Inside Arizona: Have you ever wanted to take a road trip with little direction and just wanted to get lost for a couple of days from family and friends, away from cell phone towers and e-mail, but still enjoy natural beauty and the company that comes from a tour of small towns? If so, then there is a road trip in Arizona and New Mexico I would recommend to you.
Have you ever wanted to take a road trip with little direction and just wanted to get lost for a couple of days from family and friends, away from cell phone towers and e-mail, but still enjoy natural beauty and the company that comes from a tour of small towns? If so, then there is a road trip in Arizona and New Mexico I would recommend to you.
Taking the U.S. 60 east from Mesa one recent Friday morning, I made it to Globe in a little more than an hour and hopped on the U.S. 70 to my first stop in Clifton, about three hours from the Valley, to take a tour of the Morenci Mines. The Morenci Mines hold tours on Fridays and Saturdays, and I enjoyed the Friday afternoon tour with the raw natural feel of the mining tradition that continues as a common theme for the communities on this road trip.
Continuing north on the Coronado Trail, now on the U.S. 191, I was about to find out why this highway is breathtaking in its beauty and terrifying in its curves and heights all at the same time. The Coronado Trail is a famous byway, and as I climbed, the air became cooler and cleaner. I left the desert floor far below and reached the magnificent pines of eastern Arizona.
So far, the trip had met all of my expectations as I drove down the highway, watching for animals and the Alpine Inn, my destination for the evening. The inn is set off the highway, and across the road is a meadow, surrounded by tall pines. As I climbed the steps to the inn, I saw two hummingbird feeders hanging from the porch and about 20 hummingbirds flitting about. As I watched these little beauties flutter back and forth, I knew I was in a different place and time. The sun was low in the West when out of the pines came does to graze in the meadow. It was a magical moment, but then the male made a brief appearance just behind the tree line to lead the does away from my picture-perfect moment. The night included good food and wine, friendly folks to converse with and a peaceful evening. Returning to my room in this turn of the century farmhouse replica gave me time to reflect on the day and to get a good night’s sleep, for the next morning I was headed to Silver City, N.M.
The next morning, I headed down Main Street to the Bear Wallow Café for some breakfast. After breakfast, I started on my trip over the state line to New Mexico, just 20 minutes away. Now, I was on the 180 heading south toward Silver City, about two hours from Alpine.
After getting to Silver City, an active mining town, in the late morning, I visited the Western New Mexico University Museum, which houses one of the largest permanent displays of Mimbres Indian Pottery and Culture in the world. Fleming Hall, the museum’s building, was built in 1916-17 and was designed by the Trost and Trost Architectural Firm of El Paso.
The original function of Fleming Hall was to serve as a gymnasium and science hall for the New Mexico Normal School. In 1974, Fleming Hall was opened to the public as the Western New Mexico University Museum. The museum celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2009.
After my curiosity was piqued about the Mimbres by the pottery and culture, I was directed by a local museum member to visit the Mimbres Hot Springs Ranch. I left the university and hopped on Highway 152 east to San Lorenzo. To find the Mimbres Hot Springs Ranch, which is six miles south of San Lorenzo off Highway 61, I had to follow signs for about 2 1/2 miles to the ranch, which was clearly marked. I had to drive for a little more than a half-hour. Entertaining the idea of a natural hot springs bath was on the top of my mind, and after finding a member of the ranch to announce my invitation and intent, I found the ranch to be very pleasant and private, with a community of artists and residents who encouraged me to remember that strong membership to an organization that allows visitors encourages new experiences like natural hot baths to a traveler like myself.
The ranch is visited by invitation only, but on Dec. 5 and 6 is the 29th annual Mimbres Hot Springs Ranch Studio Sale, which is open to the public to view and purchase art created locally.
It had been a long day, so I decided to find my lodgings and settle in for the evening. I had reservations at the Bear Creek Motel and Cabins in Pinos Altos, which is just seven miles from the center of Silver City but a lifetime away from traffic and noise and about a 45-minute drive from the ranch.
Pinos Altos (Tall Pines) is at the foot of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. I settled in on the porch and watched the dark clouds gather in the sky, hearing thunder in the distance. I found a book on the shelf and sat down to read, a pastime I cannot resist wherever I go. The cabin was well stocked with everything I needed. A soft rain fell, leaving the scent of pine in the air. I decided to call it a day and went to bed.
Sunday morning, I was ready to visit historic downtown Silver City. My first stop was Diane’s Bakery for a fresh cup of coffee and one of their cream cheese Danishes. After dining, I headed up the street to the local farmers market. Many vendors were displaying their local fare of crafts, homemade goodies and locally grown vegetables.
I wish I could have stayed longer on Sunday, but I had been told about a lodge on the other side of the Black Range Mountains a little more than an hour away in an area of New Mexico that used to rival San Francisco as the largest population base west of the Mississippi River that I had to visit.
As a responsible traveler, I made a phone call to check on availability at the Black Range Lodge in Kingston to make sure I had a room for the evening.
After booking my stay, I crossed the Black Range and Emory Pass on the beautiful mountain drive. Emory Pass allows for a great view of the Gila National Forest. Arriving in Kingston and checking into the historic Black Range Lodge by late afternoon gave me time to explore this historic place.
I felt like I was stepping into the Old West while entering the lodge’s spacious lobby. Its massive stone walls and log-beamed ceilings — built from the tumbled-down ruins of Pretty Sam’s Casino and the Monarch Saloon — were completed in 1940. The original plastered brick construction dates back to the 1880s, when the lodge housed miners and cavalry.
Furnished for comfort, the lodge invites you to relive Kingston’s wild and woolly past, with modern conveniences. All guest rooms have private baths, thick towels and cozy down comforters. Via satellite, they have a wireless high-speed Internet connection, and recent renovations make the lodge more wheelchair friendly.
The first floor lobby offers area information and history books. An adjacent game room invites people to play pool and foosball and to try the “antique” PacMan video game. Also, a computer connected to the Internet allows for Web surfing or e-mail.
I had brought my own laptop, and made use of the Wi-Fi connection, letting my work know I would be in a little late on Monday if I was in at all.
My guest room was on the second floor, and opened into a large common room, where I watched a movie on the VCR and challenged a mate to Scrabble. The influence of international and interesting travelers was evident everywhere at the lodge. I then took in the evening by reclining, relaxing and enjoying the fresh mountain air from my balcony. Nestled in the foothills of the Gila National Forest, the lodge provides easy access to its 3 million acres of wild, natural beauty. On Monday morning, a short walk in the clean air took me across Percha Creek and into the shade of tall ponderosa pines and a last take of this secluded but cozy mountain town.
The drive back to Arizona on Interstate 15 south and then on to Interstate 10 west to the Valley was a seven-hour trip. I was back at home Monday before dark. My four-day weekend adventure through Arizona and its neighbor state had given me just the right retreat.