Scenic Drive: Geronimo Trail

Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway. One of the most visually dramatic ways to reach Silver City is via NM 152, which forms the southern prong of the backward-C-shaped Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway (the northern prong is NM 52, leading into Winston and Chloride). As you're heading south down I–25 from Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences, take exit 63, and follow NM 152 west. It's about an 80-mi drive to Silver City, and you should allow two to four hours, depending on how much you stop to look around—and weather conditions.

This twisting byway provides an exciting link to the Wild West. The remote drive (there are no gas stations) follows part of the route taken by the Kingston Lake Valley Stage Line, which operated when this region was terrorized by Apache leaders like Geronimo and outlaw bands led by the likes of Butch Cassidy. Heading west on NM 152, after about 25 mi you'll come to the mining-era boomtown, Hillsboro, where gold was discovered as well as silver (about $6 million worth of the two ores was extracted). The town, slowly coming back to life with the artists and retirees who've moved in, has a small museum, some shops, restaurants, and galleries. The Hillsboro Apple Festival draws visitors from all over the state on Labor Day weekend. Street vendors sell apples and apple pies, chiles, antiques, and arts and crafts.

From Hillsboro, you might consider a brief detour south down NM 27, known as the Lake Valley Back Country Byway. A landmark, west of NM 27, is Cooke's Peak, where the first wagon road through the Southwest to California was opened in 1846. Not much is going on these days in the old silver mining town of Lake Valley —the last residents departed in the mid-1990s—but it once was home to 4,000 people. The mine produced 2.5 million ounces of pure silver and gave up one nugget weighing several hundred pounds. Visit the schoolhouse (which later served as a saloon), walk around the chapel, the railroad depot, and some of the few remaining old homes. Silver City, New Mexico.

Percha Bank Museum. Back on NM 152, continue 10 mi west to reach another vintage mining town, Kingston, home to the Percha Bank Museum, which is just a skip away from the Black Range Lodge and is well worth a visit. It was built in 1885 to handle the enormous wealth that so suddenly, and so briefly, transformed this town when a massive silver lode was discovered. All that remains intact of that era is the building itself, which is beautifully preserved, with the original vault and teller windows still in place. Photos of the town during its heyday in the late 1880s are fascinating. From Kingston, it's another 50 mi to Silver City on NM 152, which joins U.S. 180 just east of town. 119 Main St., Kingston, New Mexico, 88042. 575/895–5032. Donations accepted. By appointment only.

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