Dunken, Hope, Pinon, Sacramento, Sunspot, Timberon and Weed — hamlets along two-lane roads

Methodist Assembly Retreat Center in Sacramento. Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks
Methodist Assembly Retreat Center in Sacramento. Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks

If you’re one of those persons who always wonders "where does that road go," and who likes the wide-open spaces of New Mexico, including sparse traffic and two lane roads, then discovering these seven hamlets is a pleasant adventure. From Roswell, take U.S. 285 south to Artesia, then U.S. 82 west. Hope, 21 miles west of Artesia, was settled about 1884 and was known as Badgerville or Badger because the settlers lived in dugouts. When the post office was established in 1890 it was called Hope. There are differing legends about the origin of the name.

Two reports indicate that store owner Jasper Gerald "hoped" for a post office and the mail carrier, Tom Tillotson, "hoped" to increase the size of his route, and his income. A more well-known legend is that two early settlers, Elder Miller and Joe Richards, decided it by tossing a dime into the air and shooting at it with pistols. Richards is reported to have said "I hope you lose," and Miller did, so Richards named the new post office Hope. About 1912 a railroad was being built between Artesia and El Paso and part of a roadbed was completed at Hope. A British financier was to have supplied the funds; however, he was one of the victims of the ill-fated Titanic so Hope did not become part of the railroad route.

Twenty-seven miles farther west on U.S. 82 is NM 24; turn south four miles and you’ll come to Dunken, with a church, a fire department and a home in back of it. Named for its founder and first postmaster Oscar J. Dunken,, the post office was established in 1908, existing until 1919. The mail now goes to Hope. Obviously there are ranches in the area whose residents attend the "Mountain Fellowship at Dunken" because it has services at 2 p.m. The farm work can be completed before worship and the evening chores afterward.

Continuing twenty-three miles south on NM 24, Pinon is that curve in the road that takes you northwest. With many Pinon trees and Pinon Creek, Pinon was the obvious choice for the post office, established in 1907 and continuing to the present. Pinon may not have a Chamber of Commerce but pride in the community is evident by the large "Welcome to Pinon" signs at each end of the town.

A short distance past Pinon the road begins to climb 21 miles into the Sacramento Mountains until it reaches NM 521. Turn left to Weed, population 20, says the Weed Café sign. It was settled in 1884 by George and Elizabeth Lewis and their nine children. A White Oaks merchant, William H. Weed, established a branch there. The settlement took his name for the post office established in 1885 to the present. A drive down the main street finds a "House of Prayer Home Church," the café and a few homes, indicating there are probably more than 20 people residing there.

Sacramento is three miles along NM 521, where the Sacramento Methodist Assembly Retreat & Conference Center is located. An impressive layout of buildings and landscaping, it is an ideal place for retreats and the annual Art on the Mountain Artfest and Seminar Workshops. Originally known as Chiquita prior to 1935, it then became Sacramento. The Post Office is a very picturesque building and the post mistress has served for 16 years. In answer to the question of how many residents, she said that when the 911 number was established, 193 structures were located, although not all were livable. About 70 people receive mail. The population includes ranchers, summer people and hunters

It’s necessary to retrace your steps on NM 521 to NM 24, then turn left until you connect with NM 130. Proceed west and slightly north fifteen miles to NM 6563, turn left and south 13 miles to Sunspot, site of the National Solar Observatory at 9200 feet elevation. The Observatory was the reason it was named Sunspot when the post office was established in 1953. Previously it was known as Sac Peak. The Observatory site was chosen in 1947 and is Sunspot. It was chosen because of the dry air of the southwest, its isolation from any major source of air pollution and with plenty of sunshine. The population is made up of a staff of research scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff. Scientists from other observatories and universities around the world come to the National Solar Observatory/Sacramento Peak to pursue research along with many students in astronomy who work there in the summer months.

The first telescope dome built in Sunspot in 1950 was the Grain Bin Dome. It was ordered from a Sears catalog and modified for use as a telescope dome. A six inch prominence telescope was mounted on a ten foot spar inside for observing the edge of the Sun. Additional or newer telescopes were installed in 1952, 1955 and 1957. In 1963 the solar patrol duties of the Grain Bin were transferred to the then newly built Hilltop Dome. In addition to Hilltop Dome, there is the Vacuum Tower and the Evans Solar Facility. The latter contains a sixteen inch coronagraph where astronomers can study the sun’s gaseous outer envelope and sunspots.

Tourists may take self-guided tours daily but the Observatory conducts guided tours at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoons, May through October. The brochure warns there is no smoking while on tour due to possibility of causing a forest fire. Thunderstorms are common during spring and summer, and lightning is an extreme hazard at this elevation. For more information call 505-434-7000.

Fourteen miles farther south on NM 6563, unpaved from Sunspot, town of Timberon, population 300 and elevation 6,954 feet. Recently the community was assured that Phase One of the road would begin next year and Phase Two in the year 2002. These 300 people have 9000 acres at their disposal. Someone has said "We have no gambling casinos, race tracks, traffic lights or ski lifts," but quickly adds "but we have a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, riding stables, trout fishing and hiking." Smith Memorial Library is located in the Lodge. There is a café, grocery store, service station, post office, church and 3000 foot runway. It also boasts an elementary school, kindergarten through 6th grade. Timberon has no formal government and is classified as a "sub-division" of the State of New Mexico.

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