Magdalena — watched over by Mary Magdalene


Cattle made from recycled materials relax by the Rodeo Grounds. Photo by Kelly D. Gatlin
Cattle made from recycled materials relax by the Rodeo Grounds. Photo by Kelly D. Gatlin

Magdalena has seen it all. From the days of lead, zinc and silver mining in the 1880s and cattle shipping when the railroad spur from Socorro reached the town in 1884 to test missies flying overhead, Magdalena has grown and shrunk and grown again.

One of the largest shipping centers west of Chicago, Magdalena was known as the Trail’s End of the livestock driveway from Springerville, Arizona. A wild town, with bars, hotels and gambling for the monentarily solvent cowboys, Magdalena earned its name peaceably enough around 1540 when a Spanish soldier saw the face of Mary Magdalene on the north side of the mountain that overlooks the present town. The face is shaped by a natural formation of rocks and shrubs, but the religious resemblance caused the mountain to become a place of refuge from hostile Indian attacks.

Today this historic town of 1100 inhabitants celebrates its heritage during Old Timer’s Reunion, the second weekend in July, with a parade, rodeo, dances and fiddle contests and crowning of the Old Timers’ Queen.

The pleasant sunny climate with daytime temperature averages of 85 degrees in the summer and 50 degrees in the winter, an altitude of 6548 feet plus the proximity of the larger town of Socorro, 27 miles east on U.S. 60, make Magdalena ideal for retirees.

The local economy is based on ranching but the largest employers in the region are the U.S. Forest Service, the school system and NRAO which operates the radio observatory on the San Agustin Plains. In addition to the regular service and retail establishments, Magdalena has two motels and five cafes.

A weekly newspaper, the Magdalena Mountain Mail, serves the area. The unique Trail’s End Art Project utilizing adobe, recycled baling wire and discarded objects is just down the road from the Boxcar Museum. A flourishing local theatrical company presents original productions several times a year. The Magdalena Area Arts Council sponsors a Spring and Fall Art Festival.

The compact layout of the town makes it ideal for a historical walking tour. The old railroad station now houses City Hall and the library. Evett’s Cafe was once a bank and the Salome General Store has been open since 1910. The old Magdalena Hotel is in the process of renovation.

The ghost town of Kelly, three miles south of town, had a population of 3,000 when the mines and smelter were working. Most of Kelly is in ruins, but the small church holds services once a year. Mine structures and a small graveyard can still be seen.

The 1400 inhabitants of the Alamo Navajo Reservation, 29 miles northwest of town, raise sheep, weave exquisite rugs, and hold an annual Alamo Indian Day Celebration in October. The Very Large Array radio telescope with its 27 antennas snaking across the San Agustin Plains is 30 miles west of Magdalena. Hunting and camping are available in the nearby San Mateo Mountains and Cibola National Forest.