The fourth Sunday of each month, Journal Arts Editor Adrian Gomez tells the stories behind some of the hidden gems you can see across the state in “Gimme Five.”
Donna Blake Birchell is no stranger to the wild roads in New Mexico.
The New Mexico-based author gets out on the road more than most.
The prolific writer takes a look at deserted cities in her latest book, “New Mexico Ghost Towns.”
She says with all of the books she’s written, a lot of the research overlaps and often is the seed planted for another adventure.
“My current trips to many of the sites to do photography of the ruins took about a year. I like to give the reader my perspective of the sites, what they will encounter, road conditions and maybe some of the hazards to avoid,” she says. “It is also my hope for readers to use this book as a guide for day trips and camping excursions. Since I am notorious for getting lost in my travels, so I have also included the coordinates for each ghost town featured – this may save them a headache down the road.”
Blake Birchell says going into the research for this book, she visited the most traveled ghost towns of the state along the Turquoise Trail, and loved the history and ambiance they represent.
She says as someone who garnered a love for history, old buildings and exploring New Mexico from her father, “New Mexico Ghost Towns” was a natural progression for her.
“At the time, I did not realize there were over 400 ghost towns in the state, so a moment of panic set in as I wondered how I was going to fit them all in this small book,” she says. “To narrow it down, I decided to include the ones which were most tangible, could be visited easily and still had ruins for the readers to explore. Some of the mining towns in the northeastern part of the state are more difficult to visit without a high clearance vehicle, since they are old mining or logging roads, so the reader can plan their trips geared to the type of vehicle they will be using.
“There are over 80 ghost towns featured in this book and I tried to add a large range and variety of towns, from the very well-known like Madrid to the more obscure towns such as Cedarvale.”
She was surprised to see how many ghost towns still exist in New Mexico.
“Although some of them unfortunately have been vandalized, there is still so much to see and explore in the state,” she says. “Discovering these treasures for yourself is a wonderful way to teach history to your children so they can catch the history bug and keep this legacy alive for future generations.”
Blake Birchell took some time to highlight five ghost towns people should see. Here are a few that stood out to her:
1.Chloride- A 200-year-old “Hanging Tree” and the “Chloride National Forest,” visitors greet as soon as one arrives in the town of Chloride.
“A bit of humor since no one was ever hung from the tree and the forest is comprised of basically one weather-beaten tree,” Blake Birchell says. “Don and Dona Edmund made a wrong turn on their way to the Gila Wilderness only to discover this wonderfully preserved town straight out of the Old West. I’m a firm believer that nothing happens without a reason, so this couple was supposed to discover their future in the Apache Mining District.”
Visitors will get to see the restored Pioneer Store/Museum.
“You will feel like you have just stepped into the 1870s as you cross the wooden threshold,” she says. “Amazingly, all of the items in the store are original to the building and were found abandoned by the Edmunds.”
Drive New Mexico 52 and visit two other ghost towns mentioned in the book, Cuchillo and Winston, as you follow along a narrow, two-lane winding road to adventure with Chloride as the prize at the end.
2. Kelly- Blake Birchell says the metal headframe, ordered as a kit, of the Kelly Mine, which was designed by Alexandre G. Eiffel – Yes, the designer of the Eiffel Tower – stands proudly 121 feet in the air and still watches over a 1,000-foot -deep Tri-Bullion mine shaft.
“The views from this location of the valley below are breathtaking,” she says. “In its heyday in 1884, there were banks, saloons, churches, and mercantile for the miners to enjoy and patronize as the population was around 3,000. The mines produced silver, lead and zinc, and provided a good living for those who were willing to work the dangerous conditions to obtain the ore.”
By 1942, the mine had shut down and the miner’s houses were moved to nearby Magdalena and the last person moved away in 1947.
“Today there is a population of two, and I have heard the town of Kelly is up for sale – now’s your chance to own a great part of New Mexico’s mining history,” she says.
3.Lincoln- Technically not a ghost town since they do have a population which lives there year-round, Lincoln is one of the best-preserved towns of the Old West era in the state.
“Once dubbed as the ‘most dangerous street in America’ by President Rutherford B. Hayes because of the bloody Lincoln County War, you can still walk along the same paths as Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett and John Tunstall,” she says. “You can feel the past, drink in the history, and be a part of the future in Lincoln.”
4. Cedarvale- The soil and climate of Cedarvale is perfect for growing pinto beans and this crop was in high demand during World War I and II to feed American troops in Europe.
“Located in the windswept plains in the middle of New Mexico, Cedarvale is home to a school building built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and still has remnants of the lessons written on the chalkboards to spark your imagination,” she says. “Warnings to watch for rattlesnakes are spray-painted on the ruins as the reptiles also like to call the area home.”
5.Elizabethtown- In the shadow of Mount Baldy, Elizabethtown, otherwise known as E-Town, started out as a convenient spot to house gold and copper miners. The town soon become the first incorporated town in New Mexico with a population of 7,000.
“E-Town could brag being the first county seat of Colfax County and mining boom town,” she says. “The town was also the home to one of the New Mexico Territory’s first serial killers, which members of the community such as Clay Allison and Davy Crockett (nephew of the famous frontiersman) took to vigilante justice to end his reign of terror. Today, Elizabethtown is a blip on the map and easily missed, I was told if you see the cattle guard on the left hand side of the road towards Red River that looks like a dragon, you’ve gone too far.”