05 July 2013

Ghost Towns, New Mexico

Welcome back. Today, I’m thrilled to offer a guest post by a friend and former colleague, Jim Baker. When Jim mentioned his jaunts around New Mexico, I, of course, begged for a travelogue.

I have lived in New Mexico off and on since 1957, with a few forced absences (sometimes for long periods) for things like making a living. More and more I find myself drawn to the vacant, forlorn, forsaken and little-visited sites, escaping the pretentiousness or violence or faux-Tex vibes of more popular locations. To get out and about, I have adopted a hobby of visiting ghost towns. It's actually a pretty popular pastime around here.


Trementina is a total ghost town--no residents. At one time it had a population approaching 1000. It’s also remote, lying between Las Vegas (NM) and Mosquero.

The town got its name, which is Spanish for turpentine, because the residents augmented their farm and ranch incomes by producing resins and turpentine from the surrounding pinyon pine and juniper stands.

Main street of ghost town Trementina, New Mexico.
Trementina’s school, which, like many of
these towns, was the inhabitants’ pride.

Trementina’s walled cemetery.
The Trementina cemetery gravestones
are all hand-carved sandstone.

Riley was originally a Hispanic farm and ranch community called Santa Rita. After the discovery of commercial deposits of minerals, the place became a mining town and petitioned for a post office with the name Riley. The town died when the mines played out, which was not uncommon in New Mexico.

The school (front), church (back) and
schoolmaster’s crumbling residence (between)
 in the ghost town Riley, New Mexico.
Riley is very remote. I drove 20 miles on dirt roads and forded the Rio Salado to get there. No doubt the school was the town’s pride. It’s constructed of stone while most of the other buildings are of adobe.

Although Riley is a complete ghost town, the church has been maintained by local ranching families. The Feast of Santa Rita is celebrated there annually on 22 May, conducted by a circuit priest. I’m told it’s not a coveted assignment.

Riley’s well-maintained church.
Riley’s residential boulevard, with the adobe dwellings
returning to the ground of which they were constructed.

Unlike the remoteness of Trementina and Riley, Colmor lies only about 1 mile east of Interstate I-25. Most folks blow by, but it's about 7 miles south of Springer and easily visible from the highway if you know where to look. The town straddles Colfax and Mora counties, hence the name Colmor.

Colmor was a railroad town. It died as the freight and passengers dwindled, and the railroad stop was finally abandoned.

An abandoned railroad town, Colmor,
New Mexico, is now a ghost town.
Colmor’s present main street.
Colmor’s pueblo-style school.

There are many more ghost towns in New Mexico, but I’ll end this tour in Cloverdale. Its post office was the southernmost and westernmost post office in the state, down in the geographic "boot heel." Though remote, it was the setting of the beginning of The Crossing, the middle book in Cormac McCarthy's excellent Border Trilogy.

The author is holding up the only remaining building
 in the ghost town of Cloverdale, New Mexico.

Jim Baker’s travelogue will continue next Tuesday with photographs of New Mexico backcountry. I hope you’ll join us. Thanks for stopping by.

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