The Black Range and young bucks


Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog

SILVER CITY, NM – Thursday, being adventure day, I packed a picnic lunch and my camera and headed out on Highway 152, accompanied by Carlos Montoya on guitar. Highway 152 begins in Grant County just east of Silver City off of Highway 180, right between Ft. Bayard and the town (not the pueblo) of Santa Clara. It takes you to the terrible beauty of the Santa Rita open pit copper mine. From the window seat of a jet flying over, open pit copper mines look like gigantic hand-built clay bowls. I’ve passed this way many times going to Silver City and coming back home again.

(Cheryl Howard/

"The" Black Range. (Cheryl Howard/

Today, I pick up Highway 152 in San Lorenzo, the nearest post office to my house, heading east for Hillsboro, across the Black Range. People around here say “The Black Range” as if they were not ordinary mountains. Once upon a time there was gold in “them there hills”, but other than the Santa Rita, there isn’t any large scale mining going on along Highway 152. Hillsboro used to have an apple festival, but they don’t now. I’m thinking maybe I can find some apples anyway. Against the beige hills of the Mimbres, dotted with green, the dark bank of mountains in the distance really do look like “The Black Range.”

The third of the young bucks crossing the road, turning back to look at me. (Cheryl Howard/

The third of the young bucks crossing the road, turning back to look at me. (Cheryl Howard/

On my way north to San Lorenzo I see three young bucks crossing the highway, traveling together. Hunting season is coming up and it seems to me that the deer herds may be traveling separately now in preparation. I think I will ask either my former student Michael Romero or someone here in the valley, since I am not a hunter.

From San Lorenzo I drive east gradually gaining in altitude. I can no longer tell where the Mimbres stops and the Black Range begins, but within a half hour I realize that this is one of the most beautiful roads I have ever driven. I don’t know how I missed it before. There was one time, years ago, on my way to Albuquerque I saw the turn off to 152 at Caballo Resevoir, either the end or the beginning of highway 152, depending on your perspective. I remember thinking, “One of these days I will see where this road goes.” Today is the day.

Narrow bridge. (Cheryl Howard/

Narrow bridge. (Cheryl Howard/

Four more bucks cross the road just before 10 AM. I am in the Gila National Forest, still ascending. Pretty soon I am at Emory Pass, named for a guy who headed a scientific journey through the region when it belonged to Mexico. One of the tour guide books laying around says that you can hike north from there to a lookout tower on Hillsboro Peak (elevation 10,111 ft.) or south to Sawyers Peak (elevation 9640 ft.). After Emory, the highway descends into the town of Kingston, and then a bit farther on, Hillsboro. Two squirrels are in the middle of the road. They look up when they hear me coming, stunned briefly, then race to opposite sides of the highway.

(Cheryl Howard/

(Cheryl Howard/

Carlos Montoya is still good company. I drive through Kingston, but apparently miss the main street since you have to turn left off the highway, and I didn’t. Hillsboro is just a short distance more and you cross a couple of narrow old bridges to get there. I notice a rock shop coming into town and tell myself I will stop on the way back. I mail my VISA bill at the post office, check out a couple of stores, buy a food mill for making red chile sauce; mine is in El Paso. The guy at the rock shop is interesting, and there is a toad on the side of the entry way. I buy a rock hammer from him and ask where I can use it on my way back to the Mimbres. He tells me there are some cool crystals in Railroad Canyon, so that’s where I plan to have my picnic lunch. I am hoping to go on a field trip this weekend with the Gem and Mineral Show in Silver City, but maybe I can get some practice in today.

Victorian detail on this house. (Cheryl Howard/

Victorian detail on this house. (Cheryl Howard/

The houses in Hillsboro are interesting. Some are southwestern adobe, but others look like they were dropped here from other times and places. All seem to be well maintained, and maybe there is a gate contest going in town… lots of interesting gates. The church, the Vírgen de Guadalupe, is simple but elegant.

(Cheryl Howard/

(Cheryl Howard/

Driving back is every bit as beautiful. There isn’t much traffic, but one enormous semi terrifies me coming around a curve going fast. Railroad Canyon is cool, forested, and quiet. There is one other vehicle parked near the forest service toilets, but no sign of people. I eat my lunch at a picnic table, and see the legs of a whole herd of deer crossing a ridge line single file. I can’t tell if they are bucks or does, or both.

Finds and buys in the Black Range.  Note the shotgun shell casing. (Cheryl Howard/

Finds and buys in the Black Range. Note the shotgun shell casing. (Cheryl Howard/

Now it’s time for the rock hammer. I find the quarry the guy in the rock shop told me to look for, but now I don’t know what kind of rock to look for. I bang at a couple, pick up some that look interesting, and worry about rattlesnakes. This looks like a perfect habitat for them. I’m not very adventurous for that reason, and because I am alone. Cell phones don’t work here either.

Then I find a couple of shotgun shell casings. They are new, haven’t been rained on. Isn’t this a national park? Is hunting allowed in national parks? Does the vehicle in the picnic area belong to people with guns? And litterbugs? I think I’ll wait to take a rock collecting field trip with the folks at the mineral show and go to the farmer’s market in Mimbres; I am still looking for apples. Rocks can wait until the weekend.





  1. Nice article. Thanks. My friends and I are climbinh Sawyer’s Peak tomorrow. Looking forward to a nice hike.

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