Sunday, February 24, 2008

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.

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.

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.

1 comment:

Followfocus Productions said...

Nice read and cool place! I can't wait to hit the road this summer and start exploring more ghost towns. I'll be in touch about what we talked about in email. Looking forward to reading more stuff!