Hildago County Guide
Last updated on Thursday, February 20, 2003
When concrete, crime and commotion drive you away in search of renewal, a trek to New Mexico's upper boothill can cleanse the spirit of sludge and jitters. Out in the desert, your only pressure is a gust of wind flapping your clothes and tousling your tresses. Your music, piped over sun-drenched airwaves, is the hum of the wind looping through mountains, carrying celestial strains of songbirds out through the valley and back again to your senses.
Cotton and cowboys, cacti and copper, cavalry and coyotes, chile and coatimundi - and the Chiricahua Apaches. All these help characterize the most southwestern part of Hidalgo County, called the Bootheel of New Mexico, where you will find the small communities of Playas, Animas, and Cotton City.
Uncle Wayne was arguing with Mike near a newly acquired stack of old lumber, the soon to be rock shop, and trading post. Uncle Wayne said, "We don't need no fancy dry goods, just maybe tobacco, flour, axle grease, salt, and beans. A respectable line of frontier groceries."
Down in southwestern New Mexico, just above the bootheel and a hair away from the Arizona border, lies a rockhounder's paradise, an adventurer's enticement, a child's fun fix. Granite Gap - words synonymous with "home" for 2,000 miners and their families a hundred years ago - has since October 1996 been resurrected as an area attraction dubbed Granite Gap Ghost Mining Camp.
My husband and I were driving NM Highway 9 from El Paso to Rodeo early in March. When we came to Hachita, 45 miles west of Columbus, Hal, who is an incorrigible "wonder where that road goes," drove through the small village. In so doing, we discovered a most unique church, Saint Catherine of Sienna. It was locked, so we drove on and stopped at The Egg Nest for lunch. When we talked to the proprietor we asked about the church. He said, "If you want to see it, I have the key," then pointed out the copy of its history. Totally intrigued now, we borrowed the key and drove the few blocks back to the church.
The rugged Old West town known as Lordsburg is located in Southwest New Mexico's bootheel by Interstate 10, 24 miles east of the Arizona border. The Lordsburg of today is a quiet community compared to its earlier shoot-em-up days. Life was lively and sometimes perilous around 1880 when the Santa Fe Railroad was constructed and Lordsburg was founded.
As I drive, twisting through mountains and leaning around curves, having turned westward at Hatchita towards Animas on N.M. 9, which then leads to Rodeo and to Portal, Arizona, I bask in the warmth of an autumn day. I am taking a one-day vacation to leisurely revisit the sites of Old West tales in the boot heel of New Mexico.
"How heavy were the gold bars Curly Bill's gang stole anyway?" Uncle Wayne asked. "Well," I said, "from what I've read the bricks were probably three-hundred pounds each. Made it impossible for pack mules to carry them off in case of a stage robbery." "Yeh," Mike said, "it would take two bricks to make a pack balance, way too heavy for any pack animal besides a camel or elephant!" Uncle Wayne chuckled and said, "Besides that, a camel or elephant would be easy trackin' . . . each dung pile'd fill an ore car."
Put on a cowboy hat, grab a miner’s pick, and get out your birder’s field glasses. You may have need of them when you explore the three neighboring villages on the border of Arizona and New Mexico’s boot heel - Road Forks, Rodeo, and Portal.
As you travel east or west on Interstate 10, turn off at the Road Forks exit in New Mexico. It marks the I-10 junction with transcontinental Highway 80 and then continues on to Rodeo. Take time to visit Road Forks, settled by the G.H. Porters around 1925 and further developed by the late John Graham whose family still own and operate several businesses there.
For travelers on I-10 in Southern New
Mexico, there's an escape from the truck traffic and even from the 20th
century: a side trip to the ghost town of Shakespeare,
located about three miles south of Lordsburg. Because this
place is privately owned by the Hill family, a visitor has to catch one of the
weekend tours (Call ahead to schedule).
So you've decided to explore Southern New Mexico. You
have your road maps, a cooler of food and beverages, and jugs of water in the
back just in case. You set out across broad basins under an ocean of blue
sky, wandering over rugged mountains rising up from the surrounding
plains. The rolling massiveness of the Cooks Range, the
rocky needles of the Organ Mountains, and the lofty heights of
the Mogollons inspire you. You're an idealist. But
no matter how romantic your impressions may be, no matter how much the bright
sunshine makes the expansive scenery glitter, the chances are what you won't be
thinking about is a fortune in gold. As you gaze out over the enchanting
vistas, odds are you won't be imagining a long, trailing caravan of Spaniards
and Indians trekking over ridges and basins in search of a golden legend.
Sometimes the unseen hand of fate descends to arrange a
unique opportunity. When visiting Steins (pronounced Steens)
Railroad Ghost Town, just off I-10 in southern New Mexico near
the Arizona state line, I had the chance to take a rare photograph.
It's no secret why we call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. Our state
possesses some of the nation's most beautiful natural wonders, including
Carlsbad Caverns, Taos' Moreno Valley and
White Sands National Monument.
Having grown up in Silver City at the doorstep of the
Gila National Forest, I have always felt very lucky to have
come from such a special place. During my time as a Senator, I've worked to help
promote New Mexico and its splendor as a tourist destination - because it's
important to our people, our economy and also our sense of pride in our home
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