Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where the Crows Flew: Cuervo, New Mexico



When it comes to ghost towns, it doesn’t get much better than Cuervo, New Mexico. Its condition is remarkable not just because the town is no secret, as any internet search will attest, but because it’s literally feet from Interstate 40. Clearly, most people on the road between Albuquerque and Tucumcari don’t stop for a visit. Either they don’t know about Cuervo or they don’t care. That’s fine with me, although it doesn’t quite keep all the riff-raff out, as I’ll explain later.

Pulling into desolate, (mostly) deserted Cuervo is like driving into the apocalypse, if the apocalypse happened in 1920. Just forget about the semis whizzing by on I-40 and there are only old cars and older houses, scraps of clothes and newspapers from decades ago, everything in that hauntingly arrested state that all aficionados of the lost desire.



It’s always useful to know the names of places, regardless of the language they’re in, and that’s true in Cuervo. The town’s name means “crow,” (or, alternatively, "raven") and while there may have been many of these dark birds around at one point, not a single one was seen on our visit. Perhaps they were hanging out on nearby Cuervo Hill, the town's namesake. Or, maybe, unlike us, they were simply smart enough to stay out of the relentless heat of the midday sun.

Like so many others in New Mexico, Cuervo was a railroad town, brought to life about 1902 when the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad came through and turned the little outpost into a water stop. Before that, the town site had been on a trade route in use since at least the early 1500’s, but no one had previously thought to try to settle down way out on the wide and lonely plains.



Cuervo started off with a bang as an expansion of cattle and sheep ranching swept through the area in 1910. A couple decades later, Route 66 ran straight through town, easily supporting the few gas stations and hotels that sprang up in its wake. At its height, Cuervo had two of everything a person could want: schools, churches, doctors, and hotels.

One school, built around 1930 and closed in 1958, stands alone in a field of red dirt and was the high point of this visit to Cuervo. It might have been purchased by an elderly lady last fall for $10,250, though I’m not sure if the sale actually went through. That's the old outhouse to the left and classroom above. Also, both churches are extant. The Catholic church on the south side of I-40 was built of red sandstone during WWI. It’s well-maintained to this day. The Getty Memorial Baptist Church, on the north side, represented the low point of our trip. Again, I’ll explain shortly.



As with dozens of towns that owed their existence to the railroad and Route 66, the construction of the interstate system was a death knell. In the case of Cuervo, in the late 1960’s, I-40 was put right through the center of town, probably turning the lives of many residents into something like a John Mellencamp song.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that Cuervo was never a metropolis. Its population in 1946, immediately post-WWII, was only 128. In 1981, Philip Varney reported in New Mexico’s Best Ghost Towns that many homes remained occupied. Its population now may be in the single digits, including the owner of the non-functioning gas station on the north side of I-40. If you came to take pictures, I hear he won’t be happy to see you. He may well have good reason.



Now, over the years, I’ve occasionally gotten letters from people asking how they can access the places I’ve photographed. In every case, I’m careful to point out that I don’t want to encourage people to visit these sites, mostly for their own safety. Save it for people with unhealthy compulsions. Like me. Sometimes there is the problem of trespassing. But, in the case of Cuervo, which, as I mentioned, isn’t exactly unknown to explorers, very few buildings are posted as private property. In fact, aside from falling through a floor or having a roof cave in on you, the main danger in abandoned buildings is other people.



On that note, as of a few weeks ago, I can report that the Getty Memorial Baptist Church (pictured above) contains the most alarming installation I’ve seen since someone hung a rabbit at the Clearwater Textile Mill in 2004. So, if you ever find yourself wanting to check out the old Baptist church, drop me a line and I’ll tell you EXACTLY why you shouldn’t. Sorry, can’t post a photo of this one…or even describe it. Let's just say that there's evidence of return visits and an encounter could well go badly.

Alright, enough of that. I didn't know that Philip Varney recently released a new ghost town book! It was even in the Huffington Post. Of course, his NM ghost town guide was my primary source here. I also got a few tidbits from Ghost Towns Alive by Linda G. Harris. A little more background was plucked from Legends of America. The factoid about the woman who bought the old school came from right here.

Next time I think we’ll head down old Route 66 a couple miles to Newkirk and Montoya.



NOVEMBER 2014 UPDATE: Since I published this post 16 months ago I've probably answered a couple hundred inquiries about just what was in the Getty Memorial Baptist Church. I even developed a form letter response that I would revise as information came in. But now I can refer people to KRQE News 13 where THIS PIECE illustrates the scenes at two different locations in the area better than I could describe them here. Although things seem much calmer in Cuervo and there is some consistent activity (the school has been restored and has a nice, new roof!), I'm still not going to encourage people to visit because...there is no real end to the story. Also, to answer another common question, yes, the symbol on the wall in this post has been confirmed as Satanic. But that's almost certainly unrelated to what was in the Getty and elsewhere.


52 comments:

David Alan said...

Nice Blog. Good luck on being added to the local blog list on Duke City. I've tried several times but they ignore the comments.

jmhouse said...

I figured I'd likely be excluded because I don't post very often on places around Albuquerque proper. But I seem to have picked up at least a little extra traffic from just the comment!

Thanks for stopping by and the kind words, too. JM

Anonymous said...

what exactly is the mystery behind the old baptist church..

jmhouse said...

I recently received this recollection from Neill, who does GoRt66, a very nice website documenting historic sites along Route 66:

"I used to stop my small box truck and give the guy cash for his diesel. the first time I went into the station to pay him I had to comment on all the taxidermy heads on the walls. I remember commenting I never knew these species were local to new mexico. He laughed at me...

He told me they buy exotic antler animals from around the world then release them into the wild then they hunt them. The old gas station guy must be a very good hunter.

I always wanted to check out the Baptist Church after the entrance to I 40 but never took the time.

That place is scary strange which is the vibe that place always gave...."

Very interesting. Another reason not to mess with the guy at the gas station. Thanks, Neill! JM

Anonymous said...

JM, I would like to hear the story about the church. We just drove by the ghost town on I-40. Very interesting.

jmhouse said...

I appreciate people's interest in just what I saw in the Getty Memorial Baptist Church. It would certainly pique my curiosity, too. However, let me just say that it wasn't something pleasant. Folks who want to know are free to e-mail me at the address associated with my profile, but I really can't describe it here. Also, I didn't post any photos. That should tell you a little something. JM

nelson said...

I went to that two room school house in Cuervo and used the out house back in 1951. The house we lived in was provided by the railroad and was made from two railroad cars, with wooden sides like you have pictured. My brother and I also "stole" a bottle of wine from the liquor store the night the electricity went out. The Church was originally a barn before being converted to a church.

jmhouse said...

Nelson, comments like yours are probably the best part of doing this website. I love to hear from people that have personal connections to the places I've photographed and written about. Incidentally, a canvas print of that school house hangs in my living room. I've got another if you want it.

Did you live in the railroad car house I have pictured or another one like it? It does make sense that the Getty Memorial Baptist Church was a barn originally. It seems pretty barn-like.

Many thanks for your recollections! JM

I Am Woody said...

We stopped and did a bit of exploring in Cuervo during a road trip in 2010. We didn't hang around very long due to a very uneasy vibe we were picking up on. Sounds like the vibe was correct!

jmhouse said...

I've heard from several people that they've always felt an uneasy vibe in Cuervo. Let me just say that you wouldn't need to be real sensitive to your surroundings to get uneasy these days.

Thanks for your comment, I Am Woody! JM

Anonymous said...

I stopped in Cuervo a couple of years back. Talked to the gas station guy. Went to the church. Cuervo is a cool place. I'll go back again someday.

Jody B. said...

I stopped in Cuervo on one of my trips back from Albuquerque. I took some pictures of the Catholic church and the outside of some of the houses. I didn't stay long. I was really uncomfortable and never felt that way photographing abandoned buildings and towns before. I didn't stay long. I'm going back through this summer and I may stop by the gas station this trip.

jmhouse said...

Yeah, I still can't recommend people visit the Cuervo area. It's been a long time since the original post, but I've heard nothing like an all-clear and I'm still hearing some odd things about the area now and then. Also, the owner of the gas station, which isn't entirely functional, may not be thrilled to see you if you have a camera.

Best, JM

Anonymous said...

Aug.8,2014, my second trip to cuvero n.m. Sadly the town has changed most of the buildings have been torn down. The church referred to is still there. Motel, gas station and most of the other buildings have been torn down. My prior visit was 4 years ago and what was stated was true re building. Sadly today not much left. I hope those that were there enjoy their pic's and memories.

jmhouse said...

Wow, that's a pretty shocking update, Anonymous. Though not entirely unexpected. I wonder if the tornado that came through the Cuervo area in June caused some damage. Or maybe the buildings are being demolished to stop people from visiting.

When you say the motel was torn down, do you perhaps mean the school on the south side of I-40? I can't place a motel there from my recollection.

Anyway, thanks for passing along that information. It's much appreciated! JM

TiffanyS said...

What uneasy feeling are you all talking about? I go there multiple times a year to visit Graves of my family members. I have never felt the uneasy family you all are talking about. I was just there this past week and I find it to be peaceful and relaxing.

jmhouse said...

TiffanyS, while some people have mentioned an uneasy feeling, I was referring to physical things which could've indicated that there was very unsavory activity in the area. This was in town and mostly to the north of I-40, not to the southwest where the cemetery is.

It's too much to go into here, but if you send me an e-mail at the address associated with my profile I can give you the story.

Incidentally, I know another person with family buried in the Cuervo cemetery and I was told that their last visit was "weird." Apparently someone asked them a lot of questions as to why they were there.

I've also heard that a lot of buildings in Cuervo are being torn down and that the old school is having a new roof put on it. I don't know what that activity means, but it could indicate some changes. Best, JM

Anonymous said...

I also visited Cuervo during a road trip in 2010. We explored much of the town, even walked into some of the houses and up and down the abandoned dirt roads. Never, not once, felt uneasy or saw anything that gave me pause. The people at the gas station were nice. We took pictures. No issues. I'd go back.

jmhouse said...

Anonymous, I'm still recommending that people don't visit Cuervo, although there is now consistent activity in the town, including well-drilling and the restoration of the schoolhouse, that is almost surely making things less dicey. What I referred to in this post would not have been a problem in 2010.

Thanks for your message. JM

Devon Fox said...

very nice blog. I pass Cuervo every time I go home to OK from NM (my new home). If I could ask, do you just park on the interstate to go to the south side? I can never see any road to the town.
thanks, DF

jmhouse said...

Glad you like the blog, Devon Fox. Your comment is much appreciated!

I wouldn't recommend parking on the interstate. A wee bit too dangerous. Cuervo is a ghost town with its own exit. I believe it's #291.

Welcome to NM! If you're interested in ghost towns and the like, you'll find plenty more to read on City of Dust. JM

Tyrone L. Warbasse said...

Ran across the news story about what you found, and that other lady found. I heard about this activity around 2000 from a couple who moved from New Mexico to Las Vegas. I've also heard about these things in and around the Las Vegas and Pahrump areas of Nevada.

I remember passing through Cuervo back in the 1990s. I like ghost towns, but we just took a quick look and continued.

jmhouse said...

Really, Tyrone L. Warbasse?! Reports of similar activity going back to 2000?! That's *very* interesting. You wouldn't happen to have any more information about locations or the nature of the writing/displays, would you?

Thanks for your comment! JM

Tyrone L. Warbasse said...

Yeah, it's what I heard. Mind you, I've not seen. I've only been to New Mexico twice. The people who told me of this "cult" or whatever had all kinds of stories. They weren't on the successful side of things, either. Junkies, more or less. I'm trying to keep things vague, in the spirit of the original post you authored.

It's surprising that what you've seen, and what I saw in the news report, is very similar to graffiti and things I've found exploring abandoned buildings and remote places around Pahrump and Las Vegas, both in Nevada. (Not Las Vegas in New Mexico.) Pahrump had similar types of stories, as reported in the news. Same kind of stuff, too.

That's all I'll say here. You can e-mail me if you need specifics. Thanks.

jmhouse said...

Tyrone, I'm going to send you a Google+ request in a moment. Perhaps we can exchange some messages. Thanks for being vague here, given the nature of some of this stuff.

JM

Noah banks said...

My brother and i recently drove through cuervo about a month ago. It was the strangest thing I've ever seen. From the i-40 there were numerous signs advertising gas and motels but as soon as you get off the exit there is a sudden stop about 20 feet from a drop off. Then just riding through the town created such an eerie feeling, New Mexico is a creepy state even Santa Rosa is weird.

jmhouse said...

Cuervo is pretty strange, huh? I wouldn't say New Mexico is a creepy state on the whole, but that stretch between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari...yeah, *that's* creepy.

Thanks for your comment, Noah Banks! JM

Unknown said...

I have driven by several times and wanted to stop so one day I did and I had my wife and dog with me well needless to say my wife was to scared to get out of the truck so the dog and myself went for a walk I wanted to take pictures and entered one of the houses and at first my dog would not even go to the porch finally he went Up on the porch but he refused to go in side so I took a few pictures and went into one room and noticed that there was a makeshift bed well I left out and snapped a few more pictures my dog stood back a distance when I got close to the church I wasn't able to go inside but I thought it looked pretty cool but I would like to go inside one day just to look around and take pictures I am just a curious person when it comes to places like that

jmhouse said...

Yeah, Cuervo can be unsettling, Unknown. Your dog might've had the right idea! But I'm a curious person, too.

From your comment I think you were on the south side of I-40. The house with the makeshift bed is probably the same one pictured above with the red and black symbol on the wall. That means the church you saw would've been the Catholic one, built during WWI, which is maintained and still holds services. It might be well worth visiting again some Sunday morning and getting a closer look. I've never even been inside myself.

Thanks for stopping by City of Dust! JM

Anonymous said...

I am a truck driver and had passed by Cuervo few times...I love old historical areas and buildings and ghost towns...so today 12-11-15 passing by I decided to stop on the south side...took few pics of some houses and the church...I would like to know how or find out how to puchase 1 of these homes and fix it up and live there...Any info would be appreciated...Thx RC

jmhouse said...

Hi RC,

From what I've been told, the property records for Cuervo are in a bad way. Often nonexistent, actually. I was contacted by someone a few years back who wanted to buy a specific property and when he went to the Guadalupe County offices in Santa Rosa there were no records for much of the town, including the parcel he was interested in.

My only recommendation might be to go to those offices yourself and see what records ARE on file. You could then contact the owners of those properties and perhaps someone would be willing to sell. I know someone was recently successful in buying the old school house, but that might've been county property.

Good luck! And thanks for stopping by City of Dust. JM

Unknown said...

I read your story of the church. I found a room exactly like you described in an abandoned shell/dairy queen on route 66 in new Mexico. Women's under garments, pornography, condoms tacked to every wall, bodily fluids on everything, most sickening was a pair of little girls panties. I didn't contact authorities. Me and my husband were terrified and ran. Its incredible and disgusting that there is another place like that!!

jmhouse said...

Unknown, I believe I am aware of the location you mention. Would this have been well over a year ago that you and your husband were there? A Shell/Dairy Queen in New Mexico burned some time back, the result of vandalism, and was found to contain things similar to the other sites.

If you found this room more recently, please send me a message through my Blogger profile or the City of Dust Facebook page. I can then pass that information along to the proper channels.

Thanks for your comment. There are several very disturbing aspects to this situation, and there has been no resolution thus far. But, as far as I know, no new locations have been found recently. JM

nicole alexander said...

Yes it was over a year ago. Around April of last year. It had to have been before it burned.

jmhouse said...

I think you were there just before it burned, nicole alexander. It seems pretty certain that it was arson, but just who did it and why remains unknown. JM

nicole alexander said...

That's crazy. If you ever find out the person responsible for making these rooms I hope you share with us! I'm just shocked that elsewhere existed. It was like a horror movie and I suppose I'm glad both locations are gone? But since there was another one besides the DQ/Shell I'm assuming more exist. Which is unsettling.

jmhouse said...

Nicole, there were actually three locations, including the one you found. As far as I know, none of those are still being used, but the person responsible hasn't been found either. Like you, I assume that there is at least one more location replacing the DQ/Shell (which was the latest of the three, judging by the dated writings). However, there could well be more in the area.

It is indeed unsettling. If I ever learn anything concrete I'll certainly share it here. Thanks, JM

safe at home said...

We stopped at this exit because the sign said "gas" but as soon as we got off the highway it was evident this was no place to stop for gas, the first thing we DID see was two enormous crows, and I told my daughter, those have to be ravens, they were so big! We never did know the name of the town, there was a big rig pulled over just east of the church, but no signs of life anywhere. My daughter was so creeped out by the place she insisted I not even pause to take a photo. It's been bugging me ever since we were there, to know more about the town. So weird to know the name means raven or crow. Thanks for your blog. I can go to sleep now. knowing we didn't imagine the place.

jmhouse said...

Glad to help solve at least that mystery, safe at home. Sometimes I wish I'd just imagined Cuervo, despite what it might say about my imagination. JM

Anonymous said...

So this past Feb. I was sent a link to the most haunted place. It started at Cimarron to White Oaks. I drove from 25 to I-40. I got to Cuervo, started taking pictures immediately. They have put up No Parking Anytime signs all over. When I got to the Catholic Church, I almost got down to take better pictures. I noticed 2 vehicles coming from under the over pass. I turned around and took me pics from my car. When the cars got closer, I was like I better drive off. I went to the other side and took pictures of those buildings but I stayed in the middle of the road. I left. Made me think that these people saw that web link about the Hauntings since Dawson cemetery is now a no trespassing zone! I'm all about doing research but not about breaking the law. I'm stunned by the news clip and glad no one was hurt. That was the only time I didn't feel comfortable, I had the same feeling Santa Rosa at the Shell truck stop.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Thanks for your post & it's sensitivity. We visited Cuervo the first week of April, planned prior to discovering your writings. We felt extremely uncomfortable there, we saw the Getty church but didn't approach it as it felt very wrong. The red brick church without any signage - is that Catholic? We found it very threatening as there was a noose swinging from the entrance. Also, the house next door had an Ouija Board on the wall, next to the symbol you photographed - was that there when you were? Did you find out the meaning of the symbol?
Quite frankly I'd like to deter others from visiting - I feel altered by the place, in a negative way.
Thank you again.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your updates, Anonymouses. I hadn't heard about the "No Parking Anytime" signs in Cuervo. Nor did I know that the Dawson Cemetery was now restricted. That's useful information.

The red brick church on the south side of I-40 is a Catholic church. I'm a little surprised to hear that there was anything in the entrance as that church had a new roof put on and is still used for services. There has never been a Ouija board in that house to west of the church when I've been there, but that symbol has been identified as most likely a variation of ones used by The Assembly, a satanic cult which operated in the Midwest from around 1970 to 1990. From what little I've read, the group started off as kind of a spoof on Satanism but eventually became more serious. They may also have been active in southern Colorado as recently as 2007. In fact, that symbol has been there for several years now and pre-dates the other activity in Cuervo. I don't really think there's a connection between them.

Beyond that, I don't have anything new to report. I myself still generally suggest that people not visit the area along I-40 between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari to explore abandoned places.

Best Regards, JM

Unknown said...

Ok so we we on our way back from New Mexico to Oklahoma. When we needed to go to the restroom. So we see the sign for Cuervo. We pull off the high way and all of a sudden my grandmother said this is a ghost town. So we pull in front of the Catholic Church. Which my grandmother said that is a Catholic Church. Which we are Catholic. So I jump out and get my camera and take a couple pictures of the church and of the house to the right out the church. As we are pulling off the house to the left of the church had this sign on the front of the door. And my grandmother said that meant death and very bad things. We didn't take a picture of it due to the feeling my grandmother got. So after reading all of the post. And about the noose. My grandmother said you didn't see the noose at the Catholic Church. I said no. So I get my camera out and look at the pictures and sure enough there is a noose. I'll post the picture tomorrow after I get home.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the update, Unknown. I've heard about new, disturbing activity in Cuervo, but I wouldn't be surprised if all this is actually separate from what was happening in the Getty Baptist Church and house to the west. I'm back to recommending that folks stay away entirely. At the very least, some people *do not* want anyone stopping in the old ghost town.

You might not be able to post a photo here in the comments section, but feel free to contact me directly at the CITY OF DUST Facebook page. I'd be very interested to see those shots of the Catholic church.

Thanks again, JM

Anonymous said...

Hey there, I'm the '10:02pm' Anonymous who originally posted about the noose & the ouija board - would you like me to email you photos?

We were in the region from Western Europe - it really scared us.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the message, Anonymous '10:02pm.' It sounds like you aren't the only who's come across these things. I would indeed be very interested to see the photos.

Are you able to contact me through the City of Dust Facebook page? If not, just let me know here and we'll find another way.

Thanks again, JM

Smokin George said...

My wife and I stopped in Cuervo this past Sunday for the first time. She enjoys photographing old buildings and we visit ghost towns in Texas and New Mexico. She photographed mostly from the car and never entered a building. We must be welcomed by whatever makes the rest of you uneasy because there was no uncomfortable feeling.

jmhouse said...

Well, Smokin George, you stayed in the car, didn't enter any buildings, and nobody happened to see you. I don't see much potential to feel uncomfortable in any of that. I have gotten out of the car and gone in buildings and did end up feeling pretty uncomfortable. Still, I've never encountered a local and, when that happens, from what I can gather, nobody is welcomed in Cuervo. JM

Kathy McClure said...

I was there yesterday. Drove most of the roads and photographed most of the buildings on the south side. Walked a lot didn't feel weird at all but I'm always cautious when alone. The gas station guy was fixing a car for someone who had broken down. I couldn't find a way to drive to the building on the north side you say is a church. Very interesting place.

jmhouse said...

I'm glad you had a peaceful trip to Cuervo, Kathy McClure. I was just contacted by someone that stopped on the south side of I-40, had a car pass them and stop nearby, and then felt they should should not leave their own vehicle. But who knows? I've had no firsthand experience of Cuervo for a couple years now.

Anyway, if you were near the gas station then I take it you were already on the north side of I-40? I don't know how to drive directly to the Getty Baptist Church either, actually, although I know it can be done because I've seen tire tracks. Both times I've been there I've just parked on the side of the road, walked down the embankment, and then across the railroad tracks.

In any case, yes, it is certainly an interesting place! Thanks for your message! JM

aaron fritz said...

I would love to see the pictures of the Ouija Board in the house next to the church. I drove by but didnt catch any pics of it.
thanks
aaronjfritz@gmail.com

jmhouse said...

aaron fritz, I've had a couple people tell me about the Ouija board on the wall of the house and offer to send photos, but so far I haven't received anything. I did get some pictures of the "noose" in the entryway of the Catholic church, which has been mentioned a few times, and I think it's a rope for a trapdoor to the bell or something. If it's a noose, it's pretty small and suitable only for show.

Well, maybe someone will send some photos of that Ouija board in eventually. JM