When the summer swelter stretches into September and stresses one’s body as well as their psyche, the urge to head to the mountains becomes paramount. Many desert dwellers seek cooler climes and solace with a trip to Ruidoso or Cloudcroft. But there’s another high-altitude destination worthy of your consideration — Kingston on the eastern edge of the Gila National Forest, 90 miles from Las Cruces.
Fortunately, there’s an old-fashioned bed and breakfast in the once-booming 1880s silver mining town that has been welcoming travelers to this village (population 25) for decades. The three-story Black Range Lodge offers seven comfortable rooms, four of them suites, verdant grounds with fruit trees and gardens, and a hearty breakfast featuring eggs from the resident hens.
Road Trip to mining country
My wife, Judy, and I set out for the lodge one Saturday summer morning, timing our trip on State Highway 152 so we would arrive at lunchtime at another former Black Range mining boomtown, Hillsboro. The historic Hillsboro General Store Café serves a made-to-order breakfast and lunch amid antiques, ranch implements, and other paraphernalia from the 19thand early 20th centuries. Opened in 1879 as a mercantile during frenetic mining days, the Hillsboro General Store has served as a post office, stage stop, telephone exchange, and drug store. You can still get malts, shakes, and sundaes from the soda fountain. The café is the only restaurant in the vicinity and doesn’t serve dinner. Truth or Consequences is 45 minutes away. Black Range Lodge guests can bring their own food for dinner and have access to a large kitchen and two outside grills.
An order of street tacos for Judy and a Hillsboro Nip (a burger topped with grilled onions, green chile, and cheese) with a side of homemade fries for me prove so filling that we have to pass on the unusual bumbleberry pie the waitress is promoting. As we leave, the sound of guitars and mandolins coming from the Hillsboro Trading Post beckons. It’s the town’s jam band that will be playing later that night at the Black Range Lodge at the Community Benefit Concert for the Hillsboro Historical Society. The benefit is one of a number of Starlight Concerts hosted by affable Black Range Lodge owners Catherine Wanek and Gary Harvell throughout the year.
We browse the leather goods, Native American jewelry, and other merchandise inside the Trading Post before stepping next door to the Black Range Winery. Owner Nicki O’dell pours a pinot grigio for Judy and taps an Irish red beer from the Truth or Consequences Brewery for me before we climb another 1,200 feet in elevation on serpentine mountain roads to Kingston (elevation 6,224 feet).
It takes a vivid imagination and at least a passing knowledge of 19th century history to visualize what Main Street would have looked like during its heyday, in 1888, when Kingston was the New Mexico Territory’s largest town. The town and surrounding mining districts boasted a population of several thousand, two smelters, 14 grocery stores, 22 saloons/casinos, a bordello, the Percha Bank, half a dozen hotels and numerous boarding houses, one of which was the Black Range Lodge, a modest two-story, L-shaped brick edifice. The mountain lodge, which was one of only a handful of original Kingston structures that didn’t perish in an 1890 conflagration, underwent a considerable expansion in the 1930s to become the rambling structure you see today. The inn sports massive vigas from surrounding forests, as well as stones and other building materials salvaged from Pretty Sam’s Casino across the street after the 1890 fire.
Kingston Schoolhouse Museum
History buffs can learn about Kingston’s fascinating Wild West past by visiting the Kingston Schoolhouse Museum. Erected in 1891 on Water Street one block off Main Street, the building replaced two schoolhouses destroyed in the fire. Preserved photos, diaries, and hundreds of artifacts provide insight into the families and characters from Kingston’s rowdy mining days before the 1893 devaluation of silver devastated the community.
Barbara Lovel runs the renovated museum that serves as a depository for much of the community’s history and a research center. The small museum impresses with a variety of 19th century artifacts, including old school desks, vintage photographs, reproductions of 1880s Kingston newspapers, an 1895 scale, antique silverware, the still-standing Victorio Hotel’s first guest register (1887), and 19th century memorabilia from Civil War veteran and town surveyor Joseph Whitham.
Barbara, a self-professed history fanatic, conducts a guided 1888 Main Street Tour that can be arranged by appointment (575-895-5501). The Schoolhouse Museum is open the first and third Saturdays of the month. She also owns the year-old Kingston Antique & Art store at the east end of Main on a corner it shares with the Kingston Clay Company.
A 1940 brochure in one display case catches my eye as I prepare to exit. It reads: “Come to the Black Range Lodge if you are bored and you’ll be interested. If tired, you’ll become rested. If summer heat has you groggy, you will be comfortable. Here can be found peace of mind and contentment.”
Black Range Lodge
Those sentiments hold true today as Judy and I learned during our overnight stay in the second-floor Sadie Orchard Room, named for the big-hearted madam who operated the town’s only bordello in its mining heyday. The king room with a shower commands a picturesque view of the Black Range mountains to the north. A couple of rooms overlook a greenhouse built with straw bales.
Catherine, a Las Cruces native, and her partner, Gary, practice natural building and permaculture, incorporating sustainable building systems into new additions to the property. Catherine, who has written two books on natural building, and her ex-husband bought the lodge as a writer’s retreat in 1984. “It spoke to us,” she says of their honeymoon visit to the lodge. Gary showed up in 2011, buying the six-room house across the street overlooking Percha Creek. Families and large groups of friends often rent the Percha Creek House.
Gary’s carpentry skills are evident throughout the lodge property — from masterfully crafted outdoor decks to the handsome straw bale and clay plastered classroom, outdoor stage and pavilion, offices and massage room (Gary is a certified massage therapist). A new straw bale music room/recording studio is nearing completion.
The lodge serves as a social gathering spot for local pickers who drop in frequently to play and hosts several music camps throughout the year. Check their schedule for events like Pickamania, an Americana music fest.
Experts occasionally are recruited to conduct hands-on natural building workshops. Check out the student-built, mushroom-shaped Hobbit House made of cob — straw, sand and clay — that has been hand-molded over a rock foundation. Glass blocks, as well as empty wine jugs, have been incorporated into the earthen structure that includes a subterranean bedroom nook, solar heating, and a solar oven.
Due to its ready access to the three-million acre Gila National Forest and Wilderness, the Black Range Lodge attracts birdwatchers, star-gazers, mountain bikers, cross-country cyclists, and hikers. Guests simply seeking a place to recharge can book a massage, soak in the hot tub, or curl up with one of the hundreds of magazines and books that line the lodge’s shelves. A game room with a pool table and video games provides an entertaining diversion for young and old alike.
“We’re like an inn from the old days offering old-fashioned hospitality,” Catherine explains. “Basically we’re a getaway from the urban scene. Sorry no TV, but we do have Wifi.”
The innkeeper concedes the lodge is no swank resort in a touristy shopping destination such as Santa Fe or Taos, but contends it is an ideal place to connect with nature. “We have clean air, clean water, and offer peace and quiet. There’s a lot of compelling history and a relaxed ambiance,” she says.
As we say our goodbyes, I am convinced the Black Range Lodge remains true to its mission to serve as a “healthy living and learning center” and marvel that the comfort and contentment promised in the 80-year-old lodge advertisement can still be found today.
For more information, call 575-895-5652 or visit blackrangelodge.com.
Written and photography by Rob McCorkle
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com