Bear Mountain Lodge
Sunday, May 17, we spent the entire day driving from our bed-and-breakfast at Thoreau, New Mexico south to Silver City--a pleasant and scenic but long seven-hour drive. Our route took us back east on I-40 to Grants, then south on NM 117 through El Malpais National Monument, south on NM 36 to Quemado (don't blink), south on NM 32 to Reserve, and then finally south on US 180 to Silver City. We arrived in Silver City, drove around town to get our bearings, and then headed four miles north of town to The Nature Conservancy's Bear Mountain Lodge, a small bed-and-breakfast hotel on 165 acres bequeathed to The Nature Conservancy and operated as a center to proselytize TNC's mission. Since we're already firmly committed to conservation, we didn't need much convincing to sing with the choir. Bear Mountain Lodge opened in the early 1900s as a boy's school, then was converted into a resort. When the resort failed, the buildings fell into disrepair, but were rescued by a couple from the East Coast who renovated them, expanded the rooms, and re-opened the resort. By the time the wife was aging and trying to find a buyer for the resort, it had become renowned for its proximity to great birding and outdoor venues in the Gila Wilderness, so she donated it to The Nature Conservancy. The lodge is fabulous. We stayed in a four-unit "outbuilding" called "Myra's Retreat" (formerly the resort's laundry). The main lodge also has 10 rooms, a dining hall, a comfortable lobby with fireplaces and easy chairs, and a "resource room" with books, maps, and local information. Our room had a king-size bed, an easy chair, a wardrobe, and a view out onto the garden where birds came to bathe in the artificial stream and pond. The room was decorated in very tasteful and understated Southwestern style, with artwork provided by a downtown gallery.
The lodge used to serve dinner (on June 1, 2009, dinner service ended), and we ate breakfast and dinner at the lodge every day. The food was exceptional--all the more reason to lament that dinner is no longer available. After dinner the first evening, we still had plenty of sunlight left, so we took a walk on one of the trails through the property, stopping at a high point to take a picture of the lodge in the background. The lodge sits in an area the was formerly native grassland, but fire suppression has allowed the pinon-juniper forest that cloaks the surrounding hills to begin to march down to the grassy flatlands. TNC is gradually beginning to control the encroaching trees, but it's a big job--especially if each tree has to be treated individually.
The Mimbres Preserve
One of the benefits of staying at Bear Mountain Lodge is that TNC offers free guided walks of their preserves. On Monday morning, we accompanied one of the volunteers guides to the Mimbres Preserve (actually a group of several preserved parcels strung along the Mimbres River) about 45 minutes east of Silver City.
The Mimbres is a small but beautiful stream. In the Mid-Atlantic, we'd call it a creek or a run, but in the desert Southwest, it's a river. The Mimbres has no natural mouth and never has; once it leaves the foothills of the mountains, it just flows across desert until it peters out in the middle of nowhere. But here in the hills, it is a fine desert stream with a great riparian corridor. We parked at the preserve parking lot at a farm with an old wooden barn and walked down the slope to the shade and coolness of the streamside gallery forest. Birdsong was everywhere once we entered the woods.
We used steppingstones and a few unsteady boards to cross the river (which was no more than ankle deep anyway), and then found an old military road-cum-trail that parallels the river. We walked upstream a few thousand feet, enjoying views of the river and birding throughout. Then we turned around and retraced our steps to a point in the trail where we could climb a knoll to survey the surrounding landscape. Our guide told us that the top of the knoll used to be the site of a Mimbres Indian village (pre-dating the Anasazi), and that occasionally pottery shards were found by cautious observers, but we saw no evidence of buildings other than some rocks.
We came down off the knoll and skirted a broad meadow bordered with seep wetlands full of endangered frogs. Then, as we were circling back to the stream crossing, we had a chance to see Blue Grosbeaks and, even more exciting for me, Yellow-breasted Chats (Icteria virens), nesting in the shrubs in the middle of the meadow. These chats were life-listers for us.