Ghost Towns in New Mexico

They are ghost towns now. But in the late 1800s, each had a moment of glory that blazed and died like a sudden flame. Most were mining towns, where men lusted after the earth’s riches – gold, silver, turquoise, copper, lead and coal. A few were farming communities that flourished for a time and mysteriously fell silent. Literally hundreds of towns not only died, they vanished.

By some estimates, New Mexico is home to more than 400 ghost towns – most are nothing more than a few foundations and some occasional mining equipment.

But traces of many linger on, haunting ties to days that used to be. They molder into oblivion, their shells of buildings like specters against the sky, these towns that witnessed some of America’s most romantic and rapacious history.

And if you listen, you can hear the names of fabled mines whispered on the wind: Bridal Chamber, Confidence, Little Hell, Calamity Jane, Hardscrabble, Mystic Lode, North Homestake, Little Fanny, Spanish Bar. If you look, you can read the names of legendary people written in the dust: Johnny Ringo, Russian, Bill, Toppy Johnson, Roy Bean, Butch Cassidy, Madame Varnish, Black jack Ketchum, Mangas Coloradas, Billy the Kid, James Cooney.

More than a score of these towns have enough life in spite of the ravages of vandals and weather to be interesting to the special breed of human whose eyes light up at the mention of them.  Quite a few towns have a number of inhabitants. Please respect their privacy. Many are on private property.

Cerrillos (about 28 miles south of Santa Fe on State Road 14)

“...Gold mining in the area surrounding Cerrillos is best described as hardscrabble”

The lore of the Cerrillos hills is rich with legends of mines, being worked there for a thousand year. Turquoise has religious significance to many Indian people, nearby Mount Chalchihuitl is known to have contained a great lode of the precious gemstone and stone tools found there seem to testify to the truth of the legends.  Gold mining in the area surrounding Cerrillos is best described as hardscrabble until the big strike of 1879, when hard rock miners from Colorado struck a big lode. Cerrillos then became the center of the mining industry in the area that included Golden and Madrid, and encompassed gold, silver, copper, turquoise, lead and coal. There are several shops and galleries, a post office, health center, premier riding stables and the Cerrillos Hills State Park with five miles of hiking trails. The Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum contains hundreds of artifacts from the American Old West and the Cerrillos Mining District.

Getting There

From Santa Fe follow the Turquoise Trail Hwy. 14 approximately 12 miles south of the NM Interstate 25 and Hwy. 14 Intersection. Make a right turn into Cerrillos Village.

From Albuquerque follow the Turquoise Trail Hwy. 14 approximately 31 miles North of the NM Interstate 40 and Hwy. 14 Intersection. Make a left turn into Cerrillos Village

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Chloride (five miles southwest of Winston off State Road 52)

“...The name "Chloride" was finally selected, after the high-grade silver ore found there”

The history of Chloride reads like the script for a bad western – silver strike, population boom, Apache raids, salvation by the militia, cattle versus sheep, tar and feathering, even bear attacks. An Englishman named Harry Pye was delivering freight for the U.S. Army from Hillsboro to Camp Ojo Caliente in 1879 when he discovered silver in the canyon where Chloride is now located. After completing his freighting contract, he and two others returned to the area in 1881 and staked a claim. The name "Chloride" was finally selected, after the high-grade silver ore found there. It became the center for all mining activity in the area, known as the Apache Mining District. During the 1880s, Chloride had 100 homes, 1,000-2,000 people, eight saloons, three general stores, restaurants, butcher shops, a candy store, a lawyer's office, a doctor, boarding houses, an assay office, a stage line, a Chinese laundry and a hotel.  Chloride and the surrounding area began to decline with the silver panic of 1893, when the country went on the gold standard and silver prices dropped about 90 percent. Today, about 27 of Chloride’s original buildings are still standing, including the Pioneer Store, which now serves as a museum. Main Street is lined with false front structures, as well as adobe buildings, some restored and some suffering the effects of time. There are two cemeteries and the 200- year-old oak "Hanging Tree" tree still stands in the middle of Wall Street. About 20 residents, many of who are descedants of the original founders, occupy the town.

Getting There

Chloride is approximately 40 scenic miles west of Truth or Consequences.

When northbound on I-25, take Exit 83. Turn left on NM 181, then left on NM 52. Follow signs to Winston, then turn left to Chloride, two miles south west of Winston on all weather hard surface road.

When southbound on I-25, take Exit 89. Turn left on NM 181, then right on NM 52 and follow directions as above.

Colfax (about 15 miles northeast of Cimarron on US 64)

Colfax may be said to have ridden to prosperity on the coattails of Dawson in the late 1890s, when Dawson mushroomed as a coal boomtown. Dawson is dead and gone, but Colfax, however clings to mortality. It came into being on a spur of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway and once had a hotel and a number of other buildings, which can still be seen.

Getting There

Colfax is appx 12 miles northeast of Cimarron or 30 miles southwest of Raton on Nm Highway 64.

Dawson (17 miles east of Cimarron on US 64 and A38)

“...On October 22, 1913, an explosion in the mine killed 263 miners plus two rescuers. ”

In 1901 the Dawson coal mine opened and a railroad was constructed from Dawson to Tucumcari and the town was born. The Phelps Dodge Company bought the mine in 1906 and increased development. Dawson went on to have its own newspaper, a theater, hotel, modern homes, hospital, baseball park, golf course, bowling alley and more. Dawson's high school basketball and football teams went on to win many awards.  On October 22, 1913, an explosion in the mine killed 263 miners plus two rescuers. Less than 10 years later, another explosion killed 120 men. Surprisingly though, the town didn't die, but rather went on until the mine was closed down in 1950. When the mine closed, Phelps Dodge sold the whole town, buildings and all, to be carried off to other locations. Today, the cemetery is about all that remains.

Getting There

Dawson is located about 17 miles northeast of Cimarron, New Mexico.

Elizabethtown (five miles north of Eagle Nest on State Road 38)

“...Elizabethtown was the first incorporated town in New Mexico”

Elizabethtown began in 1866 with the founding of area gold mines and the Mystic Copper Mine. It was New Mexico's first incorporated town. Founded by the commander of Fort Union (north of Las Vegas, New Mexico), Captain William H. Moore, and named for his daughter, Elizabeth Catherine Moore. Nicknamed "E-Town," the town grew to over 7000 residents at its height of prosperity in 1870, and it was designated the first seat of the newly formed Colfax County. In 1872 there were only about 100 residents left as the mines dwindled, and the county seat was moved to Cimarron. The town revived somewhat when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad passed nearby in the early 1890s, making mining feasible once again. The village was also part of the Colfax County War. A fire took most of the town in 1903, and the town mostly died out by 1917 with the decline in the mines.

Not much is left of Elizabethtown – just a few stone walls of the old Mutz Hotel.

Getting There

It is located just off New Mexico State Road 38, between the communities of Eagle Nest and Red River. It is just east of the Carson National Forest.

Engle (17 miles east of Truth or Consequences on NM51)

“... In 1945 the US Government made turn the land east of Engle into what is now White Sands Missile Range for the purpose of testing the Atomic Bomb. ”

Once a small yet busy railroad stop, this historic living ghost town is now home to the headquarters of Ted Turner’s Armandaris ranch, a church,  a handful of houses and sits on the Northern Access Road to Spaceport America.

Engle began in 1879 as a stop on the Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railroad where it was a crucial shipping point for miners and prospectors and served as a water stop.   It thrived for a few years as a setting off point and supply base for miners and prospectors.  It housed hotels, a general store and saloons.  When mining dried up in the area circa 1883 the town saw a decline until ranchers to the east began driving cattles across the plains in 1896, sometimes as many as 17,000 head of cattle.  At that time the railroad stop became an important point for shipping cattle and it was a popular place for cowboys to rest and enjoy some recreation at the saloons.    Shortly after the turn of the century nearby ranches suffered from overgrazing and drought, which in turn dried up the towns commerce.  However the building of the nearby Elephant Butte Dam between 1911 and 1916 saw a big revival with the towns population peaking at around 500.

From 1920, with construction of the dam well completed, the town once again struggled to survive and by the late 1920’s the population was just 75.  In 1930 a road was graded from Tularosa to Engle, briefly raising hopes of some kind of revival, however in 1945 the US Government made turn the land east of Engle into what is now White Sands Missile Range for the purpose of testing the Atomic Bomb.  This effectively left Engle at the end of a road that didn’t really lead anywhere.  By 1955 the Post Office was closed and now just a few structures remain.  Once of those is an adobe schoolhouse, now used as a church that was constructed in 1909.

Today Engle is the headquarters of Ted Turner’s Armandaris Ranch and sometimes Bison can be seen nearby.  It also is one of the few places you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the historic Jornada del Muerto and is set to get a lot busier when spaceflight operations commence from Spaceport America.  The road from Truth or Consequences was paved in 2007 in preparation for construction at the spaceport.

Getting There

IMPORTANT: The nearest gas, food and accommodation services are located approximately 17 miles from Engle in either Truth or Consequences or Elephant Butte.  The road beyond Engle from Spaceport America towards I-25 to the South is unpaved and should only be attempted by 4WD vehicles.

Hillsboro (18 miles west of I-25 take exit 63 onto NM 152)

“...Today, Hillsboro is a well-known community of artists, writers and ranchers.”

Hillsboro was founded in April,1877, when two prospectors discovered a series of gold deposits on the east side of the Black Range Mountains along Percha Creek. Dave Stitzel and Daniel Dugan staked out the Opportunity and Ready Pay mines. A tent city quickly filled with over 300 miners, store owners, adventuresome women and children. As the area grew more settled, adobe and wooden structures began to replace the tents. By 1880 the town had four saloons, four grocery stores and a post office. Today, Hillsboro is a well-known community of artists, writers and ranchers. The community hosts the always popular Apple Festival, Christmas in the Foothills, community Christmas party and monthly music events

Getting There

Hillsboro is appx 32 miles west of Truth or Concequences on NM 152.

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Lake Valley (17 miles south of Hillsboro on State Road 27)

Two and one-half million ounces of Silver came from lake Valley’s fabled Bridal Chamber mine. John Leavitt, a blacksmith who discovered the Bridal Chamber, was unable to work the claim he had leased from the Sierra Grande Company and turned it back it for several thousand dollars. Lake Valley became in important railhead and prospered until the silver panic of 1893. Two or three houses and a few other buildings remain today. The last resident left in 1994.

Getting There

Lake Valley is on NM 27, between Nutt and Hillsboro.  It is in Sierra County.

Madrid (27 miles southwest of Santa Fe on State Road 14)

“...In the 1920s and 30s, Madrid was as famous for its Christmas lights”

Although Madrid still likes to consider itself a ghost town, it represents a unique example of resurrection. In the 1920s and 30s, Madrid was as famous for its Christmas lights as for its coal, and airlines used to reroute traffic during the holidays to show passengers the sight. Coal became important in the 1880s, but when the demand for coal diminished after World War II, long forlorn rows of identical company houses stood empty. In the 1970s, the sound of hammers could be heard throughout the town and now, Madrid is a creative community with more than 40 shops and galleries, several restaurants, a spa and museum.

Getting There

Madrid is loacted one hour north of Albuquerque and 30 minutes south of Santa Fe on the Historic Turquois Trail Scenic Byway, Highway 14.

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Mogollon (nine miles east of Alma on State Road 78)

“...Today, Mogollon is home to a very few seasonal residents and a couple of business”

For nearly 60 years after the great gold strike of 1878, Mogollon had a reputation as one of the most wide-open towns in the West. Butch Cassidy and his crowd once headquartered there, and gunmen, claim jumpers and gamblers kept things lively. Not even Victorio and Geronimo, nor the troops sent in by the governor, could tame Mogollon. An estimated $19.5 million in gold silver and copper came from Mogollon’s mines. By 1909, Mogollon had a population of about 2,000 people who supported five saloons, two restaurants, four merchandise stores, two hotels and several brothels located in two infamous red light districts. It also boasted the Midway Theatre, a bakery, a photographer, a couple of doctors, and various other retail businesses. Today, Mogollon is home to a very few seasonal residents and a couple of business, but filled with historic buildings of the once rich mining camp that made millions during its hey days, survived numerous floods and fires, but still hangs on today despite its isolated location.

Getting There

Mogollon is appx 75 miles northwest of Silver City NM off of US 180. The town itself is a two hour drive north of Silver City surrounded by the Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness. Make sure to get directions locally before heading out.

Monticello (25 miles NW of Truth or Consequences )

“...If you do not believe in ghosts, then what remains of the original school house might cause you to believe otherwise. ”

Located along New Mexico Highway 142, Monticello was originally named Canada Alamosa Spanish for "Canyon of the Cottonwoods" and was first settled by ranchers and farmers in 1856.  The town was renamed in 1881 by its first postmaster, John Sullivan, of Monticello, N.Y.

What stands in Monticello is mere of shell of its former glory days.  More than 1,000 families once lived in Monticello Canyon, which contains both Monticello and Placita, during its peak. Today, there are fewer than 100 families.  Some of the town's original buildings, including the old WPA school house and San Ignacio Catholic Church, still remain.

If you do not believe in ghosts, then what remains of the original school house might cause you to believe otherwise.  All that remains is the exterior walls and foundations.  Where students once sat and learned general arithmetic, trees and weeds now grow in their place.  Rumors circulate about the cause of the building’s demise, but the most commonly believed is that the school had burned down after a student's experiment exploded in chemistry class.

Down on the main town square still stands the town’s original church, which was first built in 1869 and served as John Sullivan's home.  The doors are usually left open for visitors to pop in and take a peak,  and Mass is still celebrated.  People say that on days when the Church is empty and quiet, you might be able to witness the "Monticello Light", a mysterious ball of light that once followed a local resident home.

Getting There

Please note that all properties of these two historic communities are private and there are no services in the area, so be sure to fill your tank with gas before venturing in.

Organ (14.5 miles NE of Las Cruces)

“...In the 1930s the mines in the area became inundated with water and were no longer feasible for use and with the onset of the Great Depression, mining operations ceased. ”

The once initial mining camp of Organ was officially established as a community back in 1883, though there had been mining activity since the late 1840s. The town's greatest population was around eighteen hundred at the turn of the century.   At that time, Organ had seven saloons, a Catholic church, a two-teacher schoolhouse, two smelters, two general stores and a tunnel jail that was originally a powder magazine. In the 1930s the mines in the area became inundated with water and were no longer feasible for use and with the onset of the Great Depression, mining operations ceased.  However, with the opening of White Sands Missile Range and the testing of the Nuclear Bomb in 1945, Organ began to thrive again as a community providing homes and leisure services to military personnel and government contractors.

Getting There

Organ is now a modern day community on U.S. Highway 70, with many of its residents presently employed at the White Sands Missile Base.  The few remaining landmarks of Old Organ have been engulfed by the present town.  As of the 2010 census, its population was 323.

Shakespeare (about three miles south of Lordsburg)

“...The rich silver mined out very rapidly but then the rumor began to circulate that diamonds had been discovered on Lee's Peak west of town. ”

Now off the beaten track and privately owned, Shakespeare had a tenuous beginning as Mexican Springs in the 1850s as a stop on the Butterfield Overland Stage line. In 1870, prospectors discovered samples of very rich silver ore in the surrounding hills and they went hunting for financing to develop their new mines. Some of them interested a group of financiers connected with William Ralston, President of the Bank of California. A company was formed and the town was named in Ralston's honor. The town grew rapidly and newspapers as far away as San Diego carried stories about the promising new camp. The population boomed to 3000 people with independent miners flocking in to try to get a piece of the action. The company had some hired fighting men on their payroll to keep these independent miners off. The rich silver mined out very rapidly but then the rumor began to circulate that diamonds had been discovered on Lee's Peak west of town. The Hired Fighting men stayed on the payroll, the stages kept running, and the town boomed until sometime in 1872 when the diamond swindle was revealed as a hoax all over the country. Most people left town for fear of being implicated in the crooked work and the town almost emptied of people. In 1879 Colonel William G. Boyle got hold of most of the good claims and renamed the town Shakespeare to eliminate memories of the earlier swindles. With financing coming from St. Louis this time he started the Shakespeare Gold and Silver Mining and Milling Company and the town enjoyed a second boom. The railroad missed Shakespeare by about 3 miles and the beginning of the new railroad town of Lordsburg was the death knell for Shakespeare. The depression of 1893 caused the mines to close and most people moved away to find jobs elsewhere. In 1935 Frank and Rita Hill purchased the town and buildings for a ranch. Shakespeare was declared a National Historic Site in 1970. The ghost town is privately owned and can only be toured one weekend during each month or by appointment. Several times a year, living history re-enactments are held at the historic site.

Getting There

Shakespeare is 2 1/2 miles south and west of Lordsburg on NM Hwy 494 from Lordsburg.

To get to Shakespeare from Lordsburg take the Main Street exit (EXIT 22) from I-10 and turn South. Follow the signs 2 1/2 MILES on NM Hwy. 494 to reach the Town of Shakespeare.

Download the Ghost Towns Map

“...Here's a handy map for finding the Ghost Towns on this page”

Click on the image below to download a printable PDF map of the Ghost Towns featured on this page. Note: The Map will open in a new window. To download the map right click and save to your computer. The map is 15.3 Mb.

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