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Catron County, NM




Gary B. Speck



MOGOLLON, New Mexico is one of America’s classic ghost towns although technically it ranks as a Class D mining town.  Located deep in the northwestern end of the Mogollon Mountains this wonderful old town is tucked deep in a wrinkle in those rugged southwestern New Mexico mountains.  This is truly a town that time has forgotten, although people are slowly repopulating it, restoring some of the old buildings, but NOT destroying what makes this place so special.  I think it’s the isolation and the low key approach that makes this place attractive.  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the reason it hasn’t adopted the tourism tactics many towns in like condition have done is the fact it’s just so hard to get to.  The state highway going in looks OK on a map, but in real life is a brutal, testing drive that is best made with a smaller vehicle and a lot of patience.  It is narrow.  It is unlined.  It has steep drop-offs and embankments.  It has few places oncoming cars can pass safely.  Believe the posted speed limit.  In fact if you can go faster than 25 mph you take a chance of a nasty encounter on one of the numerous blind curves.  Nuf said!


Mogollon’s story drifts back to the great mining rushes in the late 1870s early 1880s.  Like most old locations, the original discovery story has gotten hazy with time and several stories are out there.  Suffice it to say that gold was discovered in paying quantities.  A town was established at the bottom of Silver Creek Canyon, a steep-walled defile where the creek runs down beside Main Street.  The twin scourges of multiple fires and floods have created character and toughened the residents. What remains is a monument to perseverance and the spirit of hanging in there despite what nature could throw.


Entering Mogollon is a visual treat.  Rounding the last curve on the steeply descending road, Mogollon jumps out, its west end rock and adobe buildings shouldering right up against the road like a sally port on an old castle.  It is probably one of the most dramatic entrances to any ghost town in the country.  Once through the narrow gap, it is best to find a place to park and wander the single main street of town and sample all it has to offer.  Here is life interrupted.  What remains of Mogollon is a monument to its isolation and the tenacity and protectiveness of the handful of people that still live there, preventing it from becoming another ravaged  Class C ghost.


I like Mogollon.  In fact it is firmly entrenched on my list of top 10 ghost towns in the country.  Depending on who you ask, this old town’s name is pronounced either “Moh-Gee-YON” or “Muggy-Own.” It is probably named after Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, the Spanish governor of the Province of New Mexico from 1712-1715. 


Stringing along the main street for the length of the town are a batch of historic buildings.  Starting at the west end entrance is the old adobe J.P. Holland Store housing the operating Silver Creek Inn bed-and-breakfast on the north side, and a row of rock buildings on the south.  The easternmost building of that triplet houses one of the town’s museums. Further up the street are the old theater, a two story hotel-looking building, and old saloon that has been converted into a home and the building now known as the Old Kelly Store.  The former post office (1900-1969) has been restored and operates as the Purple Onion Café.  At the upper end of Main Street a couple rundown false fronts built for the 1973 “Spaghetti Western,” My Name is Nobody, staring Henry Fonda and Terence Hill find themselves gracing more books and articles than the real buildings. Other structures of note include the weathered Catholic Church, a small log cabin and a restored home that now houses the town’s cemetery archives.  Several mining carts, rusty old car shells and a non-operable gas pump add character to the old town. Cabins both occupied and empty lie scattered along the road and a few are spotted up on the hillsides.  A cemetery and the ruins of the Little Fannie Mine lie on the outskirts, the mine visible across the canyon when entering the town.


The town dates to about 1889 and boomed through the 90s and into the early 1920s.  Yet for the first decade of this wild town’s life, there was no road in:  just pack trails.  In 1897 the road was cut into town, but it in reality is not much better than a wide, paved pack trail.  In the mid 1910s, the population of Mogollon is said to have been in the 1500-2000 range, although some wags have pegged it at 6000.  When you visit, you can see why I question that number.  There just isn’t any physical room for than many people here!


Nevertheless, Mogollon was truly a cranking boom town with a long narrow main street lined with all the appropriate businesses, including saloons.  It even had a pair of red light districts anchoring each end of town.  However all good things seem to end, especially red hot mining towns, and Mogollon was no exception.  The Roaring Twenties didn’t roar here, and by 1930 the population had decreased to 200.  The mines closed down in 1942, and some $20 million in silver and gold was the end result.


As always, when you visit, please respect the rights of the property owners and always abide by the Ghost Towner's Code of Ethics.


This is one of the towns featured in my newest book, GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & TodayTM.


This was our Ghost Town of the Month for June 2011





Elevation 6614’

E-Ctr Sec 33, W-Ctr Sec 34, T10S, R19W, New Mexico Prime Meridian

Latitude: 33.3967283 / 33° 23’ 48” N

Longitude: -108.7942288 / 108° 47’ 39” W




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FIRST POSTED:  September 01, 1998

LAST UPDATED: July 03, 2011




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