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Silver City merchants and officials prepared for a tourism surge they didn’t encourage but appreciate anyway

The sunrise glow lights up the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. (Courtesy of National Park Foundation)

Complying with the health order while still trying to maintain some semblance of business activity has been a challenge to communities around the state, particularly those that cater to the tourist trade.

Birding is a favorite pastime within the Gila Wilderness and Gila National Forest surrounding Silver City. Courtesy of Visitsilvercity.org

With tourist traffic incoming from neighboring states, Silver City has tried to meet the needs of its businesses and visitors.

“We are getting a lot of visitors,” said James Marshall, assistant town manager. “Tourism season is here. Even though we have not encouraged it this year, we got it.”

The city tried closing off Bullock Street, the main thoroughfare of its business district to allow restaurants to use the street for dining.

“We had minimal success with that,” Marshall said. “There wasn’t enough room for tables to be properly distanced. And it was just so hot, it created an issue without tents.”

Silver City officials worked with business and restaurants to make sure they could handle the influx of out-of-state visitors.

Instead, the city closed the alleys behind the restaurants, allowed them to put up tents and serve customers in that fashion.

“We still managed to improve their footprint and stay open within the health guidelines,” Marshall said. “Our numbers for the virus are relatively low. We’ve been getting a lot of visitors from Arizona and Texas. People I believe are trying to evade the rising numbers in those states.”

Businesses also faced a shortage of personal protection equipment, which at times was selling at a premium, so the city was able to help out.

Additionally, in conjunction with the local Main Street program, businesses were given forgivable $500 and $1,000 grants to make modifications to their sites and allow them to re-open in accordance with the public health order, he said.

The 1.1-mile Catwalk National Recreation Trail is a must-see and readily accessible excursion.

Keeping Silver City’s business district alive and well is important because it is the gateway to the three-million-acre Gila Wilderness and Gila National Forest that provides plenty of space for people to socially distance from one another, Marshall said.

One of the big draws, he said, is the Catwalk Recreation Area.

Recently rebuilt, the 1.1-mile Catwalk National Recreation Trail winds through the canyon’s steep, pink walls of volcanic rock, following the path of a pipeline built in the early 1890s to provide water and electricity for the mining town of Graham. It is perched above the north bank of the rippling Whitewater Creek.

Although many of the developed campgrounds within the wilderness and national forest remain closed, the forest is probably best known for its rugged wilderness.

Nearly 2,000 miles of back-country trails, as well as numerous interpretive trails provide a rich hiking or horseback riding experience. Backcountry camping remains open.

Sublime surprises, like Little Creek Falls, can make a trip into the Gila National Forest a memorable occasion (Courtesy of Gila Hot Springs Ranch) 

A good way to check out the area is via a horse trip provided by the Gila Hot Spring Ranch, which provides fully-outfitted adventures as well as day trips into the heart of the Gila.

“We’ll take you anywhere in the wilderness, wherever you want to go,” said Ysabel Luecke, whose sister owns the ranch. “It kind of depends on what they want, whether they’re going around for birds or scenery or whatever. We’ve got some nice scenery for day rides. It kind of varies depending on their personal wants and their capabilities.”

A variety of wilderness adventures awaits explorers to the Gila Wilderness.(Courtesy of Visitsilvercity.Org)

Set just a few miles from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, the ranch, which also has on-site lodging, is a staging area for visitors to the ancient dwellings.

Not to be missed is the one-mile loop trail that takes visitors into several of the 700-year-old sites.

The dwellings consist of five distinct caves, each of which contains about 40 rooms. To make the dwellings safer and more comfortable, the Mogollons used fallen rocks from nearby caves to construct some of these rooms, and also incorporated unique wall designs in strategic areas. The walls were built using conglomerate slabs laid in large amounts of mortar, evidence of which can still be seen now as about 40 percent retain their original plaster.

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