In my first post on Deming, not including the one on about Hatch Chile Peppers, I said that if you were willing to drive a bit, you open yourself up to all sorts of possible adventures in the area. One such adventure was my 6-hour round trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings which was so much fun, it got a post all to itself. I had several people reach out to say they loved that I took readers on the “tour” with me so I’ll try to do more like it in the future. But, in the meantime, today’s post is about the adventures you can have outside of Deming, in the general area of Southwest New Mexico.
Let’s start with the State Parks. There are three in the area and I visited two. I debated getting an annual New Mexico State Park day-use pass for $40. The day-use fee is $5. So, if you visit, you can do the math based on your plans, to see which would be the better deal. You pay at a fee box, so bring the exact amount.
Rockhound State Park
Located in the foothills of the Little Florida Mountains, this adventure, technically, wasn’t outside of Deming. With a Deming address, it’s a 15-minute drive from where I stayed. I visited twice.
The first time I drove at dusk. I know. Weird, right? Actually, I attending a star gazing party. It was during the month of November so I wrote about that adventure as part of a post regarding my participation in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
The second time I visited Rockhound State Park, it was a clear bright day. First, I stopped in the Visitors’ Center to get my bearings and a hike recommendation. I didn’t get a chance to visit during my stargazing excursion because stars come out at night which meant I found the Visitors’ Center closed.
I wondered about the name. So, I looked it up. A rockhound is a geologist or collector of mineral specimens. Turns out I’ve been a rockhound for years and never knew it came with a title. I used to simply say, “I love rocks.” Rocks, in fact, were one of the many things I had to downsize to begin the RV life. I had buckets of them.
Rockhound is a small state park and once at the Visitors’ Center, there isn’t really anywhere else to drive. You can drive through the campground but that’s it.
The hiking trail (a loop) itself is about 2 miles though you are permitted to go off trail. And there is just the one. Toward the end, you wander through the botanical garden with lots of signage. It’s a fun way to end the hike.
The Visitors’ Center is small, as you’d expect, but worth the stop because they show off tons of different types of rocks found in the area. It’s helpful as you look for your own rocks on your hike. They allow visitors to keep up to 15 pounds of rocks for their personal collections.
I didn’t get off trail and, therefore, I didn’t find any collectible rocks. I hoped maybe to find a geode. However, I did spot something noteworthy. A tarantula crossed my path. It scared and thrilled me. First time I ever saw one in person in the wild. I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough to photograph the little guy.
City of Rocks State Park
City of Rock State Park is a geologic maze of large, rounded boulders, crevasses and gaps. The rocks formed from a volcanic eruption 1,000 stronger than Mount St. Helens, erosion then did its work for 35 million years into the “city” there today. By the way, did you know this year was the 40 year anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption?
I visited City of Rocks following my visit to Fort Bayard which you’ll read about next week. While walking there, I wanted to read a sign placed under a tree. The tree had dropped these round nuts (not sure what they were). I expected them to squish under my feet. But, nope, they were harder than that. So when I stepped on them it was like stepping on marbles. I ended up on the ground with a very sore knee. It took a few months for the pointy lump that resulted to go away.
I say this by way of saying that by the time I got to the City of Rocks, it was hurting pretty good. I wanted to climb on and around the rocks, to follow the hiking trail (they have 7.5 miles of hiking and biking trails) but my knee refused to cooperate. As a result, I only stopped in the Visitors’ Center and then walked through the campground. I also followed a planetary walk through the campground. I haven’t come across one of those since my time in Walla Walla.
There is an observation point that you can hike to. Fortunately for me, you can also drive up to it. If I get back to the area, I definitely want to revisit City of Rocks for the chance to do more exploration and rock climbing.
Silver City in Southwest New Mexico
Silver City is a southwest New Mexico town an hour from Deming. I didn’t have any particular thing I wanted to see there but they had painted murals that I thought might be fun. The downtown is quaint and, in general, I liked the town. I made a mental note to look into RV parks in Silver City next time I’m in the area as it might be a good place to stay.
Silver City, as you can guess by the name, sprang to life when with a silver discovery in 1870. But the town’s founders didn’t want it to be a fly-by-night town so in an attempt to create a “built to last” town, they passed an ordinance in 1880 that said all new structures within city limits required masonry construction.
A series of floods during a 20-year span (1890 – 1910) washed away all of Main Street except a single building. The former Main Street is now called Big Ditch Park. It is 55 feet below today’s Main Street and, surprisingly, only about a block away. And, literally, it is a big ditch. They have added a sidewalk so you can walk along it and water runs through it. When I was there in winter with all the trees hibernating, it wasn’t very pretty but I can see how other times of year it could be.
The Visitors’ Center (feature image) is on the other side of Big Ditch from Main Street and is a little well-developed area including a bridge that leads into downtown, right past Warren House.
The Visitor’s Center also includes a 1870 style log cabin donated by actor/director Ron Howard. He had it built for his 2003 movie The Missing. The Visitors’ Center is the location where Billy the Kid lived with his mother, brother and step-father from 1873 – 1875. Though their original cabin no longer standing, torn down in 1894.
Historic Walk and Mural Walk
A definite area of improvement for the town of Silver City would be to offer maps. They have great old buildings with information placards outside but no self-guided map. They have the side of buildings painted with these great murals but no map to help you find them or information about them.
Now, to be fair, I have to say the downtown isn’t big or complex. Main Street (though now it’s called Bullard) is less than 10 blocks and the historical buildings and murals are primarily on this street. Still, I like to have a map as a take-away.
When I asked the volunteer at the Visitors’ Center for a map, I learned they didn’t have maps. She then let me know people ask for mural maps all the time. You’d sure think if visitors to their community are asking for a map, it would be in their own best interest to create one.
But I didn’t let that annoyance prevent me from enjoying the walk.
Shakespeare Ghost Town
Today, Shakespeare is a ghost town. But, in its heyday, it was a booming mining community. You’ll find it just outside of Lordsburg, an hour west of Deming, not far from the New Mexico – Arizona border.
Named and renamed four (or five, depending on how you count), the name Shakespeare stuck. And has remained for the last 141 years.
Founded as a stagecoach stop initially and it was called Mexican Springs. After the Civil War it was renamed Grant after the famous General. When silver was discovered in the nearby hills, it was renamed to Ralston City after its largest investor, William Chapman Ralston. Ralston City was also referred to as Burro Mines. (My obvious guess is that’s a name of one of the mines in the area but I couldn’t confirm that.) Finally, in 1879 another mining promoter renamed in Shakespeare. Yes, after the English poet and playwright.
The town experienced three waves of silver mining. The second wave included diamond mining. Though, it turned out, to be a diamond mining swindle when some men got the idea to seed the hills with diamonds, “discover” them, then start selling claims. The town grew to 3,000 (with–surprise–15 bars) but following the second wave and diamond swindle, it dwindled down to about 50.
A family purchased the entire town in 1935. They own and operate it still today. Now, they are slowly restoring the buildings. Still, because the tour includes going in the buildings, it’s pretty great as is. For $5, I spent two hours with the tour guide dressed in period clothing.
A Few Stories
Shakespeare, a lawless pioneer town. It had no newspaper, church or law enforcement. Gun battles, free-for-all-fights were not uncommon. Here are a few funny tidbits about the rough and tumble early days:
- During a barroom brawl, a man died. Patrons moved his body outside to the train tracks. They, then, claimed he died after a train hit him.
- For bored (and drunk) bar patrons shooting flies from walls passed the time. Still today, visit and see the damage to the bar walls.
- The last known men hanged in Shakespeare for the crime of cattle rustling and “general nuisance” were Sandy King and William “Russian Bill” Tattenbaum. After they hung the men, their bodies remained swinging for a few days as a deterrent to others. The pair ran with the outlaws, the Cowboys, the famous gang known for cattle thieving, stagecoach heists, murder and mayhem. As a side note, the Cowboys were maybe most known as being on the other end of the street from the Earps in the gun fight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona though neither of these guys was in that gun fight. Russian Bill was a Russian noble by birth so when his mother hadn’t heard from him in a while, she started making noise which started to worry the locals. To settle the mother, townsfolk sent a telegram. They regretted to inform her that her son died. He died, they said, of a “throat aliment.” Never admitting they hung him.
- The deadly gun battle at the Strafford Hotel (for those who paid attention in English class, you’ll know name’s connection to Shakespeare) concerned an egg. One guest became angry when his breakfast plate lacked an egg when he saw another man received one. You’d think the fight would’ve been between the aggrieved man and the hotel or cook. But no. The eggless man decided the man with an egg had done him wrong. After harsh words, the eggless man excused himself from the breakfast table and returned with a gun. He shot at the man with the egg though missed. The man with the egg shot and killed him. As a side note here, the Strafford Hotel is where Billy the Kid washed dishes for a period.
Southwest New Mexico
I hope you enjoyed the posts about Deming and the surrounding area. Next time I get back, I’d like to visit Pancho Villa State Park and maybe go ride the sands at White Sands National Park. I say maybe because, like Gila Cliff Dwellings, it’s a few hours away from Deming.
Have you ever been to southwest New Mexico?
Links to Posts Referenced Above:
- Deming, New Mexico
- Learning the Language of Hatch Chile Peppers
- Gila Cliff Dwellings
- NaNoWrMo and Stargazing: Two Bucket List Items
- List of Firsts: 2019
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