Stepping into a ghost town can be like stepping back into time. Luckily, ghost towns in New Mexico are fairly easy to come by and not uncommon. If you want to peek at what life was like decades ago, we’ve got some of the best options for you. You’ll have a spine-tingling time exploring these towns. Let’s get started!
What Is a Ghost Town?
Ghost towns have long been deserted and have little to no remaining inhabitants. These abandoned cities are often left with many structures still standing. You can usually walk through the streets and peek into the windows of buildings that once were bustling with residents going about their everyday routines. However, for various circumstances, a mass exodus of people left the area in a hurry.
Ghost towns are often the result of changes in the economy, availability of natural resources, or the creation of railroads and other infrastructures. You’ll also find ghost towns worldwide due to natural disasters, wars, and human interventions.
How Many New Mexico Ghost Towns Are There?
Some estimates believe New Mexico is home to more than 400 ghost towns. Many of these towns are former farming and mining communities that, for one reason or another, failed. Towns were thriving due to mining gold, silver, turquoise, copper, lead, and coal. The getting was good until it wasn’t, and residents packed up and moved on to the next town.
New Mexico Ghost Towns That Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine
Over the years, many New Mexico ghost towns have been vandalized and looted by crooks. They were looking to make a quick buck or take out some frustrations on an ancient building. However, the broken glass and remains add to the creepiness of the towns. Let’s take a look at where you can have an eerie adventure.
About: This silver mining town was founded in 1878, and in the blink of an eye, the population boomed to over 4,000 people. However, the residents moved on their way when the silver mining dried up. They left behind several structures, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has done its best to stabilize the structures to reduce further deterioration.
They have restored the schoolhouse and chapel to as close to their original states as possible. You can walk through the ghost town on a self-guided tour. Sadly, the last resident of Lake Valley passed away in 1974, and the only individuals living there are two caretakers.
How to Get There: It’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Lake Valley from Albuquerque. If you’re heading west on I-40, you’ll exit at Mile Marker 53 and cross over Historic Route 66 near Thoreau. Follow NM-371 for 56 miles until you reach the Tsaya Trading Post. Turn right onto 7750, and you’ll arrive in Lake Valley in a couple of miles.
Traveler’s Tip: While in Albuquerque make sure to take a hot air balloon ride.
About: If you want to get a serious case of the chills, visiting the former mining town of Dawson will surely do the trick. Mining is a very dangerous job, and Dawson experienced two major mining disasters. The first accident happened in 1913, and it claimed the lives of 263 miners. A decade later, in 1923, another accident occurred. That took the lives of 120 miners.
The two explosions weren’t enough to kill off this town. It went on to thrive and even had a newspaper, theater, hotel, modern homes, hospital, baseball park, golf course, bowling alley, and so much more. However, when the mine closed up shop in 1950, so did the city. The mine’s owner, Phelps Dodge Company, sold the entire town. The buildings were hauled off to new locations; the only thing that remains in the city is a graveyard.
How to Get There: The ghost town of Dawson sits in the northeast corner of New Mexico. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Albuquerque and across the border to Colorado. Coming from Albuquerque, you’ll take I-25 north for about 200 miles. You’ll exit at exit 426 and then take Maxwell Avenue until you reach NM-445.
You’ll follow NM-445 a short distance until you turn left once you reach NM-505 on the left. NM-505 will take you right past the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge. Turn left onto US-64 once you get to the Colfax Tavern & Diner. Take the first right onto A38, and after a few miles, you’ll see the Dawson Cemetery on your right before entering what remains of this chilling ghost town.
About: When Ute Indians arrived at Fort Union wanting to trade some interesting rocks for some supplies, Captain William H. Moore quickly noticed the richness of copper in them. One of the Indians agreed to lead him and a handful of other soldiers to where the rocks were. The location was at over 12,400 feet elevation atop Baldy Mountain, but the copper supply quickly faded. However, the discovery of gold was enough to attract crowds of people. At its prime, it was home to more than 7,000 residents.
Like many ghost towns, it has several gruesome and scary stories. Nomads traveling through the area regularly disappeared. Charles Kennedy, the man responsible for the disappearances, murdered not only the travelers but his son. Residents went after Kennedy to bring justice, and the authorities hung him for the murders.
By 1872, the town was home to approximately 100 residents, and by 1875 it was a ghost town. It had a very limited second life with mining. However, a 1903 fire wiped out a majority of the structures. If you visit today, there are only a few remains of a once extremely prosperous town. You’ll find the stone ruins from the Old Mutz Hotel and Froelick’s Store is still standing. They rebuilt the church.
How to Get There: Elizabethtown is in the northeast portion of the state. It’s a three-hour drive from Albuquerque. You’ll take I-25 to exit 276. Hop on NM-599 to go north of Sante Fe and then take US-84 north to US-285. Near Santa Cruz, you’ll get on NM-68 North until you reach US-64 and continue to follow 64 until you reach Eagle Nest. Turn left onto NM-38 West until you see a sign for the Elizabeth Town Overlook Road.
About: Cuervo is a formerly bustling town that greatly benefited from the construction of the famous Route 66. The road passed through it and thrived on tourists and travelers driving along the popular route. However, the construction of I-40 cut through the town and was a massive blow. The town remains a skeleton of what it once was but has approximately 58 residents to this day.
Despite having a small chunk of residents, it has all the feelings of an eerie ghost town. You’ll find empty buildings, abandoned vehicles, and random pieces of furniture littered throughout. The proximity to I-40 makes it a hotbed for criminal activity, and there are some reports of paranormal activity.
How to Get There: Getting to Cuervo from Albuquerque is extremely easy. It’s a two-hour drive east of the ABQ and is right off I-40. Take I-40 for approximately 134 miles and take exit 291. Once you exit, you’ll pass the old schoolhouse on the right. You can continue straight on to drive through and see the entirety of the ghost town and hop back on I-40.
About: Gold mining was a huge business in New Mexico in the late 1800s, and White Oaks was one of the many towns that sprung up. It had a reputation for being one of the liveliest towns in all of New Mexico in the 1880s. The town has to thank a prison escapee for discovering gold in the area while on the run. Before skipping town, the prisoner told two of his friends, and it quickly became a booming town.
It was the second largest town in the area and became a cultural hub for much of Southeast New Mexico. There were more than 50 businesses, four newspapers, two hotels, three churches, a sawmill, a bank, an opera house, and the standard western town establishments of saloons, brothels, and gambling houses.
While the area was responsible for mining 45 to 50 tons of gold, there were several accidents. Like so many mining towns, it died by 1910 due to the Sante Fe and El Paso-Northeastern railroads constructing their tracks 12 miles west of the town. Not having the railroad running through it was a major blow. By 1910, the town that was once home to thousands of people had about 200 remaining residents.
How to Get There: White Oaks is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive southeast of Albuquerque. You’ll take I-25 to San Antonio, New Mexico, and cut across the state on US-380. This will take you to Carrizozo, where you can hop on US-54 to NM-349. It’s an easy and beautiful drive with several other small ghost towns in the area.
About: With prospectors looking just about everywhere for any sign of mineral deposits, they stumbled upon the area that would become Shakespeare. After discovering silver ore, the New Mexico Mining Company began digging and planning a new town. There were quickly 200 residents living in a tent city, but as money continued to pour into the city, houses replaced the tents. The city boomed, and the population quickly grew to more than 3,000 people.
However, the success was very short-lived. The financier for the town lost all credibility with locals due to his involvement in the Great Diamond Hoax of 1871. By the time the year 1973 rolled around, it shrunk to only a handful of residents. In 1879 the area was renamed Shakespeare after a St. Louis investor came to revitalize the area and give mining a second try.
The town had a short-lived success and never could find the spark to grow. In terms of law enforcement, locals primarily handled it. The railroad’s construction in the early 1880s was the final nail in the coffin for this town.
It was purchased in 1935 by private owners and made a National Historic Site in 1970. However, in 1997 a devastating fire wiped out its General Merchandise Store, which held many of the relics and memorabilia from the town. The town remains today, and you can pay to tour the town.
How to Get There: Shakespeare sits near the Arizona-New Mexico border. It’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Albuquerque and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Tucson, Arizona. You’ll take I-25 for approximately 180 miles until you reach Hatch, NM. Hop on I-10, head west, and take exit 22 once you get to Lordsburg. Shakespeare is a five-minute drive south of Lordsburg on NM-494.
About: Hagan came about in 1902 due to the boom in coal mining. By 1905 the mining in the town had grown to 60 miners. Transporting coal mined here was expensive, and it wasn’t until the railroad reached the town in 1924 that things really began to boom. It quickly grew to over 500 residents and soon had running water, electricity, and toilets. Buildings were constructed, including Hagan Mercantile, the largest adobe building in New Mexico.
By 1930 the coal began to run out, and the town quickly died. A few residents remained until the early 1940s, but the USPS closed shop in 1931, and the town became unincorporated.
Visitors today will find the crumbled remains of several foundations and a railroad station that has seen better days. However, much of the town is now private property and requires visitors to book a tour through New Mexico Jeep Tours to experience it.
How to Get There: It’s only an hour northeast of Albuquerque. Take I-40 east of Albuquerque and exit 175 near Tijeras to hop on NM-14 north. Follow NM-14 until you drive through the town of San Antonito. Once through the town, turn left onto the winding road of La Madera Road. You’ll follow this road until you reach what remains of Hagan.
About: In 1878, an individual by the name of Briton Harry Pye discovered silver ore and kept his discovery a secret. However, by 1880 word got out, and miners began flocking to the area. In the blink of an eye, the town had nine saloons, a general store, a dry goods store, a millinery shop, a butcher shop, a candy store, a pharmacy, a school, and two hotels.
The town was thriving until the Silver Panic of 1893. The price of silver went through the floor in 1896. Since so much of the town’s economy relied on the silver industry, it quickly became empty.
Today, you’ll find Harry Pye’s cabin, a workshop, a 200-year-old hanging tree, and a cobblestone building known as the Doodle Dum. The city remains home to 20 residents, and many of the original structures remain. The Pioneer Store serves as a museum of the town’s glory days and is open five days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
How to Get There: If you want to visit Chloride, it’s an almost three-hour drive southwest of Albuquerque. Take I-25 south towards Truth or Consequences. Then, take exit 89 to hop on NM-181 South and turn right onto NM-52. Follow this road for 34 miles and turn left after the Winston General Store. Follow Republic Road for a mile, then make a slight right onto Country Road C006. You’ll drive right into what remains of Chloride.
Are New Mexico Ghost Towns Worth Visiting?
There’s something unique and chilling about visiting the many New Mexico ghost towns. These small towns paved the way for much of the country’s westward expansion. To see the remains that sprung up and disappeared in a few short years can be exciting. Seeing some of the artifacts and hearing the stories is a great way to experience the history and learn about the area’s development. If you’re looking for a unique experience while in New Mexico, there are plenty of ghost towns to visit!
What New Mexico ghost town would you like to visit first? Tell us in the comments!
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