A Trip Back In Time: Mogollon, NM
At various times, we’ve discussed visiting ghost towns on our travels. There’s something so very cool about a ghost town. The best ones have preserved a feeling of what it was like when the town was bustling, looking like everyone just kind of vanished without a trace one day.
Mining areas are rife with ghost towns and the Gila National Forest is no exception. On the way back from our day hike of The Catwalk, we decided to take a short detour through the mining ghost town of Mogollon (we’re told that’s pronounced moe-ghee-own…or muggy-awn by locals). Unlike Graham, the ghost town we mentioned in our post about The Catwalk, Mogollon actually still exists.
Mogollon sprung up in the 1880s to support the gold and silver mines that had been discovered in the mountains, eventually growing to a population of up to 6,000. A small town, to be sure, but very impressive when you actually see Mogollon. It’s nothing more than a single street with buildings on either side and steep valley walls just behind the buildings. It’s hard to imagine a population of 600 there, much less 6,000.
As the demand for gold and silver declined in the early 1900s, the town population also declined with the loss of mining jobs. As of 1930, the population was down to 200. A small resurgence happened prior to WWII, but that too went away, as did most of Mogollon.
Mogollon has a checkered history with the very nature that allowed it to come about. There were five disastrous fires and four floods from “disastrous torrents of water that swept down the mountain slopes and through the canyon, washing away tailings, dumps, bridges, houses, and people.”
And of course, any good town of the wild west has some interesting characters and stories. Because of the isolation, Mogollon is said to have been one of the wildest towns in the west. According to Wikipedia, “Between 1872 and 1873 the stagecoach from Mogollon to Silver City was robbed 23 times by the same assailant.”
Today, Mogollon is a privately owned town and is on the National Register Of Historic Places. There are still people that live there, though not very many. And there are still businesses in operation, again though, not many. Judging by some of the late model cars we saw, there are 4 or 5 inhabited houses, along Mogollon’s main street. We didn’t drive back into the hills beyond the entrance to the cemetery. There could be more houses back there. Regardless, this town has a very low population now.
The thing that really stands out though is that Mogollon today feels like you did just drive right back into 1900. The town is quite likely a little different, but there are old mine cars, old rusted out cars, and an old gas station to go with the buildings that still have the facade of any main street in any wild west movie you’ve seen. The main street is fronted on one side by Silver Creek with wooden bridges leading to the buildings. Really, the only thing missing is a gunfight between a couple of gun slingers out on the dirt street.
Also on the main street, you’ll find two buildings that will draw your attention: a saloon and a general store. Those aren’t actual buildings from Mogollon’s glory days. Those were built as part of a movie set for the movie My Name Is Nobody, filmed in 1973.
There’s only one way to get to Mogollon and that’s on NM-159, which you can’t see on that map above because it’s not even enough of a “highway” to appear at this zoom level. You can come from the east or from the west, but one way or another, you’re coming on NM-159. The easy way (the way we went) is to take US-180 through the Gila National Forest until you find NM-159 (signs for Mogollon). The road is just north of Glenwood, NM. From there, it’s about a 9 mile drive to Mogollon.
The drive in is one of the best parts of the trip. The first 4 or 5 miles are wide open, 45-55mph roads. Then you get onto the one-lane road with a suggested speed limit of 15mph. We advise that you go 15mph. This road was carved right into the mountain by convict labor. There are no guard rails and there are plenty of blind corners. It’s unlikely you’ll see many other cars, but we’re told the locals fly up and down the road.
Once you hit the one-lane road (which is really more like 1.5 lanes), you’ll soon come across one of the key features of this mining ghost town. A view of the Little Fannie mine (image 18 on page 1), the premier and longest lasting of the mines that made Mogollon. The mine today is only a remnant of the past, but you can still see the mountain stained white from the mine tailings.
If you decide to come from the east, be prepared for a long and grueling drive. It’s 140 miles from I-25, a drive that Google projects to take nearly 5 hours. It’s probably a beautiful drive in the summertime if you’re really not in a hurry. I wouldn’t bank on us having survived that drive in the winter, though the road very well may be clear.
Things To Do In Mogollon
There’s not really much to do in Mogollon other than walk around and see the town. There was one restaurant, maybe two. So aside from just seeing the town and enjoying the beautiful drive in, there’s only one option: Mogollon has a museum. But it was closed when we were there. In fact, the entire town was closed. Apparently the town is only really open from May to October. The rest of the time, the sidewalks are rolled up and put away.
Naturally, the pictures we took needed to be turned into sepia-toned pictures to really set the scene for Mogollon. Enjoy!