While there are plenty of places that are currently thriving in New Mexico, other towns experienced their heyday in a previous decade or even century. Since then, they’ve faded from prominence. Perhaps they’ll eventually experience a renaissance but, in the meantime, here are 8 places that time forgot.
1. Las Vegas
Las Vegas was once a stop on the Santa Fe Trail and, at one point, it was one of the most important settlements in the American Southwest. In 1879, the railroad arrived and East Las Vegas grew up around it. Since it was a transportation hub, the town attracted more than its share of outlaws. Citizens got so fed up that they banded together to expel lawless individuals - the windmill in the plaza was used to hang criminals.
Today, you can still view more than 900 structures in Las Vegas that are on the on the National Register of Historic Places. Although dwarfed by Las Vegas, Nevada, and overtaken in significance by New Mexico’s bigger cities, this remains an architecturally fascinating spot to visit.
2. El Morro National Monument
This oasis was once a vital stop for travelers journeying through New Mexico. They would set up camp next to the pool at the base of the sandstone cliffs, which is able to hold 200,000 gallons of water (which is collected during summer monsoons).
Native Americans used El Morro as a resting place 700 years ago; Juan de Oñate, the Spaniard who led expeditions through the American Southwest, also stopped here. How do we know this? He, like 2000 or so others, carved a message into Inscription Rock.
As a city of 37,775 people, Clovis isn’t exactly forgotten, but its cultural significance is rooted in the past. During the 1930s, the Clovis archeological sites proved that humans with a definite culture roamed through the area 12,500-12,900 years ago.
In the 1950s, Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded songs like “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be The Day” in the Norman Petty Studio. This made Clovis a part of rock and roll history.
4. Wagon Mound
Wagon Mound is now home to just 314 people but it was once a critical landmark on the Santa Fe Trail. People used this weirdly shaped butte as a guidepost. Wagon Mound was also known for its pinto bean crop, which is still celebrated in the annual Bean Day festival.
The town of Lincoln was once the site of a war. The Lincoln County War raged here in 1878 when the citizens divided into opposing factions and began shooting each other. The fighting was bad enough that President Rutherford B. Hayes called Lincoln’s main drag “the most dangerous street in America.”
Today, the main street is usually empty save for visitors exploring the town’s 17 original structures and outbuildings.
6. Fort Bayard Site, Santa Clara
Established in the 1860s, Fort Bayard was once an important military installation that was meant to safeguard new settlers from Apache raids. During this time, Buffalo Soldiers (regiments of African American soldiers) were stationed here.
Later, the fort was converted into a tuberculosis hospital and a POW camp during World War II. It is only today that this historic district lies empty and forgotten.
7. White Oaks
By definition, all ghost towns have lost the boom and bust cycle. One place that experienced this kind of decline was White Oaks, near Carrizozo. Originally a cattle town, it expanded into a mining community when a vein of nearly pure gold was unearthed in the area. The town boasted amenities like dance halls, gambling dens, brothels, and eight or so saloons.
However, when the railroad bypassed White Oaks, it turned into a ghost town. Today, one business remains: the No Scum Allowed Saloon.
For more ghost towns.
The town of Cimarron was another key stop on the Santa Fe Trail and it put the “wild” in Wild West. A territorial newspaper once declared: “Everything is quiet in Cimarron. Nobody has been killed for three days.” There were at least 26 murders at the St. James Hotel alone.
Cimarron became less significant when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad selected Raton as the site for a repair shop and when the county seat transferred to Springer. Now, this village of 1021 people is best known as the location of the Philmont Scout Ranch.