, this is the place for you. A group of bizarrely-shaped rocks rises from an otherwise fairly featureless plain as if they had been placed here by ancient man, but this is a completely natural construction. The outcrop was formed of volcanic ash 35 million years ago and sculpted by wind and water into these rows and groups of monolithic blocks, which are said to resemble streets of skyscrapers (hence the name, City of Rocks). Apparently the rock formations at the park are so unique that they are only known to exist in six other places in the world – but I haven’t been able to find out what those six places might be.
At the City of Rocks [our picnic spot on the right]
This was a great place in which to enjoy the food we had bought in Deming, with lots of tables dotted among the rocks. A helpful ranger spotted us setting up for our picnic and recommended that we try a different area on the other side of the formations where the views and light would be better – they were.
Lunch finished we spent some time exploring between the rows of rocks and taking lots of photos. It’s hard to do this place justice, but I hope my panorama gives an idea of the scale.
We also went into the visitor centre where you can see a short video about how the rocks were formed. We thought about doing the nature trail through the cactus garden too, but an approaching storm made us think twice, as we weren’t sure this would be a good place to be if the fork lightening came any closer. Our new friend the helpful ranger pointed out how the rain wasn’t actually hitting the ground – rising heat from the plains turns it to steam before it can do so. This phenomenon is known as virga.
From the City of Rocks we continued north to Silver City which was to be our base for the night. We had pre-booked accommodation at a B&B, the Inn on Broadway, which seems now to be operating under new owners as Serenity House. It looks as if it would be just as good a place to stay now as we found it to be back then, and it certainly gave us a very well-located base for enjoying all that Silver, as locals call it, had to offer.
The Inn on Broadway
The Hummingbird Room
Silver City was formed in the 1870s, after the discovery of silver in and around the town. It quickly became a boom town, and like many in New Mexico can lay claim to an association with the outlaw Billy the Kid. He lived here as in his teens (some accounts say he was born here, but most that he came with his family from New York), had his first job here, committed his first crime here, and reportedly killed his first man here. He was arrested and briefly imprisoned, before moving on to wreak his havoc elsewhere, most notoriously in Lincoln County.
Colourful street in Silver
Meanwhile the silver boom faded, and with its demise Silver (as the locals call it) faded too. But in recent years the town has undergone a revival. And unlike some carefully ‘restored’ old towns it seems unafraid to mix old and new. It has become common to use cheerful paint colours to restore and revive the old buildings, perhaps influenced by the many artists and hippies who have settled here.
Cast iron building on W Broadway
Another splash of colour
Shops on the main street, Bullard, are an idiosyncratic mix of appealing galleries and small-town ‘not really changed since the 1950s’ shops. Residents too seem to be a mix of ageing hippies, relaxed artists working in all genres, university students and lecturers, and assorted drop-outs. We liked Silver a lot!
Harley Davidson detail
Bikers outside the Palace Hotel, and another Harley
When we set off to explore Silver our host at the Inn on Broadway had mentioned that the best ice cream could be had at Alotta Gelato (also now sadly closed down) towards the north end of Bullard. So when we arrived at that end of town we decided to pop in for our first ice cream treat of the holiday. And it was a treat! This unprepossessing place served only ice cream made on the premises and the guy who served us, whom I suspected was also the owner, was very helpful and knowledgeable in describing the flavours and how they are made. It was pretty difficult to choose even though the mid-size cups we selected held enough for three flavours. In the end I opted for lemon sorbet, butter pecan and sour cherry – all were good, but the lemon sorbet in particular was a belter! Chris chose mango, blueberry and chocolate – I had a taste of the latter and it was dark, rich-flavoured and totally excellent.
Refreshed we continued our wander, heading one block east to see Silver’s most idiosyncratic ‘attraction’, a ditch. Yes, really – but not just any ditch! This is the Big Ditch. Until the end of the 19th century it was Silver City’s Main Street. But around that time there was a series of floods, and one result of these was that on the night of July 21st 1895, Main Street collapsed into a muddy chasm. Businesses on its west side ‘turned their backs’ on it and started to use their rear entrances on Bullard Street, which therefore gradually became a replacement main street without ever changing its name accordingly, and the original street was never restored.
The Big Ditch
Nowadays the chasm has been turned into a pleasant park that runs the length of downtown and provides shade on a hot day. About halfway along, on the west side of the park, you can see Warren House which is the only one still standing intact from the pre-flood days.
Back near the B&B we passed the town’s museum, which is in a nice old Victorian house and is apparently worth a quick visit to see the old photos of the town (especially before the floods that created the Big Ditch). Unfortunately though we spent too long taking photos in the town, and enjoying our ice cream, with the result that we got here just after the rather early 4.30 pm closing time. So we didn’t get to climb up the cupola, which our Moon Handbook said was worth doing, and didn’t get to check out the old maps (I love maps!) and a room furnished in Victorian style.
An evening in Silver
For dinner that evening we went to the nearby Jalisco Café at the bottom end of Bullard. Unlike our B&B and the ice cream parlour, this is still in operation it seems. It occupies a row of three or four old shops and looked welcoming with an appealing New Mexican menu. It also seemed very popular with local families and was pretty busy – both good signs, we thought, although as it turned out this was to be a somewhat mixed experience.
Chris in the Jalisco Café
On entering we found ourselves in the first ‘shop’ in the row, now just an entrance lobby with seating for waiting customers. We were welcomed and shown to a table in the middle section, where most other tables were already occupied. Our server was friendly and explained a couple of dishes on the menu, as well as recommending a good Mexican beer (Dos Equis, which became a staple on our trip).
Our meal started with complimentary chips and salsa. We had barely started on these though when our main courses arrived. Chris had chosen the chicken enchiladas with red chilli sauce – hot and tasty. I’d gone for a slightly riskier choice but it paid off – I really loved the crab tostadas and they would be worthy of a more up-market and pricier restaurant than this. Two crispy shells spread with a thin layer of guacamole and piled high with plenty of crab meat, chopped mango, red onion etc, all drizzled with red chilli sauce – delicious!
But while we were still enjoying these dishes our waitress came over to ask if we wanted dessert. We explained that we wouldn’t know until we had finished our mains, which she accepted, but she was back again the moment we put down our cutlery. Although full, we decided that as it was our first night in New Mexico, and we’d heard so much about sopapillas, we should try one. She willingly brought us one to sample – a large puffy bread with honey to drizzle inside. But she also brought the bill, and it seemed pretty clear to us that we were being encouraged to leave, especially when the now-empty tables around us were cleared and the chairs upturned on some of them.
Please don’t think we were eating late – this was at 8.10 pm (the restaurant apparently closes at 8.30 p m which seems ridiculously early by European standards but is fairly normal in small-town America). So we got the message, paid our bill and left, assuming ourselves to be one of the last to go. Imagine our surprise when we walked past the far section of the restaurant, which had been hidden to our sight inside, to see it with tables full and meals still coming out. We couldn’t help nursing a suspicion that our young waitress had a date that evening and was super-keen to get away early! Well, never mind – we had enjoyed our meal and as the night was young we headed to the nearby Buffalo Bar ...
In the Buffalo Bar
Our Moon Handbook on New Mexico told us that, ‘Just about everyone in town mixes at the Buffalo Bar’, so we decided to do the same. This is an unpretentious-looking (and unpretentious) bar on the main drag, Bullard, towards its southern end, and still in operation today as far as I can see.
Beer in the Buffalo Bar
When we first went in and took seats at the bar it was fairly quiet, and it never got exactly busy, but it did liven up and we had a really nice evening here. On the bar maid’s recommendation we drank, and enjoyed, a few bottles of Sierra Blanca from Carrizozo in the middle of the state – a pleasant lager which unfortunately we never saw again on our trip. Some locals came in and started a game of pool, as well as putting some coins into the juke-box – and this was just the right setting in which to enjoy their chosen Tom Petty tracks. When we went over to pay for a few tunes ourselves, as seemed only fair, another local came over and insisted on paying, while asking us what we would like – very friendly. We ended up staying well over an hour, despite being a little tired from our first day’s driving (and being still on English time). Do drop into the Buffalo Bar for a drink if you’re in Silver – I’m sure you’ll get a warm welcome too.
But despite the welcoming atmosphere in the bar, a fairly early night was required as we still had a touch of jet lag, so we walked back to the Inn on Broadway pretty pleased with our first day in New Mexico.