Elk, High Rolls, Mayhill and Mountain Park — small mountain communities

View from rest stop west of High Rolls and Mountain Park. Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks
View from rest stop west of

Eleven miles northeast of Alamogordo on U.S. 82 are the almost twin communities of High Rolls and Mountain Park. It is this part of the road that traverses several life zones after it leaves the Alamogordo area because it rises about forty-five hundred feet within sixteen miles. Before you reach High Rolls, there is a rest stop that provides a panoramic view to the west of White Sands and the Tularosa valley. Just east of this stop is the entrance to the only tunnel in New Mexico.

High Rolls was originally named Fresnal, probably because it is on Fresnal Creek and has many ash trees called fresno in Spanish. The Rand McNalley Road Atlas indicates a population of 400 people. That may include Mountain Park as it is not listed separately. The post office was established in 1913 and continued to 1956 when it was transferred to High Rolls-Mountain Park. One explanation for the name High Rolls is that there are high, rolling hills near the village. No one, however, has given an authoritative background for its name. The WWII cartoonist Bill Mauldin grew up in High Rolls.

Mountain Park was founded in the 1880s by Button Nelson, Bill Karr, Jack Tucker and families. Some reference books maintain Mountain Park was called Fresnal rather than High Rolls. Could it have been one community then? Archeological digs in the nearby Fresnal Rock Shelter have unearthed evidence of the early archaic period (A.D.700-900). These prehistoric people built hearths, quarried rock and fashioned stone tools named manos and metates for grinding corn. Apples, peaches, pears and cherries grow here and annually the two communities hold a Cherry Festival.

Following U.S. 82 thirty-one miles through Cloudcroft and James Canyon, you come to Mayhill on the Rio Penasco. The first settler in the area was Albert Coe in 1873. The story goes he returned to Missouri to marry his childhood sweetheart, Mary Mahill, also known as Molly, and brought her back to New Mexico. In 1876 soldiers from Fort Stanton settled here, calling it Upper Penasco, the name of the post office from 1884 to 1902. Mary Mahill’s father, John, came to this area in 1880 and bought land where the present village is located. In 1902 the community decided to honor the Mahill family by renaming it Mahill. However, evidently the application spelled the name Mayhill and that was the name approved by the post office.

Twelve miles east of Mayhill on US 82 is the very small community of Elk, so named for the many elk that roamed the area in the early days. A number of families from Texas settled here in 1885 and called it Yorktown for the nearby York Ranch. Another source says it was settled in the mid-1870s by Billy Matthews, William Walker Paul, Thomas C. Tillotson and Frank, Al and Austin Coe. The post office existed here from 1894-1958. The elk population has diminished as have the settlers. Archeologists have found evidence of habitation in the 1200s, particularly black-on-red bowls, including an unbroken pot full of burnt beans. We might ask what will future archeologists find about the Twentieth Century?

About Phyllis Eileen Banks