Monday, October 10, 2022

Take the Flat Way Home: Tollgate Canyon, NM

A crumbling stone cabin is now all that welcomes you to Tollgate Canyon.

If you’re reading this it means I've managed to successfully upload the first post of new content on City of Dust since January 2018. Wow. It feels like that was a million years ago. Professionally, personally, geographically…globally. Everything is different. Some of that explains my long absence from this blog. However, I hope this marks the return of the long-form (or longish-form, in this case) pieces that I eventually compiled in “Abandoned New Mexico: Ghost Towns, Endangered Architecture, and Hidden History,” the publication of which also pulled me away from the blog. But I ain’t complaining! It’s good to be at least attempting a comeback, and we shall see how things go!

I’ve written a number of times about the Belen Cutoff, the rail line built across east-central New Mexico by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway as a way to avoid the steep grade over Raton Pass. Completed in 1906, the Belen Cutoff provided a much flatter way to get trains through the state and is still being used today. It’s the main reason villages like YESO, TAIBAN, NEGRA, RICARDO, and many others came to exist. Or at least persisted, if only until the trains came to need diesel instead of water in the 1950s.

But the railroad wasn’t the first entity that was often unhappy to be going over Raton Pass, with its difficult ascent and dangerously unpredictable weather. In the 1800s, those traveling the Santa Fe Trail between New Mexico Territory and eastern Colorado by horse, mule, wagon, or foot frequently wished for something less arduous, as well; the Mountain Route of the famed trail went right over the Pass. And so it came to be that Tollgate Canyon was established which, unlike the Belen Cutoff, is now largely forgotten and rarely used by anybody other than local travelers.

The Folsom Supply Co. building in Folsom, New Mexico.

Somewhere around 1870, Bazil “Baz” Metcalf, after traveling the Santa Fe Trail in an ox-drawn wagon from Missouri several years prior, was hired to work on the Cross L Ranch, then recently established by the Hall Brothers on the Dry Cimarron River. Baz got to thinking that creating a route for wagon freight and travelers along the nearby Santa Fe Trail that avoided Raton Pass would be helpful and possibly quite lucrative. In fact, a short canyon that headed south out of Emory Gap, New Mexico, and into the Dry Cimarron Valley provided a perfect place to build a toll road. Even the military could use this road to move between Fort Union in New Mexico Territory through the new settlement of Granada, Colorado, and into Bent’s Fort.

The road was completed in 1873, and Metcalf installed everything he thought might be useful, which included a store, a saloon, and a chain across the road that stretched between two boulders. If you were traveling by buggy, Metcalf charged 35 cents. A two-horse team ran 40 cents, while a four-horse wagon cost 75. There was a fee for cattle, too, which were sent north to feed the military posts and mining camps. Metcalf’s brother, John, minded the tollgate and watched Baz’s ranch when Baz was trading in the territory.

Native American raids were always a possibility, and in 1874, a year after Baz opened the road, Comanche and Kiowa attackers killed 17 settlers in the Dry Cimarron Valley. The Metcalf brothers survived that incident, and Baz escaped injury during another brush in 1876.

Built in 1896, the Doherty Mercantile now operates as the Folsom Museum, within which treasures await.

For 12 years, from 1873 to 1885, Tollgate Canyon operated as an important conduit for goods and people, largely creating the Fort Union-Granada Road. But in 1885, Metcalf decided to move to the Texas panhandle, where he would fence-in over 30 miles demarcating the northern boundary of the XIT Ranch. He used 5,200+ cedar posts to do it. At over 3,000,000 acres, the XIT would then become the largest fenced ranch in the world. Baz sold his toll road to Mike Devoy, but the clock was ticking on its usefulness, and with the arrival of the Colorado and Southern Railroad in 1888, Tollgate Canyon’s prominence disappeared in the blink of an eye.

The road that led through Tollgate Canyon is now NM Highway 551, just northeast of Folsom, in northwestern Union County, and the place where Baz collected his tolls is about two miles northwest of the intersection with NM Highway 456. All that indicates the location is a state historical marker and the crumbling stone cabin shown at the top of this post.

An old chicken coop in Capulin, New Mexico, near Folsom and not far from Tollgate Canyon.

However, you can see the ragged trunk that once held the tolls at the Folsom Museum. In fact, the best online history of Tollgate Canyon--and the one from which I got most of this information--was posted by the Folsom Museum RIGHT HERE. Check it out for more photos, too. You can also see Tollgate Canyon during the museum’s yearly Dry Cimarron River History Tour, which occurs in May and is how I came to visit it myself. For more info on all that, I highly recommend becoming a regular visitor to the Folsom Museum’s WEBSITE.

And there’s the first post in nearly five years! I’ve already got the next one drafted, but I’ll keep quiet as to more specifics so as not to jinx myself. Thanks to everyone that’s supported my endeavors, and I hope ya’ll have been hanging in there as best you can!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

AVAILABLE NOW! Abandoned New Mexico: Ghost Towns, Endangered Architcture, and Hidden History

Alright, following a two-month delay due to Covid-19 and an initial pre-order run to get my process down, I'm very pleased to FINALLY make "Abandoned New Mexico: Ghost Towns, Endangered Architecture, and Hidden History" available to everybody. Yes, that means there is now a City of Dust web store! There you can order a signed copy of the book directly from me, as well as find a book bundle, signed prints, and one-of-a-kind framed photographs. If you're near Albuquerque, Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town and Organic Books in Nob Hill have copies. We're working on getting the book into more independent shops throughout the state soon, and Amazon and Barnes & Noble are both shipping it now, as well. I'll happily send copies overseas, but postage is expensive (and the book weighs just over a pound!), so it  might be worth checking Amazon in your country first...if it operates there.

The book clocks in at 40,000+ words and 160 pages, and contains 150 photographs. It's broken into eight sections, which include: 

The Albuquerque Railyards
Central New Mexic
U.S. Highway 6
The Eastern Plains
Route 66
Southwestern New Mexico
The Old New Mexico State Penitentiary
Northeastern New Mexico
The initial response has been wonderful and I'm very grateful to everyone that has already bought a copy and/or helped spread the word. There has been a fun Q & A in Albuquerque The Magazine, nice review in New Mexico Magazine, and a lovely spread in the Albuquerque Journal's weekly "Venue" supplement.

All that said, please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to order the book via another means (i.e., Venmo, PayPal, Zelle, cash, check, trade...I take 'em all).
Also, as the City of Dust blog has been dormant for the two years I've been working on this book (and moving across state lines a couple times, as well), I really, truly hope to resume posting here shortly. 2020 hasn't been kind to plans of almost any type or description, but fingers crossed!
And with that...please stay tuned!

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!