By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Depending on your source of information, New Mexico has more than 150 ghost towns, or 60, or maybe 50. The state’s most famous “ghosts” are, of course, the few that are well publicized and cater to tourists. A good many more lie scattered around the state. They range from well-maintained towns with a handful of residents, to isolated ruins, to towns where only a cemetery has survived.
Vandals have had their way with many ghost towns, destroying remains and stealing artifacts. The old rule to “take only photographs, and leave only footprints” is widely violated, so please respect what’s left of all ghost town sites. We have to remember that people lived, worked, and died in these spots. They are there for us to admire, not to destroy.
We’ve provided highway numbers and relative directions, but you may wish to stop in a nearby town to check road conditions.
Before we get started, here are several ghost town Web sites we particularly enjoy: http://kumo.swcp.com/nm/ghosts.ghosts.html; http://home.earthlink.net/~ghosttowns2/nm; and www.ghosttowns.com. The latter site covers ghost towns in all 50 states.
1. Acme, Chaves County
Post office records for Acme span only the 40 years between 1906 and 1946. The town was named after the Acme Gypsum Cement Company, the largest business in town. When the company shut down in 1936, so did most of the jobs. Today only one structure, a few foundations, and the cemetery remain. You won’t find Acme on the map, so here’s an easy way to get there. Drive U.S. 70 northeast from Roswell for approximately 16 miles. The town’s meager remains lie within view of the highway.
2. Ancho, Lincoln County
The discovery of gypsum and the coming of the railroad sparked the beginning of Ancho back in 1901. Its location within the Ancho Valley supplied its name. But like Acme, the boom went bust when the gypsum was gone. As a result, the town school closed in 1954, about the same time the highway was rerouted around Ancho. Most of the people moved on, but some of this town survived. The old train depot houses a museum named “My House of Old Things.” Ancho still appears on some highway maps, as do its ghost town neighbors Claunch and White Oaks. Ancho is 21 miles north of Carrizozo.
3. Cabezon, Sandoval County
This is the kind of ghost town your imagination might conjure up. The structures still standing include an old church, a few businesses, and the cemetery. As the town grew, it was designated as a stage stop between Santa Fe and Fort Wingate “” which meant more growth. By then it had the necessary saloons, blacksmith shop, stores, etc. Cabezon flourished until the 1940s when its most prominent citizen, Richard Heller, died and the Rio Puerco dried up. Today’s Cabezon is on private property, with numerous “no trespassing” signs posted. That’s probably the reason it still exists after 130 years. Much remains, but you have to look at it from the other side of a fence. The town is 6 miles from State Route 44/U.S. 550 and northwest of San Ysidro (a good place to get directions and info about road conditions).
4. Claunch, Socorro County
Claunch may have its ghosts, but it’s not a total ghost town. The post office, which doubles as a library, is still around, and the pinto bean elevator and processing plant still stand. Claunch is located halfway along the stretch of State Route 55 between Mountainair and Ancho. Keep to a moderate driving speed: the road makes several 90-degree turns, and you’ll get to see remains of old houses along the way.
5. Dawson, Colfax County
Dawson was “born” in 1901 when a coal mine opened there and a railroad was built connecting the town with Tucumcari. In 1906 the Phelps Dodge Company bought the mine and the town, which soon had its own newspaper, schools, hospital, hotel, church, bowling alley, and 9,000 people. In 1913 a mine explosion killed 263 workers and two rescuers. Ten years later, another explosion killed 120. Phelps Dodge closed the mine and sold the town in 1950. The cemetery is now the only part of Dawson open to the public. More than 350 white crosses mark the graves of those who perished in the mine. Dawson is located 14 miles northeast of Cimarron. Nearby are the towns of Elizabethtown and Reyado.
6. Elizabethtown, Colfax County
This was New Mexico’s first incorporated town (1860). One of its citizens, Charles Kennedy, ran a boardinghouse, but some of his guests disappeared. When townsmen found out that Kennedy was killing them and burning the bodies, they opted for vigilante justice. They apprehended him, tied a rope around his neck, and dragged him behind a horse until long after he was dead. The gold mining business on nearby Mount Baldy was booming, but the boom lasted only a decade. A fire in 1903 signaled the end of Elizabethtown. The stone ruins of one building are visible from State Route 38, but you have to drive (or walk) a dirt road to view other remains. They include a drugstore, the hotel whose bottom floor was a dance hall, and a museum run by a descendant of a town resident.
7. Golden, Santa Fe County
Golden was one of the towns established during the first gold rush west of the Mississippi River in the 1880s. Of those gold towns in the area, only Golden survived. Many buildings remained standing until the late 1960s when vandals destroyed them. The restored Catholic church of San Francisco dates to the early 1830s. The church and its cemetery remain, as do ruins of the general store, mine area, and the old school. Visitors can find Golden by following the Turquoise Trail (State Route 14), which runs between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
8. Lake Valley, Sierra County
There is no lake at Lake Valley, just a dry lake bed nearby. Lake Valley didn’t start out to be a mining town. In 1878 a local blacksmith leased a claim, and two days later he discovered a hollow hillside with walls of silver pure enough that it didn’t need smelting. The strike yielded 150,000 pounds of the precious substance. The town grew to a population of 4,000, with 12 saloons, three churches, two newspapers, a school, stores, hotels, etc. During the 1893 silver panic the mine closed; two years later, fire swept through town. The last residents left in 1994. Now owned by the Bureau of Land Management, the town is open to visitors. You can take a walking tour that includes the 1904 schoolhouse, a chapel, several old homes, railroad buildings, and the cemetery. Lake Valley lies 18 miles south of Hillsboro in southwestern New Mexico.
9. Mogollon, Catron County
First, a quick lesson “” the name is pronounced “Muggy-own.” Some claim Mogollon’s history could be lifted right out of the Old Testament. It certainly survived many fires and floods; it had two red-light districts; and it featured the usual robberies and stagecoach holdups common to the Wild West. When word of gold traveled the length of the valley, many came and many died. Miner’s consumption ran rampant, too much for the town’s three overworked doctors. By the time World War I ended, mining was no longer profitable, and when the mine closed, so did Mogollon. Many of the original buildings remain, including the general store, a saloon, a mercantile, and a church. The town lies 15 miles northeast of Glenwood, near the Arizona border. Visiting the town requires a 10-plus-mile drive on a winding and often single-lane road that isn’t designed for large coaches but is accessible with a towed vehicle.
10. Reyado, Colfax County
Reyado, the first settlement east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, almost didn’t make it. When land baron Lucien Maxwell founded this settlement in 1848, the Apache and Ute Indian tribes weren’t happy. Maxwell brought Kit Carson in to protect the settlers, but even then life was risky. When the Indian attacks eased, people returned. The reddish adobe buildings, weathered by time and damaged by vandals, have been restored and are maintained by the Boy Scouts of America as part of the Philmont Scout Ranch. Scout leaders dressed in period costumes offer tours. Buildings that are still standing include the stagecoach stop and a store, as well as accommodations for stage passengers. Reyado lies 12 miles south of Cimarron. Ask locally for detailed directions.
11. Shakespeare, Hidalgo County
Shakespeare can accurately be called the town of many names. First it was Mexican Springs, then Pyramid Station, Grant, Ralston City, and finally Shakespeare. Living there was never boring. Today Shakespeare is privately owned. A general store, a hotel, a powder magazine, an assay office, and a mail station have been restored by the current owners, who offer tours. For more information, call (505) 542-9034. Shakespeare is located in the southwest corner of the state, 2 miles south of Lordsburg, and a few miles from Steins.
12. Steins, Hidalgo County
For more than a century people have argued about the “true” name of this town: Steins, Steins Pass, or Steens? The post office kept changing the listing. Now Steins is privately owned. Larry and Linda Link are restoring the buildings and providing tours to the public. They have hosted get-togethers for former residents in order to piece together a record of the town’s history. Currently visitors can walk around the area for free and tour several buildings for a small fee. Take Exit 3 off Interstate 10 and travel 19 miles west of Lordsburg, almost to the Arizona border.
13. White Oaks, Lincoln Country
This was a dignified town, complete with an opera house, churches, drama clubs, a newspaper, and literary societies. But in the nearby suburb of Hogtown, it was a different world: public drunkenness, killings, saloons, and brothels. Today White Oaks retains a pair of elegant Victorian mansions, a handsome brick schoolhouse, and the Cedarvale graveyard. The town is 12 miles northeast of Carrizozo on State Route 349.