Stray from the beaten path to experience this cross section of New Mexico life. Packed with hiking, history, food, and shopping, the route is well suited to families and adventurers alike. Beginning in Silver City, tucked beside the Gila National Forest, take US 180 southeast to Deming and City of Rocks State Park. On your second day, reach chile nirvana in Hatch, step back into history in Hillsboro and the Lake Valley ghost town, and then wind back through the Gila. Most of the route runs on two-lane highways, with a few narrow mountain passes.
After coffee and New York–style danishes at Diane’s Bakery & Deli, in Silver City, stroll a few blocks past boutiques and galleries on Bullard Street to the Silver City Museum. In the 1881-built home of Henry Ailman, the museum exhibits photographs, art, and keepsakes from both the town and Grant County. At the desk, spend a dollar for a program detailing the city’s historic areas and use it for a morning walk around the neighborhood.
For lunch, try a salad or sandwich at Adobe Springs Cafe, a local hangout with patio seating and a nice mix of Mexican and American cuisine. Work off your meal on the 3.5-mile Dragonfly Loop Trail, which takes hikers past ancient petroglyphs depicting the trail’s namesake insect, or visit Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark. First established as a military installation in the frontier days of 1866, Fort Bayard is now empty and strangely quiet. Visitors can walk through the parade grounds and the formerly grand mansions lining Doctors’ Row, which once housed Army physicians and their families. Treat the kids (and yourself) to City of Rocks State Park’s camping, hiking, birding, and stargazing. The park’s sculptured columns were formed by a volcanic eruption and eroded by wind and water over millions of years.
Instead of returning to Silver City, from Hatch take I-25 north, then head west on NM 52 to the ghost town of Chloride. Many of Chloride’s historic buildings, like Harry Pye’s cabin and the old bank, still stand. Amenities include an RV park, cabins for rent, a gift shop and gallery, and the Pioneer Store Museum.
Grab a cactus omelet at Benji’s Restaurant and head northeast on NM 26 to Hatch. There, along West Hall Street, you’ll find Valverde Store, known for its colorful Talavera pottery, house-made salsa, and sun-dried chile pods, and Chile Fanatic, a shop with fresh-roasted and frozen chile, green chile stew mix, decorative chile wreaths, and almost any other form of chile imaginable.
For lunch, visit the Pepper Pot for a chile relleno plate (the local go-to). “This is a farming community,” says owner Melva Aguirre. “I concentrate on chile because that’s what we grow here. We use five different kinds of chile in our menu.” For dessert, order the chocolate-and-green-chile Ozzy shake at Sparky’s Burgers, BBQ & Espresso, and chill with the welcoming array of cartoonish statues that make this a can’t-miss spot. (And no one will blame you for getting a World Famous burger for the road.)
From Hatch, backtrack along NM 26 and then north on NM 27 toward the Lake Valley Historic Townsite, the ghost-town remains of a once-booming community. Founded in 1787 around the Bridal Chamber silver mine, the town was home to colorful characters, including “Longhair Jim” Courtright, a gunfighter hired to bring order as marshal in the 1880s.
Continue north to the sleepy hamlet of Hillsboro and sit for a spell at the 1879-built General Store Cafe, open Friday through Sunday. On Saturdays, visit the Black Range Museum, where you’ll find items from the late 19th century, when the building served as the Ocean Grove Hotel and Tom Ying’s restaurant.
Ready for more? Drive west along two-lane NM 152, snaking through the Gila’s green mountains and valleys, to the Buckhorn Saloon & Opera House for a Buckhorn Burger and live music in Pinos Altos, a village 15 minutes north of Silver City. Bunk down for the night at Bear Creek Motel & Cabins—you’ve earned it.
The Gila National Forest offers trails of all kinds and cozy camping spots. Forks Campground and Cherry Creek Campground are free, no-frills choices for tent camping along NM 15, or you can drive to Mesa Campground, overlooking Lake Roberts, where there’s an abundance of outdoors options. Bring the kids to the Catwalk Recreation Area, near Glenwood, where a trail traverses a half-mile-long bridge along the walls of Whitewater Canyon.
Where to Stay
In Deming, the Lazy KO Ranch provides comfort to you and your steed with cabins, RV hookups, six large paddocks, and five single paddocks, as well as a petting zoo featuring alpacas, goats, miniature donkeys, peacocks, and a rabbit. “We’re only 12 miles from town, with spectacular views of Cookes Peak and the Florida Mountains,” says owner Martin Ridgway.
The Enchanted Villa Bed and Breakfast is a charming retreat in the heart of Hillsboro. “The house was built in 1941 as a vacation home for Sir Victor Sassoon, who was Burmese royalty,” says owner Maree Westland. For breakfast, patrons can expect a revolving menu of soufflés, quiches, and Belgian waffles.