Lordsburg, Hachita, Steins, and Shakespeare — quiet desert beauty

Desert outside Lordsburg. Photo by Carla DeMarco.
Desert outside Lordsburg

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.

Before Lordsburg had a name, railroad freight handlers needed a way to label merchandise destined for the town. Most of Lordsburg’s freight was shipped by Dr. Charles H. Lord of Tucson, who owned the distribution company that served New Mexico. Soon, the tag “Lords” caught on and, before long, the town was known as Lordsburg.

Motel Drive was once part of the famous Butterfield Trail. It is said if you listen carefully, you can at times hear the hoof beats of the horses and shouts of the stage master as the spirit of the stagecoach still rumbles through town.

The seat of Hidalgo County, Lordsburg prides itself on its low crime rate. Lordsburg’s population is 3,000 and Hidalgo County’s is 6,400. Base industries are cattle, cotton and copper, but with the recent national interest in southwestern food, a considerable portion of agricultural activity has expanded into the growing and processing of green chili.

Lordsburg is the hometown of two-time Olympian Todd L. Bensley. Bensley was a member of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Team, competing on the U.S. Shooting Team and in Running Game Target. Bensley has been ranked fourth in the world, and he won a Silver Medal in the 1987 Pan American Games. Lordsburg has honored Bensley by naming a shooting range after him. Also living in Lordsburg is world champion bull rider Owen Washburn.

At 4,250 feet, Lordsburg boasts year-round sunshine and high desert and mountain scenery visible for more than 60 miles. Rockhounding, birding, hunting and hiking are favorite area pastimes. The Gila National Forest is just minutes away. Authentic late 1800′s buildings still stand at Shakespeare and Steins ghost towns. The Granite Gap Ghost Mining Camp tourist attraction brings back memories of rough-and-tumble mining days. The Lordsburg/Hidalgo County Museum will soon be opening. The Lordsburg Gem and Mineral Society provides year-round rockhounding activities. Many interesting stops lie along the Butterfield Trail loop tour.

The tiny town of Hachita, population 75, sits 47 miles south of I-10 on New Mexico 81. It is named after the Little Hatchet mountain range to its west. Founded in 1902 as a railroad town, when a line from El Paso to Douglas, Arizona, met a line to Lordsburg, Hachita is today a ranching community.

Just west of Hachita, at the foot of the Little Hatchet Mountains, is Old Hachita, a mining ghost town from the 1880′s. Rarely mentioned in ghost town books, significant ruins remain of the mining operations and the original old Hachita community.

A stop in (new) Hachita yields directions to Old Hachita; a gas station; groceries, gifts, a restaurant and liquid refreshment at the Hachita Liquor Saloon. The lovely old St. Catherine of Sienna church is worth a visit and very photogenic.

The railroad is gone, but not the ranchers. They stick to their way of life, but changes do occur. Behind the Little Hatchet Mountains to the west is the Phelps Dodge Playas smelter. Phelps Dodge is a major world producer of copper and provides most of the jobs in this part of New Mexico.

In the next range of mountains to the west, the Animas Mountains, is located one of the largest ranches in New Mexico, the Gray Ranch. A unique bio-system of arid grasses, it supports nearly 100 rare plants and animals. An operating ranch of 322,000 acres owned by the Animas Foundation, conservation easements have been retained by The Nature Conservancy to preserve this unique biological island.

Hachita combines the past of mining ghost towns and railroad boom towns with the present of ranching, copper production, and eco-system conservation - lots of activity for a place that looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere!