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"The Lady on the Mountain" is a rock formation on Magdalena Peak overlooking Magdalena. Spanish soldiers saw the face of a woman on the west face of the peak. A priest with them was reminded of a similar peak in Spain called "La Sierra de Maria Magdalena", so he called the New Mexico one "La Sierra de Magdalena". The natural pass to the south of the peak became known as Magdalena Gap, and when a town grew up it received the same name.
Magdalena has recently been trying to transform itself into an art center and cultural destination. The opening of at least a dozen art galleries, a woolery, the renovation of the Bank West Building and the Magdalena Hall Hotel have all made their mark on this mountain village. Several rock and mineral shops have been around since the mining boom days. The ghost town of Kelly and two important festivals, the Lady Magdalena Art Walk and the Old Timers Reunion and Rodeo, bring tourists to the area.
Newly-paved roads, additions to the large school, a public water system, trash disposal service and the opening of a new mini-mart and gas station have improved the quality of life for its citizens. In late 2010, a Family Dollar opened right next to the locally owned Trails End Market. In 2011 a tire shop and a blacksmith shop have also opened.
The Very Large Array is located close to the community.
In 1883, about 2.5 miles south of Magdalena, the Kelly Mine opened in Kelly, New Mexico. In 1884, the village of Magdalena was named after Magdalena Peak when its post office opened. The next year the railroad completed a spur out from Socorro, originally intended to ship cattle from the Plains of San Agustin, but which also proceeded to ship out ore from the Kelly Mine and others. The Kelly Mine was a significant producer of silver and zinc. Magdalena was incorporated in 1913.