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Carrizozo — named for reed grass

By Phyllis Eileen Banks

Last updated on Sunday, December 29, 2002

1930s Pueblo Revival style Women's Club Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks
1930s Pueblo Revival style Women's Club
The name Carrizozo is derived from the Spanish name for reed grass, "carrizo." However, it seems some enterprising ranch foreman added another "zo" to indicate there was abundant reed grass. That became the town's name although it wasn't platted until 1907.

The native reed grass was an excellent feed for livestock on the ranches in the area prior to 1899, where small outfits ran cattle on Carrizozo flats in the upper end of the Tularosa Basin.

Situated at the crossroads of U. S. Highway 380 and U. S. 54, Carrizozo's elevation is 5,429 feet and its population 1,075. It came into existence when the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad extended its line through the town. The roundhouse and repair shops drew people to fill the jobs and the town soon grew. The land surrounding it was opened to homesteading, and many railroad families filed on the open range. It became a supply center and shipping point and the seat of Lincoln County. The population in the decade 1910-20 grew to over 2,000.

There was a railroad strike in 1923 causing disastrous results to the town's economy. After the diesel locomotives were introduced, the number of employees dwindled. Track repair crews were no longer needed every few miles, and the diesels did not require water or coal. Jobs were eliminated and the payroll indicated downsizing, a word that probably had not been created at that time.

Because it is the County Seat, there are a substantial number of government workers. There are several parks; one in the central part of town contains a rock "spider" built by Works Progress Administration (WPA) employees in the 1930s. The curbs along this area are also rock and were built by these same employees. The Women's Club, a Pueblo Revival style of architecture, was also built in the same era. It is well-maintained and very much in use. There is also a clinic and a delightful turn-of-the-century soda fountain and ice cream store. Today Carrizozo is emphasizing the Old West and hopes to encourage tourist trade, billing itself as Paradise in the Pines.

Seven miles northeast on State Highway 349 is the rediscovered ghost town of White Oaks. Artisans are restoring some of the old buildings still standing from the 1890s. About 22 miles north on U.S. 54 and 3 miles east on State Highway 349 is My House of Old Things, a house crammed with antiques and history, in fact a private museum. The items are not for sale, and there is an admission fee.

Five miles to the west on U. S. 380 is the Valley of Fire State Park, on the bank of the Malpais (badlands). The lava flow is visible for more than forty miles from various places along the road. The Malpais, which is visited by 150,000 people each year, forms the youngest lava flow in the continental U. S., between one and two thousand years ago.

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