Overgrown cemeteries. Crumbling walls. Doors hanging open as if a building’s occupants might return any moment. Ghost towns are inherently unnerving, but they’re also fascinating snapshots of the past. Sometimes residents drift away gradually. Other times people abandon towns quickly, due to a tragedy or because of lost economic opportunities. Here are 8 of the many ghost towns located in New Mexico.
1. Lake Valley, between Nutt and Hillsboro
The Bridal Chamber mine in Lake Valley once produced 2.5 million ounces of silver. The town’s demise began with the silver panic of 1893. Then, in 1895, a saloon fire, which was believed to be an act of arson, destroyed much of Lake Valley. The flames spread so quickly that they consumed the commercial buildings within thirty minutes. But it wasn’t until 1974 that the town officially became uninhabited, when Lake Valley’s final resident died.
2. Dawson, near Cimarron
There’s a reason why Dawson gives many people the chills. This literal ghost town is rumored to be haunted. It’s the site of two major mining disasters. The first explosion, in 1913, claimed the lives of 263 miners. The second, in 1923, killed 121 people. With such a tragic past, it’s unsurprising that residents abandoned it.
3. Elizabethtown, near Eagle Nest
A ghost town that was home to a serial killer? It doesn’t get much creepier than that. Charles Kennedy, whose cabin was on the road between Elizabethtown and Taos, provided lodging to travelers. According to his wife’s confession, Kennedy routinely robbed then murdered his guests.
After his capture, rumors spread that Kennedy’s lawyer planned to buy his client’s freedom. The townspeople delivered their own form of justice by grabbing Kennedy, wrapping a rope around his neck and dragging him behind a horse to his death. Little remains of Elizabethtown today, except for a few walls of the Mutz Hotel, which was presumably a much safer place to stay than Kennedy’s cabin.
4. Cuervo, near Santa Rosa
Cuervo is one of the largest ghost towns on this list. It has a weird vibe because many buildings remain, but the people are just gone. It feels like the town is holding its breath. Indefinitely.
Back in the day, Cuervo was a railroad town. It later benefited from its location along Route 66. Unfortunately the interstate was constructed right through the heart of the town. And that was the end of Cuervo.
5. White Oaks, near Carrizozo
At one point, White Oaks was the second biggest city in New Mexico after Santa Fe. It’s even on the National Register of Historic Places. The town boomed when a pure vein of gold was discovered inside Baxter Mountain.
White Oaks boasted saloons, gambling dens, and brothels. A posse once chased Billy the Kid through here. When the gold ran out, the town faded, although one business does operate in White Oaks: the No Scum Allowed Saloon.
6. Shakespeare, near Lordsburg
Originally, this town was called Mexican Springs and it wasn't exactly a law-abiding place. According to legend, the main rule was that if you killed someone, you were responsible for digging their grave.
Miners came here in search of silver, but stuck around because they heard someone had found diamonds on nearby Lee’s Peak. When people figured out that the diamond rumors were just a hoax, they left.
In 1879, Colonel William G. Boyle changed the town’s name to Shakespeare. This national historic site is now privately owned, and tours are available.
7. Hagan, near Madrid
Hagan was a planned community of adobe buildings, constructed around a coal mine. Once the coal was gone, everyone deserted the town. Hagan is located on private property, but you can either see it from the road or book a jeep tour to view it up close.
8. Chloride, near Winston
Sometimes it’s hard to decide what counts as a ghost town. Does a place have to be completely abandoned, or consist of mostly derelict buildings with just a handful of diehard residents?
Chloride fits that last description and, in recent years, efforts have been made to restore and repurpose some of the buildings.
Still, the size of this mining town (twenty or so people live here) is a far cry from how busy it was during the 1880s. During its heyday, the biggest problem was attacks by Apache Indians, who wanted to repel the invading miners. Harry Pye, the town’s founder, was murdered in one such incident. But it was the 1893 silver panic and subsequent plummeting silver prices that sealed Chloride’s fate.
Have you visited any of these places? Do you find ghost towns creepy, intriguing, or just sad? Let us know about your ghost town explorations.