US Hi 60, The Hoof, Salt, Fiber and Rail Trail

US Hi 60...Another route for crossing New Mexico East to West

The Atlantic and Pacific Highway was established in 1921 and was later designated US 60. 

“Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.”  Louis L’Amour 

Traveling can be more than just logging miles from point A to B. Most travelers just drive the miles and do not even know what they have driven past. In this travel guide we will describe things to see and do along the way. And more importantly, we will discuss what you can see out of your window! Both of us spent a great deal of our vacation time as children looking out the back seat windows. 

We are not going to suggest where to stay or where to eat. Many travel writers receive special rates, discounts, and extras for recommending lodging, restaurant or things to do. We do not tell the owners of any business we are writing about traveling. Our goal in this publication is to make your journey more enjoyable.

We also want to be the person in the backseat giving information about what you are seeing out your windows. New Mexico has a rich and unique history which we will discuss along the way. If time permits, please see some of the sights mentioned. Take time to experience the journey, for you may not travel along this roadway again. 

We do not just paraphrase what others have written. We do research before traveling and have discovered that many times what was written in guides and on the internet was wrong, misleading, or lacking details. This leads us to believe that the writer depended on someone else’s information. We have traveled the roads and visited the sights we write about. We try to be as accurate as possible. At the end of this publication you can find our contact information. If you discover errors or major changes, please contact us and we will correct. 

Before the journey begins…Red or Green? 

One of the first questions you will be asked in New Mexico is: Red or Green? Did you know “Red or Green” is officially designated as the State Question? New Mexico food is smothered with chile (not chili) sauce, not salsa. The chile sauce is created by using red or green chile peppers and either of the sauces can be hot or mild. If in doubt, ask your waiter or waitress or do as we do, ask for the sauce on the side! If you are new to the red or green eating experience, then do what many locals do, eat it with every meal. The sauce is served on top of fried eggs, enchiladas, steaks, and whatever you choose. Green chile cheeseburgers are found in most restaurants and are one of our favorites. In fact, New Mexico even has a Green Chili Cheeseburger Trail. See the link below.

https://www.newmexico.org/places-to-go/true-trails/culinary-trails/green-chile-cheeseburger-trail/?skip=12&sort=rankTitle&alphastart=a&alphaend=f&hiddencats=836

 Author’s Note: We do have a favorite which is not listed on the Trail: Casa de Suenos in Tularosa. We were not paid to make this comment!!

New Mexico is the largest grower of chiles in the world. The chiles are picked green and will turn red as they age and dry out. Wreaths of red chiles are a common decoration in New Mexico and can be purchased at many locations. Even H.E.B. grocers in Texas sell a shopping bag advertising Hatch Chiles! New Mexico has two designated State Vegetables - chile and frijoles. Enjoy!

Traveling in the Western High Plains. In the plains only one thing absolutely matters -water. The native Americans and early settlers knew where to find water. After the Civil War, westward expansion greatly increased. For the railroads to travel west, water was needed for the steam locomotives. US highway 60 for the most part travels beside the railroad tracks which were built along the westward trail used by the Indians and early settlers. In the very earliest books written about traveling west, water holes, springs, and rivers were marked on the early maps. 

While traveling along US 60, note the number and length of the trains you pass. The railway is the Southern TransCon, Trans Continental, and usually supports 90+ trains a day, most of which are longer than a mile. This railway is one of the busiest in the nation. A train will pass by on average every twenty minutes. 

Authors Note: Counting the railcars to determine the length of the train is a great car activity. A flat bed car is about 90 feet long and about 60 cars equal a mile in length.

The elevation of the Western High Plains beginning in New Mexico along US 60 is 4,200 feet. This elevation is much higher than most ski slopes in the Northeastern United states. Lake Placid New York, host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, has an elevation of only 1,800 feet.

Beginning the Journey. The Westward journey begins in a very unusual town or towns. Texico, New Mexico has a name that blends its location TEXas and mexICO because it is located on the Texas - New Mexico border. Across the street from Texico, literally, is Farwell Texas. This joined community of over 3,500 people are ruled by two sets of State Laws and each part of the community has its own schools and governmental offices. What is in Texas is governed by Texas law and what is in New Mexico is governed by New Mexico law.

Clovis/Portales. These two towns are separated by a few miles, but in the expanse of the plains the two communities are often considered one. Please do not tell the residents this because each is the county seat of a county and feel it is more important than the other.  These towns are similar to brothers always arguing but still family.


Economics of the area 

dairy

Dairy Country. Dairies in the northeastern part of the United States face many problems. Problem number one for the dairy industry is obtaining feed for the cows. Why import feed when it can be grown almost year around next to the dairy? Why provide heating for an indoor dairy when it can be outdoors in a warmer climate? The solution for northeastern dairies was simple - move to the Clovis area.

Sixty dairies and a cheese manufacturer plant operate around the Clovis/Portales area. These diaries produce over 2.8 billion pounds or 238 millions gallons of milk annually. These numbers may be too big to visualize for some of us. So this might make the numbers more meaningful: the milk produced daily requires about sixty large milk tanker truck loads to move the milk from the diaries to the processing plants. 

Southwest Cheese is the largest cheese processing plant in the world. This plant manufactures 60,000 pounds or 1.5 tractor trailer loads of cheese every hour and 344 million gallons of milk annually.  At the time of this writing the plant is expanding to increase its milk production by another 100,000 gallons of milk per day. The plant produces eight types of cheese and ships it in 40 and 640 pound blocks around the world.

The area also has a milk powder processing plant which is the only Grade A milk protein concentrator in the USA. 

The dairy industry in this area is the largest economic producer of agriculture products in the state with an annual impact of approximately $2.6 billion dollars and $606 million in the area specifically. 

Peanut Country. New Mexico is the fifth largest peanut producer in the nation. The Portales/Clovis area is the home of most peanut farming.

As with most nut bearing plants, the nut begins as a flower above ground. The peanut plant is different from a tree because the nut grows underground. Special machines are used to plant and harvest the peanut. Peanut seeds are planted about 2 inches deep and about 3-4 inches apart. After a month or so the plant has flowered and the bud, called a pug, enters the ground to grow. In two months the peanut is ready for harvest. 

The harvester is a very remarkable machine. It digs 6 inches deep, which is under the peanut plant, and cuts the tap root of the plant. The plant is lifted and shaken to remove dirt from the cluster of peanuts and then rotated and placed back on the ground upside down. The freshly dug peanut contains about 30% moisture. The hot desert dries the peanuts to about 10% before they are removed from the ground. 

The dried, cleaned, sorted, and inspected peanuts are ready for processing. Some of the peanuts are sold in their shells but most are shelled. The shelling process is achieved by  rubbing the peanuts together.To illustrate, place two or three peanuts with shells in your hands  and rub them together. This will crush the shell leaving the nuts. 

The most valuable, tasty, and sweet peanuts are Valencia peanuts which are grown in the area. A Valencia peanut plant will have three or more peanuts per cluster.

Author’s note: Making homemade peanut butter is easy to make in a blender or food processor. For each cup of peanuts add one ounce of oil and blend. Add sugar, sweetner or honey to create the desired sweetness. This product is natural and needs to be refrigerated. Today, most folks do not take the time to make homemade peanut butter.

Wind Country. As quickly observed, the wind blows in Eastern New Mexico. This moving air is a force that can be harnessed and Eastern New Mexico has become a prime area for wind farms. The blades of a wind turbine appear to be moving slowly, but at the hub, the movement is very fast. When the tip of the blade is moving 13 mph, the hub is moving 120 mph. The most commonly produced wind turbine used in wind farms is the 1.5 megawatt with a propeller or blade length of 116 ft. On average, one of these turbines will produce enough power for 350 homes.

In the Clovis/Portales areas, hundreds of wind turbines are in operation with more farms being planned. The goal of the wind power industry in New Mexico is to provide power for New Mexico and parts of Colorado, Arizona, Texas and California. This is a big goal but New Mexico has a great deal of wind power to share!

Cows and Cattle Country.  In Eastern New Mexico, the use of two words can be confusing but are very important when used by two different industries. The word cattle refers to male and female bovine while cows are female. The milk or dairy industry needs cows and just uses the word cows. Ranchers on the plains raise cattle and use that word. As a side note, we saw a truck with a tractor attached. The truck had written on the door, “Meals on Wheels for Cows”. The truck was delivering grain to a dairy feed lot.  The livestock industry in this area  produces over $160 million annually.

Authors Note: There are more cattle in New Mexico than people. This “fact” is found in several books and articles. 

clovis

Clovis. Clovis is a hub of commerce for the surrounding communities. The population of Clovis is over 40,000 and has a customer base of over 150,000. It provides the shopping experience for residential and commercial customers since it is easier to commute to Clovis than drive over 100 miles to another commercial hub. And, the Clovis airport has daily flights to Dallas.

Clovis had its beginnings as a commerce hub with the coming of the railroad and the rail yard. Rail cars on trains needed to be uncoupled and  reattached which required many tracks and space. Clovis was designed to have this needed space. The rail yard has been expanded through out the years and is a major rail distribution center in the nation. 

There are two reasons to stop at the Chamber of Commerce located at 105 E. Grand Ave. First, the chamber can provide travel information. Second, located in the basement of this building is the Norman Petty Rock & Roll Museum. When the elevator doors open, you  enter the 1950s Rock & Roll era. Begin by sitting and watching the 20 minute video about the “Clovis Sound” and its impact on Rock & Roll. The three main rock and roll recording studios were located in Memphis, Los Angeles and Clovis. The Rock & Roll Museum is filled with items of interest. An annual Rock & Roll festival is also hosted by the community. Contact the chamber for more information. Because the museum is housed in an office building, it is only open Monday to Friday. 

The 157 acre Hillcrest park and zoo complex houses a large park, athletic fields, tennis courts, dog park, splash park, Sunken Rose Garden, indoor aquatic center, and the second largest zoo in the state. Info at: http://www.hillcrestparkzoo.info

The city web site is : http://www.cityofclovis.org  The town has numerous parks and services listed on the site.

Cannon Air Force Base. Cannon Air Force Base is home of the 27th Special Operations Wing, SOW. (SOW…in cattle and cow country! Too funny.) This organization provides all the air support for the Special Missions that the US military conducts. The base employs approximately 6,000 military and civilian personnel. The base trains and maintains all the air craft needed to complete a mission including drones, combat aircraft, and cargo planes. 

When viewing the large planes parked on the tarmac, you will note that they look similar to the C-130 planes used for the past fifty years. But these planes are only similar in their exterior appearance. Some are for cargo but others are for close combat support armed with a variety of weapons. 

“The primary mission of the 27th SOW is to execute specialized airpower from a premier installation by providing close air support, agile combat support, information operations, precision strike, forward presence and engagement, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations and specialized mobility.” 

Oasis State Park. This park is located between Cannon Air Force Base and Portales on NM 467. Be very watchful for the sign at the road leading to the park because it is not very large and gives little warning in order for you to turn on the road to the park. The 193 acre park was established in 1961.

This state park is an Oasis - a pond next to small sand hills. The three acre pond is lined with very large rock blocks. The blocks are over six to eight feet tall, five feet wide, and three feet thick. With concrete between the blocks, they create the walls of the pond. The large pond is in the shape of a fat misshapen letter U. Fishing from the bank is allowed in the pond but not swimming or wading. A limit of two catfish per day is imposed at the park. The pond is continuously stocked with fish.

The RV slots are very spacious drive throughs and are not located directly next to each other. The park has been updated and has modern clean facilities. During the dry times, which is almost always, a fire restriction is imposed. No outdoor fires are allowed even in the steel grills. This fire restriction is because the park is surrounded by prairie grass. In the prairie areas prairie fires are a real and present danger.  

Sitting on a bench next to the pond watching ducks paddle about or standing on the top of a sand hill, Oasis State Park produces a sense of tranquility. The park is very quiet and a great place to visit.

Authors Note: For one of us who grew up in a desert area, sitting on a bench next to water is a wonderful way to spend time and relaxing.

At the time of this writing the park contains 10 tent sites with 19 RV electric/water sites. Some of these sites have 30 & 50 amp service. For more detailed information visit nmparks.com or Call the park at 575-356-5331.

old rail


Evidence of towns along the way. The steam locomotive used in the westward expansion required water every 8 to 10 miles, so railroad towns were 8 to 10 miles apart. 

When railcars, or tenders, which carry water and fuel were added to the locomotive, the trains traveled about 100 miles between required stops. The small towns died away and vanished when the trains just rolled by and did not stop. Between Clovis and Melrose three towns no longer exist. Small farm and cattle ranches that serviced the small railroad towns went the way of the towns. The larger towns in the plains then provided stock yards for the cattle. The trains would stop and the cattle were loaded into cattle cars. With the addition of roads, trucks, and modern transportation, the railroad cattle cars and stockyards also vanished.


church


The early Spanish explorers of the plains commented on the lack of trees and tall brush.  The Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado called this area a sea of grass. In 1541 he wrote about his travels: “I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere, … as if we had been swallowed up by the sea of grass... nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.”

When people created homes and buildings in the area they often wanted trees. Most trees visible from the roads indicate that once the area is or was inhabited. The trees remain and except for a few remaining structures, the early railroad towns are gone.



Fort Sumner. Two simple questions need to be asked. Look around at the broad plains and think about yourself in this area wearing shoes without soles and carrying an arm full of goods. How far could you walk with limited food and water? Would you be able to walk from Arizona, 300 miles away, to this area?

Let’s begin at another fort, Fort Defiance. Fort Defiance was located in the New Mexico territory, but when the state boundary was created it became part of Arizona in the four corners region (the meeting of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado). Fort Defiance was built in the center of valuable grazing land and was created to establish a United States federal presence in the Navajo Indian Nation. Once the fort was manned, however, it denied the Indians access to the land. Navajos had lived in this land for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The Navajo four sacred mountains are located in the area of Ft. Defiance and are a foundation of the Navajo Culture. Navajo ceremonies, mountain songs, and prayers speak to the mountains and the land around them. Peoples around the world have fought for their homeland and the religious center of their culture. The Navajo were no different. The Navajo attacked Fort Defiance and waged war against the taking of their land. Kit Carson was sent by the Army to establish order and he did so by using the scorched earth policy. The US Army destroyed the food supply for the thousands of Indians living in the area. 

The subdued starving Navajos were forced on the “long walk” away from their homeland in 1862. This long walk was 300 miles long and the Indians were forced by gun point to walk on an average of 13 miles per day. Their destination was Fort Sumner. Several hundred Navajos died on the long walk.

In reality, Fort Sumner was not built to be a fort but an internment camp.The design and planning for Fort Sumner was inadequate. The purpose of the fort was to be a center of social engineering in an Indian transformation program. The goal was to teach the Indians modern farming techniques and English and they would be expected to give up their traditions and religion and become Christians. This was to be done in a peaceful manner.

The goals of Fort Sumner failed horribly on all efforts. The teaching of modern farming did not work for several reasons. First, the chosen location for the Indian internment camp was not farm land. The Pecos River that flowed in this area contained bad water. This bad or alkali water was not healthy to drink and could not be used for farming. Both the US Army and the Interned Indians did not know how to farm this land. Farming experts, teachers and others were not brought to the fort. The fort was designed for 5,000 but 9,000 Indians were warehoused at the facility. The facility was to provide most of its food which it could not. Apaches were captured and also sent to Fort Sumner. Navajo and Apache were bitter enemies, each with its own traditions, customs, and language. Native peoples everywhere do not abandon their language. 

The winters in this area are cold and there was no suitable housing provided. The internment camp conditions were deployable and unhealthy. As with any camp with these conditions, people died. Throughout its short existence the fort had unsuitable conditions for proper care of the people it housed. 

The Navajo Treaty of 1868 allowed the return of a portion of the four corners land back to the Indians. This began the “long walk back” by the Navajos. The Fort was abandoned a year later in 1869.

The Village. Fort Sumner is a village of over 1,000 residents. It labels itself as “The sleepy little village with a shady little past”. The chamber site is http://fortsumnerchamber.com/fort-sumner/

A great place to visit is the Billy the Kid Museum which is so much more than its name. The museum has an entire area displaying guns used in the old west. The museum has many items from the past: typewriters, a  horse drawn hearse, old ranch equipment, cars, household items, and much more. 

The Billy the Kid Museum brochure states “Stop in and enjoy a trip through the past. Get a better understanding of the trails people of the 1800s and 1900s endured in their struggle to stay alive and provide for their families.” The museum is located two miles east of downtown Ft. Sumner on the highway.

South of the town of Fort Sumner is a wonderful Memorial. The Bosque Redondo Memorial, image below, is a museum which shows in detail the “long walk” and “the long walk back”. More info at: https://www.bosqueredondomemorial.com 

Authors note: This Memorial was very emotional for both of us. At the time of our visit, a curved mural depicted the long walk. As the viewer moved and more of the mural was visible, we felt as if we were on the walk. The cruelty of the soldiers and hardships of the Indians was depicted on the mural. 


Sumner Lake State Park North on US 84 from Fort Sumner. http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/spd/sumnerlakestatepark.html  Sumner Lake is fed from the Pecos River and Alamogordo Creek and has a surface area of 4,500 acres. Largemouth bass, walleye, catfish, and crappie are waiting for the fisherman. The lake attracts boaters, skiers, sailboaters, and kayakers. 

Beware: there is again little signage for the lake turn off. It does not seem when traveling a narrow two lane road through the rolling hills of a prairie, that it would lead to a lake in a river bed. The lake is surrounded by scrub brush, cedars, and several types of cacti. This lake in the high plains is remote and very quite. The 16 water-electric RV slots are large with sheltered tables and fire pits and most are drive thrus. The lake has one boat launching location.   

lake sumner

Before reaching the dam, two roads lead to picnic areas in the river below. These areas are great for relaxing and listening to the flow of the river. Sandy shores and water access provide a fun place to visit.

Authors Note: While we were at our camp site a small herd of deer walked by. The deer were no more than twelve or so feet away. We were quiet, remained frozen, and stared at the deer as they walked by.

Picture Time on US 60 between mile marker 225 & 226.  A pull off area is located between mile markers 225 and 226 on US 60. This area overlooks the largest salt pond in the  state and can be up to 150 feet deep. Unlike table salt, salt from salt lakes and ponds is grayish and dirty looking. This salt is a sea salt and when it was dug it was dried and used for trade by the Indians of the area. The largest of the salt lakes in the area is Dog Lake which is 12 miles long. This area of New Mexico was mined for its salt before and after the arrival of the Spanish. US 60, which you are traveling on is part of the Salt Missions Trail.

Many of the ancient native peoples believed in a Salt Goddess. Because salt produces good health, preserves foods, heals wounds, and cleans many items, it can be thought of as a magical thing. The Salt Goddess is celebrated in the fall because food needs to be preserved for the winter using salt. European-Americans have a tradition of throwing spilt salt over their shoulder to prevent bad spirits. It was believed that spilling salt would release bad spirits and throwing the salt was throwing off these spirits. Because salt was so precious and valuable in those older days, spilling salt was considered a bad thing. In Roman times, salt was used as a method of payment. The word salary is derived from this form of payment for services. 

From Willard to the turnoff to the Mission of San Gregorio de Abo, US 60 continues on the Salt Missions Scenic Byway. This portion of US 60 contains the salt lakes (ponds) in the high plains. 

Mountainair. The town of Mountainair is called the gateway to Ancient cities. The area where the ruins of the missions stand were once the location of Native American communities which had a combined population of 20,000.

Today Mountainair has a population of about 1,000 and is the home of a filling station, a Family Dollar, a restaurant and two Motel/RV parks plus schools, churches and municipal offices. The town web site is http://mountainairnm.gov

A short video of the town is found at Mountaineer Wire  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGNzcyIRzsI

Building a railroad required wood for railroad ties and bridges plus water for the steam locomotives. Because the forest in the mountains above Mountainair provided wood and water for the railroad, the railroad town of Mountainair was born. The plains around the town provides grass for the ranchers and fertile ground for the farmers. At one time the pinto bean production was the largest in the nation and the town claimed to be the “Pinto Bean Capital of the World”. 

A two fold tragedy struck the area. The area experienced a ten year drought in the 1940’s. Without water the crops failed and grass did not grow for the ranchers. The cattle and agricultural industries died. Steam locomotives were replaced by diesel and electric engines so stops were no longer needed in Mountainair. The Railroad depot and hotel still stand but are abandoned. It is hoped that the railroad structures, which are one block south of US 60, will be saved. After the railroad no longer stopped in Mountainair, the town began to shrink in population.

Before arriving at the state park, a stop in Mountainair is greatly advised. The Salinas Missions National Monument Visitors Center has a display and a 15 minute video about these National Monuments.


Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument   National Park service: https://www.nps.gov/sapu/index.htm

mission salt

Three ancient cities are located in the Mountainair area and on part of the ancient Native America salt trade route extending east to the Pacific Ocean and south to Central America. History changed in the 1600s with the arrival of the Spanish. Franciscan priests began to build missions where the native Americans had their cities. The Spanish wanted to continue to mine and gather salt, but also wanted to be granted permission to build missions which are called the Salt Missions. The Spanish enslaved and taxed the local Indians for the construction of the missions and attempted to profit from the natural riches of the area. A severe and long lasting drought of the late 1660s and early 1670s decimated both the Spanish and native population. The drought was so bad and long lasting that people just died where they lived. 450 Indians starved to death in the mission named Gran Quivira. No crops were grown for three years in the area. Disease ravaged these starving peoples. The salt missions and surrounding areas were abandoned.   

Over 170 years later Maj. J. H. Carleton discovered the ruins of a large church. Maj. Carleton wrote, ”The tall ruins…standing there in solitude, had an aspect of sadness and gloom.” The ruins of these missions, Abo, Quarai, and Quivira are open to the public and are a “must see”. Quarai is 8 miles north of the visitors center, Abo is 9 miles west of the visitors center and Gran Quivira is 25 miles south. 

Manzano Mountain State Park is located 20 minutes away in the mountains. Travel north on NM 55 from Mountainair for 12 miles and turn west at the small brown sign noting the State Park turnoff. Next travel 2 miles on a curvy and narrow paved road to the park entrance. A steep 1 mile gravel road leads to the RV sites. All the RV sites are back-in. 8 sites have electricity and water, only two of these sites have 50 amp service. One of the first-come and one of the reservation 30 amp sites has a hut or covered picnic table. The other 26 sites in the park are for tent and dry camping.

The state park is in a ponderosa pine forest. Several hiking trails are in the park and maps are available at the visitors center. The visitors center has toilets but no showers. The park has a dump station but no sewer access for any RV site.

Author’s note: We had planned to stay at Manzano State Park but were unable to do so due to a big snow storm in the first of April. My wife commented that it was exactly 20 years ago almost to the date that we visited New Mexico and decided to move to the state from Texas. It snowed in Cloudcroft, too, 20 years ago. We visited the park later in the month.

From Mountainair to I-25. Leaving Mountainair, US 60 travels west to I-25. Mountains are on both sides of a canyon named for the mission Abo. The Abo Pass Trail Scenic Byway runs from Abo to Belen on NM 47. The early missions used Native American routes joining the salt lakes with the Rio Grande trade route. The Abo Trail was the easiest way to pass through the mountains of Central New Mexico. When the railroad was planning its expansion through New Mexico to California different routes were evaluated. The northern route required traveling up a higher grade, 3.5% rather than the 1.25% grade of the Abo Trail. 

Authors Note: 1 railroad grade % is equal to a rise in the rails of 1 degree. The early steam powered trains of the day could only travel up a grade of 2.2% or rising or a 110 feet per mile traveled. It was possible to travel up higher but the train could only carry very limited cargo and would require more stops for refueling and water plus the train would travel much slower. Quicker travel time, more cargo, and greater distance between stops made the Abo Trail an easy choice for the railroad builders.

Parts of many US highways have been consumed by the interstates and US 60 is no exception. Highway 60 is now I-25 south to Soccorro and travels along one of the oldest trails in the United States, the El Camino Real. Take Exit 150 to continue your US 60 journey.


Soccorro Heading west on US 60 


Plaza of Socorro. When the Spanish created a town or villa in their New Spain it was required by law to have a plaza. These plazas were the center of life in the community with the church at one end, governmental buildings along one side, and businesses along the other sides. When Socorro was founded in 1598, it was designed in the traditional villa manner. The Plaza in Socorro is the only designated Historical District in the 26 Historical Byways in New Mexico. This plaza feels old, welcoming, and inviting. Stop and take a simple walk about this Plaza before beginning your journey. The plaza is easily found with big signs on California Street or on google maps.                                                  

Socorro History Wheel in the Plaza                                                                                          (picture to the right )

                                                                            

Socorro. Socorro, one of the oldest European communities in the U.S., was established in 1598. For up-to-date info visit http://socorronm.org or the Socorro Chamber of Commerce. http://www.socorro-nm.com/Chamber/Home.html

Socorro is home to New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, NM Tech for short. This small college with 2,000+ students specializes in science, engineering, and research. Research at New Mexico Tech is so very different from other colleges and universities. NM Tech is involved in Energetic Materials Researching (working with bombs and other explosives), Atmospheric Research, Seismic Research, radio astronomy, Mineral Recovery, plus most traditional areas of science and engineering research. Popular science video on “Educated Destruction: New Mexico Tech” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRJN0jsoX8s. New Mexico Tech was ranked as one of the 25 Best Colleges by US News and World Reports. New Mexico Tech web site: http://www.nmt.edu

The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources has their museum of minerals on the campus. Visit or go on the virtual tour of the Mineral Museum at  http://geoinfo.nmt.edu. Socorro had another unique museum, the Hammel Museum. The building was once a brewery and was closed due to the Volstead Act. The building still contains much of the old beer brewing equipment along with artifacts from the area.

Socorro Distraction Alert #1. “There was a Roar in the Sky, the craft is oval, has no wings, it is smooth with no doors or windows. It has marking on it…I can not see what they are….it roars up and off.” Does the quoted narrative sound very UFO like? It is about a UFO sighting report and is called the Lonnie Zamora Incident. The incident occurred on April 24,1964 just outside of Socorro. Sergeant Lonnie Zamora viewed the craft from his patrol car. This report is listed as one of the best documented UFO reports filed. Read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonnie_Zamora_incident

Socorro Distraction Alert #2. Fifteen miles west of Socorro on US 60 is one of the most unusual and unique observatories anywhere in the world. This observatory is located on top of a mountain in one of most lightning prawn places in the world. The Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research studies cloud physics and storms which include lightning, hail and rain. What better way to study lightning than to be struck by lightning on a top of the mountain! When the lightning does not strike the facility that’s no problem, a rocket-triggering system is used. A rocket is shot into a thunder storm with a very long wire attached to bring the lightning to the Laboratory. This facility is not open to the public but you can view it at their web site http://langmuir.nmt.edu

Socorro Distraction Alert #3. New Mexico Tech bought a town. The town, Playas, was a company town owned by Phelps Dodge which mined and smelted copper. When the mine closed in 1999, the town was almost abandoned and was for sale. The town and the surrounding 1200 acres was purchased by NM Tech for $5 million. The town had 250 homes, six apartment buildings, a bowling alley, bar, stores, heliport pad, swimming pool, and a rodeo ring plus its own zip code. New Mexico Tech’s EMRTC, Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, and the Department of Homeland Security teamed to create a training complex for first responders and counter-terrorism programs. What better place to practice than an abandoned town? What better bomb experts than New Mexico Tech’s EMRTC?


Heading West from Socorro


Background on Livestock in New Mexico 

History. The colonial land grab of the New World was fought mainly between Spain and the United States in the early 1800’s. The land claimed by Spain covered Central America, Mexico, most of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, some of Nevada and almost all of California. These massive land holdings were named “New Spain”. To retain claim to “New Spain” and the riches it held, the Spanish colonized this area. Sheep and cattle were introduced into New Mexico with the arrival of the Spanish settlers in late 1494, 128 years before the landing of the Mayflower. 

In 1598 Don Juan de Onate sent 7,000 head of cattle north of the Rio Grande to start herds in what is now New Mexico. Indians in the area were either hired or enslaved to work the livestock during the early Spanish colonization of the area. The Indians were taught to tend to the herds, shear the sheep, and weave the wool. Ownership of the livestock changed hands when the Apaches, Navajos, and Pueblo people revolted in 1680. The Apaches ate their herds while the Navajos and the Pueblo people nurtured and expanded theirs. These Native Americans used the cattle hides to make leather objects and wove the wool from the sheep to make blankets to use and trade. The Navajo and Pueblo blankets made from the wool of sheep were a much sought after item of trade in the old west. In the early days of the old west, trading goods was used more than currency in daily business deals in the remote areas of New Mexico. The Indians blankets were a perfect item of trade. The weaving patterns of the Navajo blankets are very distinct from European or Asian designs and are still popular today. 

Herding in those days was not structured and quite haphazard. Often cattle would just wonder off and prosper. Unclaimed, unattended, and the ever expanding herds of cattle were common in the old west where there was land and water for grazing. 

Americans are Beef Eaters. The immigrants from Europe in the mid 1800’s found many things strange. One of those was the ability to afford beef. In aristocratic Europe only the rich could eat beef every day. The people of the east wanted to buy beef and the people of the west had the beef and wanted to sell it. The problem was how to transport the beef to market. Before the arrival of the western railroads, transporting beef east was not feasible on a massive scale. Once the railroads were established, cowboys began herding animals to market and soon cattle trail drives were established. Nothing is more western than cowboys on the long cattle drives.

Sheep and Cattle Herders. Sheep and cattle herders did not get along for a variety of reasons. Sheep are easy to herd and can provide food, clothing, and support a community. The existing and expanding Spanish communities in the early days of the Old west often had huge sheep herds. The sheep herders were generally of Mexican or Indian decent, Catholics who spoke Spanish. The cattle men in this area were generally Mormons and Protestants who spoke English. The stage was set for several major and minor conflicts. Cattlemen firmly believed that sheep destroyed the grazing land. Tensions sometimes ran high between the “white people” of Arizona and Texas and the “brown people” of New Mexico.

Passageways to and from Arizona. When going from east to west from New Mexico to Arizona or visa versa there are only three ways early old west travelers could pass between the mountain ranges. The northern route is similar to the current I-40, the middle route is along US Hwy 60, and the southern route is along I-10. The middle route, US Hwy 60, had grazing land with water and was the best east-west route to and from Arizona for moving herds.

The herding portion of the Hoof, Salt and Rail trail passes through the middle of the state. It begins at Socorro, New Mexico and ends 153 miles later outside of Springerville, Arizona. The animal herders headed to the spur railroad line in Magdalena in order to ship cattle or sheep to Socorro.  Socorro was the largest town along the route and the first to have a railroad terminal. The valley passageway between the mountains received abundant water from the mountain run off, producing a much desired grazing land with its numerous streams and creeks. Level land, grass, and water made for a perfect trail to move large herds of cattle and sheep.

Magdalena - 27 miles away. Thirty minutes away from Socorro is Magdalena, also known as the trail’s end. Stock pens and a spur rail line to Socorro were the destination for the livestock drives. Stock was driven up to 125 miles to the rail head and loaded into containers and shipped generally eastward to market. The true name given for driving stock from the range to market is called a stock driveway. This trail paralleling US Highway 60 was also called the “Hoof Trail”, “The Beefsteak Trail” and “The Fiber Trail”. 

A protected area of land created in 1918 was called the “Magdalena Stock Driveway” to ensure the continuation of stock drives and to stop any homesteaders from fencing off the land. In 1919 the largest stock drive was conducted with the transporting of 21,000 cattle and 150,000 sheep along this animal driveway. The Stock Driveway was closed in 1971 after “The Last Cattle Drive”.

Normally the cattle would move about 10 or 15 miles per day and the sheep would move at about half that speed. The animals would graze as they went. Always walking at their own pace, the animals were not pushed because this extra exertion would cause lose of weight in the animals. When you are selling animals by the pound, weight loss in not a profitable way to run a business.

Ever been to a star party? Magdalena has them and more events. For event information check out the Chamber web site http://www.magdalena-nm.com

Oral History and pictures of “The Last Cattle Drive” at http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/nm/field_offices/socorro/docs.Par.86662.File.dat/Dave%20Farr%20Magdalena%20Driveway%20Oral%20History%20and%20Photos%20for%20web.pdf


VLA, Very Large Array - 22 miles away 


This area has been shown in so many sci-fi and space films that it is easily recognizable. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory site consists of 27 radio antennas arranged in a Y shape on railroad tracks which allow the antennas to be moved and repositioned. The radio antennas are huge, each 82 feet in diameter and weighing about 230 tons. Imagine an eight story building laying on its side and being rotated around and tilted up and down and moved constantly. This is the size and maneuverability of each dish. These antennas are linked together and create a virtual antenna 22 miles across. 

The electromagnetic spectrum is very broad and one of its smaller components is visible light. The electromagnetic spectrum is transmitted energy and contains gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared light, microwaves, and radio waves. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory detects radio and other waves from space and allows astronomers to see what cannot be seen by an optical (visual) observatory. The NROA, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, web site is very informative at http://www.vla.nrao.edu

Jodie Foster, the star of the movie Contact (much of it was filmed at the VLA site), narrates Beyond the Visible, the story of the Very Large Array. The presentation is by the NRAO - National Radio Astronomy Observatory.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqX9vLj3_7w

Author’s Note: If you have not seen “Contact”, a science fiction drama film based on a book by Carl Sagan, then please put it on your movie wish list.

Past the VLA. As you pass the VLA you will be entering Catron county, the largest and least populated county in the state. It contains about 7,000 square miles and 400 permanent residences. 

Datil - 13 miles away. This town is named for the seedpods of the yucca plants which resemble dates or “datil" in Spanish.  This town of less than 60 residences attracts rock climbers to the Enchanted Tower.  Climbing information is available at http://www.rockclimbing.com/routes/North_America/United_States/New_Mexico/Central_New_Mexico/The_Enchanted_Tower/

Pie Town - 22 miles away. How about a slice of pie? What better place than Pie Town? On the second Saturday in September Pie town has a Pie Festival featuring, of course, pies.  


A Smithsonian article will provide some insight into the town at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/savoring-pie-town-85182017/?no-ist=

A NPR article about Russell Lee and his “Pie Town Photos” is available at http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2012/12/06/165915892/picturing-pie-town-usa-in-1940-and-again-today





Pie Town has an easy to spot and unique museum. When was the last time you visited a windmill museum? The Windmill Museum contains over 12 windmills for viewing along with a log cabin.

http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/nm/field_offices/socorro/docs.Par.86662.File.dat/Dave%20Farr%20Magdalena%20Driveway%20Oral%20History%20and%20Photos%20for%20web.pdf

Omega - 14  miles away. In this area a very strange land art project was built in 1977, The Lightning Field. This is an almost impossible to find land art project. Set on an empty plateau, with an evaluation of 7,200 feet, are 400 stainless steel poles. These poles are 220 feet apart and create a pattern one mile long. The poles vary in length from 15 to 26 feet. Sadly, the Lightning Field does not often attract lightning, but when it does it is spectacular. Reservations for viewing and other information contact reservations@lightingfield.com  Wonderful pictures of this land art are found at http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/lightning-field

Red Hill - 11 miles away. In the late 1830’s, a prospector named Adams, with multiple arrow wounds, told of gold laying everywhere in the red hills close by. The prospector soon died and it was discovered that his knapsack contained 25 pounds of gold, a fortune in those days and now, too. People in those long ago days and even today have been looking for that gold in those Red Hills. So far no one has found gold in the Red Hills. Finding gold in New Mexico is not a fairy tale. From 1848 to 1877 over 2.5 million troy ounces of gold were found.  Currently gold is priced at over $1000 per troy ounce. Much of the “cowboy days” gold was found in the mountain ranges where Red Hill is located. 

The exploration of what is now New Mexico began with the rumors of the “Seven Cities of Gold”. No golden cities were found, but rumors were still repeated. Rumors about lost gold were also repeated. The rumors of lost gold may have had a nugget of truth in them. Spanish mule wagon trains laden with gold traveled from the Spanish gold mines in Colorado to Mexico City. A few times these wagon trains did not arrive in Mexico city. Or so the rumors of the “Old West” proclaim. Today people still hunt and pan for gold in the state.

Entering Apache County Arizona. This county begins at four corners (the joining of four states, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, in a single location) and covers most of the north-eastern part of the Arizona-New Mexico border and extends on this eastern part of Arizona to a few miles below the fiber trail. This county contains over 11,000 square miles of land, the sixth largest county in the lower 48 states. Roughly 68% of the county land is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Springerville-Eager is the largest town in the county with a population of over seven thousand people.

In the old west days this area was a hot bed of violent activity where “might was right”. The passageway and surrounding areas of the Fiber Trail contained much prized grazing land. Who gets to graze on this largely unclaimed and tamed land? The answer was usually the group who exerted the most gun power and willingness to use it.

A perfect illustration of the conflicts in the area is “The Pleasant Valley War”. This civil conflict in the Arizona territory had the greatest number of fatalities of any civil conflict in the United States history. This war lasted between 1882 to 1892 and was generally fought over cattle, sheep, horses, grazing, and water rights. The national news of this range war delayed the statehood of Arizona because many legislators in Washington felt the territory of Arizona was not civilized enough to become a state.


Springerville-Eagar Arizona - 43 Miles away.

The Grass Lands.  As you enter this area note the lack of trees on the valley floor. The dark outcroppings are not just hills but volcanic extrusions. This area was a lava field. The soil is thin and not deep enough to support trees or large brushes but perfect for growing grass. The area around Springerville is located below the White Mountains in Round Valley and in the late 1800’s it was largely uninhabited grazing land with water. Unclaimed grazing land with water attracted people and outlaws from surrounding states.

Brief History of Mormons in the West. Thousands of Mormons migrated west to escape persecution and harassment. In 1847 Brigham Young reached the valley of the Great Salt Lake and began to establish a home for the Mormon community. In 1849 Utah became a territory of the United States and Brigham Young was appointed its first Governor. Thousands of more Mormons began to travel west to their new home the “Kingdom in the top of the mountains”. The Mormon leadership also wanted to expand and began to send their missionaries into Arizona. These missionaries parties contained enough people, supplies, and livestock to create a community.

More turmoil and criticism against the Mormons began in 1852 with the publication of national wide articles discussing the doctrine of polygamy in the Mormon, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, communities. Around this time frame there are claims that Governor Brigham Young was running Utah as a separate country and serving as ruler-dictator. In 1857 President James Buchanan sent 2,500 soldiers west to reestablish order and regain control of Utah. To make matters worse, the Mormon militia joined a group of local Indians and attacked a wagon train from Arkansas resulting in the slaughtering of 120 men, women, and children. Only 17 children were spared because they were less than eight years old. This event became known as the “Mountain Meadows Massacre” and made headlines around the country.  When the new governor of Utah was appointed and sworn into office, President Buchanan declared the “Utah War” was over. This “Utah War” had no casualties, no one was wounded, and there was no fighting.

Some of the Mormon beliefs caused problems and friction with other western settlers. One Mormon belief was that there were two groups of Israelites, the Nephites and the Lamanites, who populated the New World before the time of Christ. The Nephites and Lamanites were in constant war with each other until 34 AD. After Christ died and ascended to heaven, he appeared to the Israelites to stop the war in order to establish peace in the New World. The Nephites and Lamanites of the New World did not fight each other until 385 AD. The Lamanites stopped believing in Christ and made war against the Nephites. The Lamanites killed the Nephites and became known as the “American Indians”. This belief caused a great distrust and feeling of bitterness against any Native Americans from the Mormons of that time.

Another belief created problems between the white skinned Mormons and many of the dark skinned people of the west. In the Book of Mormon, God was displeased with the Lamanites - “..the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” 2 Nephi 5:21. When the Lamanites became Christians “their curse (referring to skin color) was taken from them and their skin became white like upon the Nephites (3 Nephi 2:15). Believing that the “brown/dark people” did not believe in Christ and were not worthy” added fuel to this racist fire between dark skinned westerners and the newly arrived white skinned Mormons. Differing religious views also alienated the Mormons from most of the other white communities. 

Tensions ran high between the “white” Mormons and “brown people” people of Mexican and Indian decent from New Mexico who settled Arizona at the same time. The Mormon’s feelings of being prosecuted were increased when a 1882 national law prohibiting polygamy was passed. Establishing their own communities to practice their beliefs in peace and safety was a common practice of the Mormons in the old west.

Round Valley Arizona. The area around Springerville is located below the white mountains in Round Valley. In the late 1800’s, Round Valley was largely uninhabited grazing land with water. Unclaimed grazing land with water drew people into the area from surrounding states. Early settlers needed a store and in 1872 Henry Springer from Albuquerque, New Mexico opened a store along the Little Colorado River in Round Valley. The settlement grew and needed a name, so Springerville was chosen. This was a predominately Catholic community populated by brown skinned people from New Mexico who spoke Spanish.

In 1878 the first Mormon wagons arrived in Round Valley from Utah. Later a new Mormon community named Eagar was established next to Springerville. This Mormon community was populated with white skinned people who spoke English.

Springerville - Eagar Arizona. On most US highway maps, US 60 goes to Springerville with some maps noting a joined community of Eagar. In reality, Eagar is the much larger community with a population of over five thousand people, while Springerville has a population of about two thousand people. Springerville contains most of the businesses in these dual communities while Eagar contains most of the people. Each community has its own elected officials, city offices, and municipal services. Many times locals have tried to unite these communities, but every time a vote to consolidate the towns was taken it failed to pass.

The school system is combined and named the Round Valley Unified Schools with the elk as its mascot. This small school system is very unique in so many ways. The middle school is participating in the Salt River Solar Project with a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic system installed at the facility. Power production of the facility can be viewed on the Round Valley Unified Schools web site.  The website shows how much power is created, how much is used by the school, and how much is provided by the utility power grid.

Round Valley Unified Schools have the only domed high school football stadium in the nation. The wooden domed stadium is called the Round Valley Ensphere and seats 5,500 people for a football game. In today’s dollars its construction cost would be over $19 million.

The original cost of the stadium was $12 million in 1987. The Tucson Electric Power operated a generating plant in the area and paid over 90% of the educational taxes. The utility ended up paying $11 million of the $12 million price tag for the project.  Special community events are also held in the dome. See the chamber web site below for current events.

A simple side trip is the drive up to the big water tank located at the top of a hill above the twin communities. At the top of the hill is not only a water tank but a cemetery. From the top of the hill a panoramic view of the community and surrounding area can be seen. The view is definitely worth the short time it takes to drive p the hill. The Dome, school complex, residences, businesses, highways, and miles of prairie dotted with volcanic outcroppings with mountains to the south is a sight to behold. What a picture postcard this view would make. 

Author’s note: At the time of this writing we could not find a picture post card similar to our view!



A must see in the community of Springerville-Eagar is the converted school house which is now the Springerville Heritage Center. The center is located on US highway 60. This museum and visitors center is worth a visit and has more information on what to see and do in the area.  






Along the road you will see the remnants of the Springerville volcanic field. The only thing that grows here is grass and lots of it. The odd geology produced super grazing land. A self guided driving tour of these fields and more is available at www.springerville-eagarchamber.com/

The local news can be accessed at the White Mountain Independent online edition at http://www.wmicentral.com

27 miles away in the mountains is a ski resort named Sunrise Park Resort with more information found at http://sunriseskiparkaz.com

The Springerville-Eagar chamber lists current events at http://www.springerville-eagarchamber.com


US Hi 60 PDF  

Please return to the Homepage and make a contribution using Pay Pal. THANKS