Saturday, February 29, 2020

Abandoned New Mexico: Ghost Towns, Endangered Architecture, and Hidden History

Well, it's been just over two years since the last City of Dust blog post. In that time I've moved from New Mexico to northern Nevada, started a new job, and then started another new job. That's all taken a lot of time, but none of it is really why there hasn't been anything new here since January 8, 2018. What's really demanded my creative attention over the last two years is a book project, now officially titled, "Abandoned New Mexico: Ghost Towns, Endangered Architecture, and Hidden History." Coming in at over 40,000 words and with 150 photos (both color and b&w), this project has not let up since the idea first reared its head in late 2017. But I didn't want to mention the book until I was certain it would actually be published. Jinxing myself and all that.

So, finally, I can say that this thing is indeed coming out. The publication date is June 29, 2020 August 29, 2020 (yup, delayed due to Covid-19) and preorders are already available at BARNES & NOBLE and AMAZON. I will also be selling copies myself when the time comes--signed if you'd like--and maybe with some bundles and other goodies offered.

Anyway, I'll be saying more about all this shortly, but for right now I should mention that the book is titled "Abandoned New Mexico" to align with Fonthill Media's current series on ghost towns and derelict buildings called "Abandoned Union." However, the subtitle is much more accurate as while I include true ghost towns, such as Acme/Frazier and Riley/Santa Rita, there are also populated places, including House and Monticello, and historic structures both owned (Melvin Mills Mansion) and operational (St. James Hotel). In the end, I threw in pretty much everything and the kitchen sink, too.

So with that, please stay tuned and I hope to start posting regularly again here soon. I've certainly got plenty of fresh material on hand. But life demands a lot of attention these days, so we'll still have to take it as it comes for now.

Thanks to everyone for their continued interest in City of Dust over the last...nearly 16 years! Even though I wasn't posting I never stopped getting fantastic comments and wonderful recollections from many, many people. Again, thank you!

Monday, January 08, 2018

Music on the Wind: Guadalupe, New Mexico

Since the previous post was a special one on the Río Puerco Valley featuring the recollections of historian and folklorist Nasario García, it only seems appropriate to stay beside the banks of the Puerco and explore the history of Guadalupe, New Mexico, where Mr. García spent his boyhood. This vast, empty landscape, punctuated by mesas, canyons, and volcanic plugs, is one of my favorite areas in the entire state to explore.

The remains of the village of Guadalupe—also known as Ojo del Padre—are south of San Luis on Country Road 279, which intersects Highway 550 north of San Ysidro. It is remote, requiring a drive of many miles down dirt roads in varying states of maintenance to find it. So much the better then! The village was named for the Virgin of Guadalupe, while the earlier moniker, Ojo del Padre (“spring of the Father”), referred to a nearby water source. Oddly enough, when a post office was opened in 1898 the name used was “Miller,” but no one can remember why. That name lasted until 1905, when the post office became Ojo del Padre.

The first thing that one notices upon rounding the corner into Guadalupe, aside from majestic Cabezon Peak looming in the distance, is the wonderful two-story adobe building listing precariously on the side of the road. Built around 1905, this was the home and store of Juan Córdova and it’s often said there was a dance hall behind it. However, Nasario García refers to the lower floor of this ruin as not only a store, but the dancehall itself when the occasion called for it, with Mr. Córdova’s family living upstairs. It’s hard to argue with someone that was there, so perhaps this big adobe, which once had an impressive balcony, served all purposes. However, everyone agrees that the dances at Juan Córdova’s were major events. In the 1920’s, 350 people lived in the immediate area, mostly farming and raising livestock, and these dances, which began at sundown, could go on until four in the morning. Jose Tafoya would play the accordion while his brother Luis handled the guitar.

Yet just a short time later, in the early 1930’s, Guadalupe, like so many parts of the country, was hit by staggering drought. A full half of the cattle died. Then, around 1938, the log-and-brush dam which had captured water from the Río Puerco for local irrigation gave way. The government said rebuilding was too expensive a project for federal assistance and the communities along the Puerco were too impoverished to do it themselves. Then throw in the lasting effects of the Great Depression and the lure of employment in larger cities and Guadalupe didn’t really stand a chance. The school, the post office, and Córdova’s store all closed in 1958 as the last family left.

While a lowered water table and generally challenging landscape have kept people from returning to Guadalupe, you may find a couple folks hanging around. In fact, at least two structures are maintained and lived-in, one being the old schoolhouse. It’s not wise to go roaming around on private property out here, but if you see anyone nearby it’s worth introducing yourself and stating your business. Guadalupe’s few present-day residents are friendly and you’ll usually be given permission to take all the photos you want of the ruins on either side of the road, which include other old adobe homes slowly melting back into the landscape.

And that’s most of what I know about the history of Guadalupe. You can find a chapter on Guadalupe in “Ghost Towns Alive: Trips to New Mexico’s Past,” by Linda Harris and another tidbit or two in "The Place Names of New Mexico" by Robert Julyan. But I would highly recommend October 2017’s City of Dust post, “Nasario García Remembers the Río Puerco,” for some wonderful firsthand accounts. If you want to get deeper into the Río Puerco Valley, Mr. García’s book, ““Hoe, Heaven, and Hell: My Boyhood in Rural New Mexico,” cannot be recommended highly enough.

Speaking of getting deeper into the Río Puerco Valley, that always sounds like a good thing to do and so next time we’ll visit Guadalupe’s movie star neighbor, Cabezón, which sits just below the volcanic plug from which it got its name.

Until then, Happy New(ish) Year!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Nasario García Remembers the Río Puerco

Over the past few years the Río Puerco Valley has become one of my favorite places in New Mexico. About an hour northwest of Albuquerque, with majestic Cabezon Peak always in sight and miles of the Continental Divide Trail close at hand, here you'll find the villages of San Luis, Cabezón, Guadalupe, and Casa Salazar, some of which are essentially ghost towns. No, there aren’t many people around the Puerco Valley anymore and not a lot of its history has been recorded.

However, one person who has done more than any other to ensure that the Río Puerco Valley is not forgotten is historian and folklorist Nasario García. Raised on the banks of the Puerco, Nasario is the subject of a brand new documentary, “Nasario Remembers the Río Puerco,” and following are four of his stories that do not appear in the film, each recollection inspired by photographs from the area.

I’m very proud to feature these stories here and I want to thank Director and Producer Shebana Coelho for making this happen, as well as Nasario García himself, of course. The broadcast premier of “Nasario Remembers the Río Puerco” will be this Thursday, October 12, 2017, at 7PM on New Mexico PBS/KNME Channel 5. I’ve seen the movie and it’s truly wonderful. I highly recommend it to all. For more information, visit Nasario Remembers.

Now, without further ado, City of Dust presents Nasario García and New Mexico’s Río Puerco Valley:

Sal Lovato General Store. Cabezón, New Mexico.

“This store was owned by the Salomón Lovato family. He is one of the contributors to my book, ‘Recuerdos de los Vijeitos.’ You can see where they had different merchandise: canned goods, dried goods and so forth.

“The kind of merchandise they had in these stores was foodstuff that you could not grow, that you could not raise from the land. Here you came and bought, say, lard, even though that wasn't always the case because there was lard from the matanzas. Baking powder, sugar, salt, and some canned goods started coming into existence, as well as dry cereal such as oatmeal. Also, any number of other things—flour, for example. When corn began to become scarce, people would come in the Lovato Store and buy sacks of flour. Those sacks were very important because once the flour was gone the sacks were used to make blouses for the women, blouses for the young girls. In many cases, a young girl would show up at a dance with a rose on the back of her blouse that came from the flour sack. Nobody really looked at you as being odd. That was the moda—fashionable—among many of the families.

“I imagine the store was especially busy on weekends. Of course, a lot of Navajos came from the reservation on weekends. Probably the high point of trading was during the lambing season through the sheering of sheep, which was in May and June. The selling of cattle—those who had cattle—occurred in late September or in October, perhaps even early November. People would make money selling their cattle, selling their sheep. Naturally, that's when they would come to buy a lot of merchandise. But it didn't matter the time of year because many merchants sold on credit. People would pay their bills, say, once or twice a year, whenever they sold their sheep, their wool, their cattle.”

View from Enchanted Mesa Looking Toward Cabezon Peak and Nasario’s Grandpa’s Corral.

“The Enchanted Mesa was right across the Río Puerco from where we lived. That’s the mesa that my paternal grandmother would tell us never to visit because, if we did, we were likely to be turned into goats. My grandmother referred to it as La Mesa Encantada. Many years later, after I left the valley, archaeologists discovered that it was a Chaco Canyon outlier. Now it’s called the Guadalupe Ruins.

“In the evenings, while we were shucking corn, Grandma Lale—her nickname—would tell us stories with the Enchanted Mesa in sight—stories that had to do with the local culture, the local folklore, such as the white donkey, a rarity among donkeys. As she and my Grandpa Lolo, as we called him, told us, they were coming from the placita at night, perhaps after a dance, when suddenly a white donkey appeared and kept pestering the female horse—la yegua—and my grandmother says, as she's telling the story, ‘Look there, I wonder where it came from.’ My grandpa said, ‘I don't know. I know all the donkeys in the valley and I've never seen a white donkey.’ The donkey kept pestering and pestering. ‘Furthermore,’ says my grandpa, ‘there are no white donkeys around.’ My grandmother says, ‘But I am glad this one's here, because a white donkey means good luck. It doesn't mean evil like a black donkey.’

“She would weave these stories, and, in the meantime, we are on pins and needles wondering what's going to happen next. At the end of the story, my grandmother asked my grandfather, ‘Now, truly, what do you think about this white donkey?’ They said they’d turned their heads and the donkey was gone. They never saw it leave. It was stories like this that she liked to share with us grandchildren. She had many, many others.”

Córdova’s Dancehall. Guadalupe, New Mexico.

“This two-story house was in my village of Guadalupe—Ojo del Padre. The bottom floor was used as a dancehall. This is the only two-story house in the entire Río Puerco Valley that I know of. In fact, today there's probably only a handful left in villages like mine throughout all of New Mexico. This house was built around 1905 by the Juan Córdova family. He was a local merchant. He and his family lived upstairs and downstairs was a store that was periodically turned into a dancehall. There was competition from time to time between this dancehall and the Romero Dancehall. A cousin of mine and I, we were small. I was about seven and my cousin about nine years old. We were supposed to spray water on the dirt floors after every dance because of the dust. Of course, as the men drank more and more and people had more fun, we started bringing in buckets and dousing the floors. By the time the dance was over, these people couldn't move because of all the mud that we had created. My cousin Juan and I had a lot of fun.”

Photo: Shebana Coelho

One-Room Schoolhouse. Guadalupe, New Mexico.

“This was the one-room schoolhouse where I started school. There were about 25 kids from grades one to eight. There were two windows that faced the mesa, but no windows towards the back. That’s where the blackboard was and where the teacher’s desk sat. And towards the middle of the school there was a potbelly stove that the boys had to keep feeding wood into in the winter to keep the room warm. That was our responsibility. The girls had to keep the little barrel of water full. It was wrapped in burlap with a dipper—jumate—hanging from a nail. We all used the same dipper to drink water. We didn’t even wipe it clean the way priests do today when drinking wine from a chalice.

“When I started school here, one teacher taught all the grades and she would line up the boys in one row and the girls in another before entering. There were other times when she would start with the bigger kids. They would walk in first and then the little kids. But most of the time she would line up the younger kids—the first, second and third graders—first, and the older kids were at the back of the room. We had desks that seated two students, usually two boys or two girls.

“The older kids a lot of times would teach the younger how to read, how to do math. So the older kids where helpful. They became teachers. It was very much a communal educational setup. And, believe it or not, we learned. We learned because we learned from one another. Of course, we were supposed to be learning English, but most of us spoke Spanish. When we would read in English we did so with a Spanish accent. We had a book about a dog named Spot. I remember students reading, including myself: “Rrrrrrrrun Espot, rrrrrrrrun.” Because we would pronounce the initial “r” like you would in Spanish and the “s” as in “escribir” —to write. Thus “Rrrrrrun Espot, rrrrrun.”

“And some of the adobes, as you can see, are still here. The school was called, appropriately, “La Mesa School” because of Black Mesa east of the school.”

And so some of the adobes do indeed remain in the Río Puerco Valley, if barely, while many are already gone. Of those shown here, the ruins of the one-room schoolhouse were captured by Shebana Coelho, who was kind enough to allow me to include her shots. Somehow I missed those particular adobe and stone walls myself…for now. Sal Lovato's General Store and Juan Córdova's Dancehall were photographed by me, as were the three views from Enchanted Mesa.

Photo: Shebana Coelho