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Mogollon — a seven mile-high ghost town

By Joann Mazzio

Last updated on Wednesday, January 01, 2003

The ghost town of Mogollon, New Mexico. Photo by Carla DeMarco.
The ghost town of Mogollon, New Mexico. Photo by Carla DeMarco.

The Mogollon mines were located on precipitous slopes and ridges. In 1909, the proud miners announced nearly 70% of the precious metal of New Mexico was produced by the mines of Mogollon, and this amounted to $5,500,000 From the fertile San Francisco Valley, the rugged Mogollon Mountains look unattainable.  However, the lure of riches made them attainable to the prospectors and miners who discovered silver there in 1870.  The range of mountains was named either for a parasitic mistletoe called mogollon or for an early Spanish governor named Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollon.  In either case, the locals pronounce the name muggy-yone. added to the world of finance.

The mining camp of Mogollon was situated in a nearby gorge so narrow that the mountains themselves seemed to be fighting for footage along Silver Creek.  During the heyday of the mines, the population of Mogollon was estimated at 2,000 people.  In 1891, there were seven saloons in camp and two red-light districts, a public school with 120 students, and a Catholic church.  Fires virtually wiped out the adobe, stone, and wooden buildings time after time. Interspersed with the fires were deadly floods, their volume increased because the surrounding mountains sides were stripped of trees, used as fuel for homes and mine operations.

The railway never reached Mogollon.  Ore was transported out and freight was brought in over a dirt road that rises 2,000 feet in a distance of about seven miles.  The drivers showed great ingenuity in harnessing and driving the wagons, often with 18 horses pulling them (or slowing them down) around mountain hairpin curves.

Today, the road to Mogollon is paved but is still narrow and winding with outside curves unprotected by guard rails. Visitors need to be constantly alert for oncoming vehicles. The last mine, the Little Fanny, closed in 1952.  The remains of its operation are visible on the high mountain looming over Mogollon.

The road drops down into the gorge and runs along Silver Creek. Old buildings line both sides of the road.  The settlement of Mogollon is now a New Mexico Historical District with a handful of year-round residents.  The J.P. Holland Store houses a bed and breakfast.  Some of the other buildings contain museums and stores with authentic antiques or sample rocks for sale.  Summer residents have modernized old dwellings or built new ones.  Miners’ wooden houses fall down the mountain side, leaving foundations to mark their fragile hold on the precipitous slopes.

The stamped metal sidings of many buildings and signs warning that fire is not allowed except in designated areas are a constant reminder of the devastating fires of the past.

The main street segues into N.M. Rte. 78, also known as Bursum Road, which leads into the vast reaches of the Gila National Forest.

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