A "FIT OF NAIVETE" COMPELLED Catherine Wanek to purchase the Black Range Lodge, in Kingston, in 1984. Never did she suspect that what she wanted—a writer’s retreat from Hollywood screenwriting—would turn into a nearly four-decade vocation as an innkeeper.
Wanek grew up in Las Cruces, about 85 miles to the southeast, but preferred Kingston’s high-desert climate. “We’re surrounded by the Gila National Forest. It’s a beautiful spot,” she says of the lodge’s 6,200-foot elevation and placement on NM 152, aka the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway. During the silver boom of the late 1800s, Kingston was one of New Mexico’s largest cities; the lodge was built to house miners and their military escorts.
During her first years there, Wanek wrote screenplays and took occasional film-directing gigs to pay for the renovation costs of the original structure and its 1930s-era stone addition. Then a Hollywood strike dried up her livelihood. Opening a bed-and-breakfast sounded liberating.
“I then sank some real roots, literally,” she says. “I planted trees. I developed an appreciation for the bioregion and discovered permaculture and straw-bale building. It was fun and made sense and became a passion.” She also added on to the building and property, installing a straw-bale greenhouse among other things, and offered classes on how to do it yourself.
Wanek incorporated her passion for eco-building and a can-do attitude into the historic property. She updated the creature comforts and rehabbed the structure’s solid bones. The massive stone walls are said to have been repurposed from the ruins of Pretty Sam’s casino, across the street. The log-beamed ceilings and warm, creaky hardwood floors add rustic charm. Eclectic old-timey pieces like a 110-year-old Garland kitchen stove, the lobby’s antique woodstove, and an 1870s rolltop desk from the nearby Hillsboro General Store are equally at home with recent acquisitions like a 1950s billiard table from the Riviera Hotel, in Palm Springs, California, that the famed Rat Pack played on. “It’s way too blingy for us, but I couldn’t pass it up,” she says.
Eight rooms and the adjacent six-bedroom Percha House invite guests to cool off in summer and explore the Gila year-round. Mountain views complement a lush lawn, a flagstone patio, mature fruit trees and grapevines, and an outdoor performance space. Visitors come from throughout the nation for events focused on natural building, music and massage workshops, and the annual Sierra County Pickamania acoustic music fest. Wanek’s life partner, Gary Harvell, is the resident massage therapist and cook, and often plays guitar in the lodge’s Starlight concert series.
The inn’s curated bookshelves recount the rise and decline of Kingston and Hillsboro, and might compel guests to visit the Kingston Schoolhouse Museum for a deeper dive into the past. You can also drive to Silver City’s funky boutiques and restaurants, or to Truth or Consequences’ hot springs.
Unwinding is what makes the lodge truly special. Yes, they have internet, but your cellphone won’t ring. And there’s nothing naive about that.