Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2005)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
- Length93 miles
The Trail of the Mountain Spirits beckons. Go where the spirits of miners, homesteaders, Indians, Spanish explorers, and mountain men have left their marks. Cross the Continental Divide, experience the wild Gila River, walk amongst the ruins of ancients to sense life before history, and hear the sounds of solitude.
Story of the Byway
The 93-mile National Scenic Byway winds around the southwest corner of New Mexico, back and forth across the forested Continental Divide, through the country’s first national wilderness area, the Gila, and past ancient cliff dwellings. Long known locally as The Inner Loop, especially among bicycle race fans, the byway serves as the route for the grueling annual Tour of the Gila race. It’s just as fun for travel by car or motorcycle, or biking on your own, and offers a wealth of year-round birding options. The byway crosses six climatic zones and a broad swath of the Old West territory made famous by the daring exploits of Native Americans, Buffalo Soldiers, frontier families and scurrilous outlaws. You can’t help but be touched by the spirits of those that have passed before you. Start and end in San Lorenzo, in the heart of the Mimbres Valley, at the junction of state roads 152 and 35.
Starting in Silver City at the junction of E Broadway St and NM-90, travel north on NM-90 to Hwy 180; Take Hwy 180 to junction with NM-15; Here the byway splits into two sections; North Section, Travel north on NM-15 through Pinos Altos; Continue north on NM-15 until byway meets up with East Section at junction of NM-15 and NM-35; East Section, Take Hwy 180 east and exit onto NM-152 east of Santa Clara; Continue on NM-152 until the junction with NM-35; Take NM-35 northwest through Mimbres and continue until byway meets up with North Section at junction of NM-15 and NM-35; From the junction of NM-15 and NM-35, take NM-15 north to byway terminus near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Points of Interest
The Mimbres people lived here almost a thousand years ago and remain an enigma. Archeologists can only speculate about their beginnings (perhaps evolved from Mogollon culture), and especially about their ultimate fate. Graceful Mimbreño pottery is the most famous artifact of the culture. Pottery often depicted geometric designs, daily routines, or animals—cranes, turkeys, fish, hummingbirds, even mosquitoes. On feast days the usually quiet valley community of San Lorenzo overflows with pilgrims walking to the small miracle room tucked into the local church. Watch for the cutoff to Bear Canyon Lake, a little gem offering fishing and other recreation, and a picturesque, intermittent waterfall.
The byway crosses twice over the mountainous hydrological divide that separates watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those that drain into the Atlantic. A portion of the Continental Divide Trail, stretching from Canada to Mexico, travels through this area.
Southwest New Mexico Birding Trail
The byway overlaps with this Audubon-designated trail for birders through the Gila too. Some 337 species of birds have been found at the 8 stops along the byway.
Further north, in the Sapillo Valley, find “the Emerald of the Gila Forest.” A high-country 73- acre jewel, Lake Roberts was created by damming a creek in the 1960s. Camp, hike, or fish for trout, bass, and plump catfish. Nearby general store.
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Examine the homes and lives of the Mogollon people who lived here from the 1280's through the early 1300's. Mogollon culture may have evolved from the Anasazi and/or the Hohokam. Though the cliff dwelling site is small compared to Mesa Verde National Park and Bandolier National Monument, the dwellings hold their own in impressiveness. North on NM Hwy. 15, off of NM Hwy. 35.
Nestled in ponderosa pines, historic Pinos Altos sits at the south end of the byway along Route 15, north of Silver City. You can still see ruins of old mines and appreciate a quaint museum dedicated to the original miners of the 1800's. While you meander around the vintage Western downtown, take the time to check out The Buckhorn Saloon and the Opera House, known for its entertaining melodramas, across the road.
Travel with the Mountain Spirits
Starting in the area of Bayard and Santa Clara along NM-152, you can begin your wonderful journey along the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway. The city of Bayard has a few points of interest to stop at along your trip, including the Fort Bayard and its Historic Mining District. From there, continue east along NM-152 and stop by Hanover, where you can see the Santa Rita Mine Overlook and take in the wonderful views.
Next up on your journey, once you reach San Lorenzo take NM-35 north and stop in Mimbres. There are plenty of natural wonders that can be found here and in the surrounding area. To start, you can drive up to the Bear Canyon Reservoir or the Mimbres Valley to witness the natural beauty of this area. Also close by is the Continental Divide Trail, which spans over 3000 miles.
After you take in the beauty of the area, head north and end your journey with some rest and relaxation at the Gila Hot Springs. These are some of the most tranquil springs located in the Gila River and will be the perfect end to your memorable trip along this Byway.
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