Aliens & Outlaws - Our 2008 Adventure in Southern New Mexico
In February 2008, while Dave was still working in the corporate world, we took a flight out to El Paso from Missouri, rented a Jeep, and traveled through history in Southern New Mexico. The following is from Legends Of America's old travel Blogspot and combines several entries into this one.
We roll through the next 84 miles barely seeing a soul through the desert plains, our only company, a few scattered cows, and a brief peek at a few fleeing antelope. One lonely adobe house sits abandoned on these quiet plains. How long has it been since this quiet little place heard laughter and voices within its walls? Finally, we reach the village of Fort Sumner, population of about 1250 - friendly folks and a great hamburger at Fred's Lounge.
On a visit to the Billy the Kid Museum, history comes to life with displays of Billy the Kid's rifle, chaps, spurs and original Wanted Poster, as well as military displays, saddles, vintage photographs, antique furnishings, and old Model-T's.
Now, on to Billy the Kid's gravesite and the Fort Sumner State Monument. At the old cemetery, we see Billy's grave, along with his pals Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre. Poor Billy's original gravestone has been stolen twice, so the gravesite sits behind an iron cage. Who would do that? Steal a grave marker? But, they got it back and the original marker is also in the "cage," further imprisoned within yet more iron.
At the Fort Sumner State Monument, we learn more of the Navajo's Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo Reservation. It was to "guard" these Indians, that Fort Sumner was built in 1862. However, the reservation was soon hailed as a miserable failure --the victim of poor planning, disease, crop infestation, and poor conditions for agriculture. The Navajo were finally acknowledged sovereignty in the historic Treaty of 1868 and allowed to return to their land along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
In 1870, the old Fort Sumner buildings were sold to Lucien B. Maxwell, the former owner of the largest land grant in U.S. History. Maxwell relocated his family from northeast New Mexico and refurbished the buildings into proper housing. Lucien Maxwell soon turned over his affairs to his son Peter and passed away a few years later. When Billy the Kid arrived on the scene, Peter Maxwell and Billy became friends. On July 14, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett found Billy the Kid in a bedroom of the Maxwell home and ended the life of the teenage outlaw.
Fort Sumner, NM - Pete Maxwell HousePeter Maxwell, The only son of New Mexico land baron Lucien B. Maxwell, was living at Fort Sumner during the reign of Billy the Kid and it was at his home that the Kid was shot by Pat Garrett in 1881. This was the home of both Peter and his father.
Though all of the original buildings of the fort, as well as Maxwell's home, are long since gone, the site provides a museum and an interpretive trail that provide information about the tragic history of the site.
Yeso, NM - Post OfficeYeso, New Mexico is a small unincorporated community established in 1906 when the railroad came through. For a couple of years spelled Yesso, a Post Office was established in 1909 and continues to serve the few residents of the area. The town never took off after farmers realized the area land wasn't good for anything other than sheepherding and grazing.
We're off again, destined for Ruidosa. Along the way, I am pleasantly surprised when we run into the ghost town of Yeso which I was unaware was on our route. Though we saw not a single soul, amazingly, there is still an operating post office in this abandoned agricultural community. Here, there are numerous homes and businesses standing in various stages of collapse.
Yeso, NM - WindowYeso, New Mexico is a small unincorporated community established in 1906 when the railroad came through. For a couple of years spelled Yesso, a Post Office was established in 1909 and continues to serve the few residents of the area. The town never took off after farmers realized the area land wasn't good for anything other than sheepherding and grazing.
As our journey turns southward, we bump into yet another ghost town -- Duran. Though this small village continues to be called home to several residents, it's obviously seen better days, as every business is closed and numerous homes are abandoned.
Finally, we reach Ruiodosa and our hotel. Another delightful day!
Ghost Towns and the Wild Wild West
Ahh, the day I have been anxiously awaiting - a visit to Lincoln, New Mexico, with all its history of the Lincoln County War, Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and more. We take off from Ruidoso - it's a cold and windy morning, not exactly what I was hoping for in southern New Mexico, but that's not about to stop us. Put on the coat, pull on the gloves, get out the camera and we're off. Whatever it is, it's still better than Kansas City, where the weather is so bad, the airport is shut down.
A walk down Lincoln, New Mexico's Main Street is a step back into the Wild Wild West. It was here that such men as Billy the Kid escaped from jail, killing two deputies, after Pat Garrett had captured him; here, that Indians, Mexican American settlers, gunfighters and corrupt politicians made themselves known; it was in this small settlement that the violent Lincoln County War erupted, which resulted in the deaths of 19 men and made Billy the Kid a legend.
Lincoln, NM - Curry-Thorton Saloon TodayThe Curry-Thorton Saloon in Lincoln, New Mexico today. Thornton's partner in the saloon and hotel was George Curry, a Louisiana native who was working as the post trader at Fort Stanton, where the two met. Finding he had an interest in politics, Curry served as the deputy treasurer, county clerk, county assessor, and sheriff of Lincoln County. He would later go on to enlist in Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, serve as a member of the New Mexico Territorial Senate and Territorial Governor. The old Thornton & Curry Saloon still stands in Lincoln, housing a restaurant in 2008.
The Curry-Thorton Saloon in Lincoln, New Mexico today. Thornton's partner in the saloon and hotel was George Curry, a Louisiana native who was working as the post trader at Fort Stanton, where the two met. Finding he had an interest in politics, Curry served as the deputy treasurer, county clerk, county assessor, and sheriff of Lincoln County. He would later go on to enlist in Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, serve as a member of the New Mexico Territorial Senate and Territorial Governor. The old Thornton & Curry Saloon still stands in Lincoln, housing a restaurant in 2008.
From Lincoln, we head on down the road to Fort Stanton, one more of the many forts established to fight the fierce Apache Indians. From here, that Kit Carson was tasked with rounding up both the Apache and the Navajo Indians and forcing them on to the reservation at the Bosque Redondo Reservation at Fort Sumner. Over the years, the fort underwent a number of uses after it was decommissioned in 1896, becoming a tuberculosis hospital, a minimum security corrections facility, and today, a drug rehabilitation center.
Today , the old fort grounds display a number of buildings; however, most are in serious disrepair. Much of the area is off-limits to the public and there are no buildings that can be toured. There is; however, a museum and visitor's center, but the hours are irregular.
Rolling on, we pass by the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New New Mexico. Did you know that Smokey Bear was a real bear? In 1950 a real baby bear became the live “Smokey” when he was rescued from certain death by firefighters in a devastating blaze in New Mexico's Lincoln National Forest. It was this tiny bear that spawned the Smokey Bear Campaign, the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history.
But, we are destined for ghost towns in the Jicarilla Mountains northwest of Carrizozo. First stop -- White Oaks, a town that became known as the liveliest town in New Mexico Territory after gold was discovered here in 1879.
In no time, the population boomed as miners crawled the hills and businessmen established saloons, stores, and offices.
Billy Wilson, one of Billy the Kid's buddies lived here for a time and it was here that Pat Garrett was when the "Kid" escaped from the Lincoln County Jail, leaving behind two dead deputies.
Today, this formerly thriving town is but a shell of its former self, providing a vivid peek at its past through its numerous old buildings.
The pavement ends as we head northeast out of White Oaks in search of another old settlement called Jicarilla.
This very small town has been called home to miners for more than 150 years. Though its few buildings are now abandoned, there is still said to be plenty of gold in the area.
Ancho, NM - DepotThe final blow for Ancho was when the railroad discontinued the depot in 1959. The building was sold and in 1963 became a museum called "My House of Old Things.” That same year, the town’s combination store and gas station closed. Five years later, the post office also closed and the town was left with only a few people. Today, the depot sits abandoned and silent.
Next, this unpaved road takes us to the old railroad and ranching community of Ancho.
This once bustling town has been reduced to a number of tumbling homes and businesses after being bypassed by the highway. Great stop and lots of photo opportunities.
And, we're not done yet! Returning south to Carrizozo, we then head westward through the lava fields, to Socorro County and the old mining towns of Kelly and Magdalena. Of Kelly, there is very little left and Magdalena is not a ghost town, but it was still a fun drive.
As you can imagine, by this time, we're beat and head to a hotel in Socorro, resting up for yet another day on the road.
Ghost Towns in the Desert Snow
We are worried as we set out this morning -- Tucson, Arizona got inches of snow dumped on it last night and here in Socorro County, everything is laced with ice crystals. The storm from Arizona is supposed to move eastward, predicting to dump 6-10 inches on Silver City, New Mexico, our final destination for the day. We're going to be traveling some mountain roads and is this unpredictable storm going to put a damper on our next few days of travel? Well, we're here, we have coats, water, food and a 4-wheel drive jeep -- let's just see what happens.
As we venture south from Socorro, the landscape is absolutely beautiful! Cactuses glitter in the bright sun, dripping as the temperature rises. As the black highway heats up under, a misty cloud forms over it. We've started early and very glad of it, because all the ice and dusting of snow is entirely gone by 11:00 a.m. There is no wind and the sun is proving that this will be a wonderful day.
We soon venture off the highway, heading westward on a stretch of the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway to the small agricultural communities of Placita and Monticello.
We are awe inspired as we reach Monticello Canyon and view the small town of Placita (meaning Little Plaza), with its snow covered fields and mountain back drop. The community, dating back to the 1840's still boasts its 1916 San Lorenzo Catholic Church and several old homes.
Just two more miles down the road we come to Monticello, a farming and ranching community dating back to 1856.
The town was built in a square to protect residents from Apache attacks. Ironically, it later became the headquarters for the Southern Apache Agency before a post was established at nearby Ojo Caliente in 1874.
This picturesque small community continues to sport its 1867 San Ignacio Catholic Church, the ruins of an old school that burned years ago, and a number of homes, some still lived in, and others that are succumbing to nature's elements.
Backtracking just a bit, we next head for more ghost towns, starting with 1880 mining town of Winston, which was once called home to about 3,000 people.
The old settlement provides a number of photo opportunities in its old business buildings and homes.
About three miles down the road is another mining community - Chloride.
This ghost town has seen much restoration in the last several years and its museum was open for us to learn more of its history.
We then try to take a short cut over a forest road so that we don't have to backtrack once again. Alas, this is not a good idea, as the snow covered road is unpaved, rutted, and narrow. Ok, backtrack we do, heading south again on I-25 through Truth or Consequences before getting off the interstate once again, headed for, yes, you guessed it -- more ghost towns.
Heading westward on NM-152, we soon arrive at Hillsboro, another mining community born in 1877. Though not a ghost town today, it displays lots of interesting historic buildings.
Another 9 ½ miles down the road, we almost miss the turnoff to Kingston and do a quick U-turn to this old 1882 mining town.
Now, at one time this place was allegedly one of the largest and wildest towns in New Mexico Territory, with some 7,000 people. Hmmmm, sure can't tell it today -- only old buildings and a cemetery, but still worth the stop.
We take a brief pause to take pics of the open pit Santa Rita Copper Mine and feeling pretty DONE for the day, head on over to Silver City.
Nope! Change of plans when I spy the sign for Fort Bayard. Ok, one last stop as we make a quick tour through the old fort grounds.
Lots of buildings left, but like Fort Stanton, is another sad case of deterioration. The site now serves as a New Mexico State Hospital.
Ok, finally really done, find the hotel and "die." It's been a very long day.
Kathy Alexander, February 2008.
Keywords: Ancho, Billy the Kid, Fort Bayard, Fort Stanton, Fort Sumner, Ghost Towns, Lincoln, new mexico, Roswell, travel, white oaks
it was awesome snow in the dessert was cool
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