Love to rejoice in the season? So do our Byway destinations! We celebrate with several events that take us back to a time when gifts were handmade and we spent our holidays with our friends in neighbors at small town festivities.
Why buy gifts for your loved ones that are mass produced when you can give them unique, locally made hand-crafted clothing, artwork, jewelry and food items? Our Byway is lucky to be home to a wide range of artisans and their products are available at these events:
Elephant Butte Fine Arts & Crafts Show
Elephant Butte Lake RV Resort, 402 Butte Boulevard, Elephant Butte
This show features special variety of items for your holiday shopping. Many unique gifts including silver, jewelry, sculptures, fine art, candy, ceramics, pecans, mosaics, and much more. There will be raffle items from each vendor; proceeds go to the Sierra County Cancer Assistance Center.
Yuletide In Chloride
Saturday November 30 – Sunday December 8
Monte Cristo Gift Shop & Gallery, Wall Street, Chloride
Enjoy the scenic drive to Chloride, the holiday charm of a ghost town, great deals on works by local artisans. The Monte Cristo Gift Shop & Gallery features the work of more than two dozen local artists, providing a great selection for everyone on your gifting list as well as for yourself. Choose from paintings, photography, quilts, uniquely embroidered or hand stamped clothing, jewelry, hand crafted cards and soaps and so much more! During Yuletide in Chloride most items will be on sale up to 50% off! As a way to say “Thank you”, purchases of $25 will receive a free gift. What a great way to start the holiday season!
Christmas in the Foothills
Saturday December 7
Hillsboro Community Center, 316 Elenore Street, Hillsboro
Hillsboro’s annual holiday festival features the famous $49.99 art sale, raffles, food and vendors selling handmade holiday wares.
Monticello Holiday Store
December 7 & 8, December 14 & 15
388 Calle del Norte, Monticello
You’ll find all sorts of wonderful handmade holiday gifts at the holiday store! Numerous local artisan crafters offer unique and beautiful gifts such as candy, baked goods, artwork, health and beauty products, hand forged knives, handmade wool clothing, jewelry, scarves, mittens, lavender and herbal products, natural salves and soaps, holiday decorations, organic foods and so much more… all in very limited supply! It is impossible to adequately describe the wonderful selection of gifts we have in store for you this year.
Truth or Consequences
Friday, December 13
Downtown Truth or Consequences
The evening begins with the annual Christmas Tree lighting in Evelyn Renfro park, after which all can enjoy bonfires, carolers and other performers, and holiday refreshments in downtown T or C. A Live Nativity is at the Baptist Church; businesses are open for holiday shopping; and – ho ho ho – Santa Claus takes requests from the kiddies!
Elephant Butte Luminaria Beachwalk
Saturday, December 14
Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Highway 195, Elephant Butte
The Luminaria Walk, sponsored by Elephant Butte Lake State Park and Friends of Elephant Butte Lake, features 3000 thousand luminarias lining paths on the beach leading to community‐sponsored campsites with posole, chile, cocoa, cookies, s’mores, and more! Join the carolers, visit Santa or stop by the The Steel Soldiers’ campsite to make a donation to Make‐A‐Wish.
Dada: An Evening of Masquerade & Mayhem
Saturday, December 28
Truth or Consequences Civic Center, 400 W 4th Street, Truth or Consequences
Dress up for a spectacular night featuring live music, aerial, full stage show, DJ, and dancing.Patrons are invited to wear black-tie, formal attire, or masquerade ball fashion to the Civic Center, making you, the patron, an integral part of the show. Full bar serving your favorite beer, wine, and cocktails available for purchase
First Day Hike Over Elephant Butte Dam
Wednesday, January 1st
Elephant Butte Dam, Lakeshore Road, Elephant Butte
This is your chance to take a walk across the Dam! Elephant Butte Dam is normally closed to all traffic but for the past few years has been opened for special events including First Day Hikes.
When the dog days of summer are upon us, it’s time to cool off in the waters of the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway.
When one hears “Geronimo Trail” it’s likely that dangling your feet in a lake or floating down a river wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind, but our Byway is fortunate to enjoy a variety of lakes and waterways perfect for chilling down on hot summer days. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the largest lake in New Mexico, offers sandy beaches, great fishing and boating, walking trails and camping along its 43 mile length. This summer the lake is at its highest level in many years, with well over 500,000 acre feet of water available for recreation. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the State Park offers restrooms, picnic areas, playgrounds, and developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RV’s. Fishing guides, boat, kayak and paddle board rentals are available.
Elephant Butte Lake draws thousands of visitors throughout the summer. If you’re looking for a less populated experience, Caballo Lake & Percha Dam State Parks are just 16 miles down the road. Framed against the Caballo Mountains, Caballo Lake boasts an array of water recreation, such as boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, and fishing. Choose from 170 campsites, with plenty of sites with utility hookups for RVs. For a completely different experience, Percha Dam is a quiet park along the Rio Grande that is shaded by tall cottonwoods and provides excellent fishing, relaxing camping, and outstanding bird watching.
One of our favorite activities in the summer is to enjoy a float down the Rio Grande. Whitewater Weekends in Truth or Consequences provides everything thing that you need for a trip downriver including transportation, flotation devices, tubes, kayaks and rafts.
There are lots of options on our Byway for relaxing on the water this summer!
The Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway offers adventures of all kinds: from outdoor adventures in our forests and on our lakes, to exploring our ghost towns, to taking a break from our hectic lives and taking a long soak in one of the several hot springs of Truth or Consequences, the “biggest” small town on the Byway.
Formerly known as Hot Springs, the city of Truth or Consequences (the locals call it “T or C”) has long been a destination for wellness tourism, being touted as America’s Most Affordable Spa Town. The downtown area sits over a huge geothermal aquifer of 110-degree-Fahrenheit mineral water which comes to the surface at the river and through wells and pools. For centuries, people have visited these hot springs for their healing properties, “taking the waters” at the many bath houses in town. Today, the charmingly restored hotels, motor courts and spas reflect this history and offer travelers a wide range of accommodations that retain the flavor of this bygone era, along with healing treatments including massage, reflexology, mud wraps, reiki, and more. Visitors seeking in-room private baths will find several to choose from, and most of the baths are open to walk-ins who can pay to soak by the half hour or hour.
After you’ve done some soaking, explore the streets of downtown T or C where you will find that the city has undergone a renaissance, attracting new shops, restaurants, wineries and a brewery where live music is frequently performed. Art galleries line the downtown streets where the monthly Second Saturday Art Hop brings residents and visitors alike outdoors to soak in the laid back vibe of Truth or Consequences. A newly established walking path, the Healing Waters Trail, loops through downtown’s hot spring & commercial district, anchored by the Veterans Memorial Park on the western end and Ralph Edwards Park on the eastern end.
What’s with the name? The Spanish town of Ojo Caliente de Las Palomas (Hot Springs of the Doves) was renamed Palomas Hot Springs by the growing population of Anglos in the latter part of the 19th century; in 1916 the city was incorporated as Hot Springs, New Mexico. Then in 1950 this little town got its big name as part of a publicity scheme to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ralph Edwards’ hugely successful Truth or Consequences game show on NBC radio. Edwards suggested that there might be a town in the United States that “liked and respected” the show so much that it would change its name to Truth or Consequences. Hot Springs took the bait and in 1950 officially changed its name to Truth or Consequences.
Spring is in the air and it’s time to get outside!
If you, your family and friends are the adventurous types there is plenty of great camping along the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway. Once the weather starts warming up and the fish start biting in our lakes and river, RV and tent camping spaces book up fast.
The granddaddy of New Mexico State Parks, Elephant Butte Lake is the largest body of water in New Mexico. If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, there is plenty of water and plenty of beach room. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.
If you want an experience that gets you out into less commonly tread ground, there are campgrounds in the Gila National Forest’s Black Range District. The Kingston Campground offers 2 tent camping sites with vault toilets and fire rings, and is right off of Hwy 152 near Kingston.
The Lake Valley Back Country Byway intersects with the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway in Hillsboro.
Sweet mountain scenery, wildflowers in bloom, winding two-lane roads, chaparral birds (roadrunners) on the run, hawks soaring overhead, historic Hillsboro, and the Lake Valley ghost town… This pretty much sums up what you’ll see while cruising along the satisfyingly empty stretch of two-lane paved road known as the Lake Valley Back Country Byway.
In case you somehow didn’t know this, driving for pleasure is fun. And according to the study that led to the formation of the BLM’s National Scenic Byway and National Back Country Byway programs, this popular American pastime ranks very high on the list of things we do to forget our troubles for a while and simply enjoy being alive in this country.
I am no exception to these findings, so what a lovely time I had hanging my head out the car window and letting my sun-bleached hair fly free in the warm spring breeze. Oh wait, that was Mojo.
For anyone interested in making the trek, the Lake Valley Back Country Byway officially starts on route 152, headed west toward Hillsboro off of 181 South near Caballo Lake State Park, and then goes south along 27 toward Lake Valley and Nutt.
As you drive down this nationally designated scenic byway, you’ll probably want to pull off to the side of the road for a moment or two to take a deep breath and perhaps snap a few photos of your surroundings. Creosote, juniper, ocotillo, and mesquite-covered hills as well as stunning views of the Caballo, Black Range, and Mimbres Mountains will guide your way to Lake Valley, a once booming turn of the century manganese mining town that is now almost entirely vacant.
I say “almost” because there is a couple currently making their home amongst the ruins. But their sole reason for being there is to keep Lake Valley’s remains open to the public for self-guided ghost town walking tours (current hours of operation are Thursday through Monday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, and it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get there, depending on how fast you drive and how many stops you make).
When we made the turn off of route 27 and pulled through the entry gate, my initial impression was that there isn’t much to see in Lake Valley. And really, there isn’t. But if you stop at the Schoolhouse and grab a Self-Guided Walking Tour map (and detailed information guide) before wandering down Main Street, the well-marked yet dilapidated buildings and sites begin to come alive.
Settlers were scoring silver in Lake Valley beginning in 1878, and the Sierra Grande Mining Company, established by a fellow by the name of Whitaker Wright, was in control of the Lake Valley Mines. Apparently, with the discovery of one giant deposit of silver ore in 1882, dubbed the Bridal Chamber, Wright was able to convince several investors from back east to funnel money into the mines. One surprising little factoid is that Walt Whitman, the free-spirited poet who authored the beloved Leaves of Grass, bought 200 shares of the silver claim in Lake Valley.
After wandering around Lake Valley’s historic mining town remains, you may want to stop at the old cemetery on the other side of route 27—just past the ghost town entrance on top of a small hill.
While meandering through the somewhat overgrown rows of grave sites, I came across headstones dating back to the late-1800s. Many of the graves exist today as mere unmarked swells of earth surrounded by rocks.
I can’t explain the curious sense of peace I felt weaving in and out of the final resting places for these folks who dwelled in a very different reality than the one we’re currently experiencing. Horses and buggies, muddied streets, noisy trains rolling in and out of town, no Internet or cell phones or running water or electricity. Townspeople singing folk spirituals at the church, children playing together at the schoolhouse, miners with blackened faces gambling and drinking into the night…
It’s hard to say exactly what life looked or felt like back then, but my stroll through the cemetery was a solid reminder that in the end, we all end up in the dirt. Some of us will have fancy gravestones and poetic epitaphs; others will have nothing but a bunch of rocks to mark our meager mounds.
Still relatively removed from the machinery of modern life, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it must have felt like to arrive in town by stage coach, or on horseback, in its days as a bustling mining town in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Our first stop of the day was at the Black Range Museum, recently relocated to the building that was best known as the Ocean Grove Hotel, established by the infamous Sadie Orchard in the late 1800s.
It doesn’t take long to realize that the contents of this museum revolve around two main characters: Sadie Orchard and Tom Ying, “The Chinaman,” who cooked and served food at the Ocean Grove Hotel’s restaurant during Sadie’s turn of the century reign in Hillsboro and beyond. In the end, it was Ying who lived there until he passed in 1959, and to the best of anyone’s knowledge in the Hillsboro Historical Society, the house remained vacant from the time of Ying’s death until its reincarnation as the Black Range Museum.
As such, the members of the Historical Society who purchased the museum in 2016 and are currently working on the restoration project have had the unique challenge—and pleasure—of sorting through the vast collection of remnants left behind from the days when Sadie, Tom, and others made this place their home.
Upon entering the new museum, you step inside the former dining room of the hotel restaurant, which is currently a gift shop featuring locally made pottery, honey, books, and jewelry, as well as random artifacts and treasures of ages long past.
The display room to your left is Tom Ying’s former kitchen, which now appropriately shows off his impressive collection of cookware and speciality items such as a cabbage cutter for making kimchi, and an early model electric refrigerator. You’ll also see vintage cast iron cookware, a sturdy wooden table and kitchen cabinets, old coffee tins, an ice box, a hand-operated “washtub with agitator,” plus much more. My favorite culinary treasure is the cast iron waffle maker — a lovely addition to any modern-day kitchen or camping excursion.
On April 15, 2017, the museum unveiled a newly finished display room that features a selection of the personal items of Sadie Orchard and Tom Ying recovered in the home. Among the items revealed are Sadie’s scrapbook, jewelry, and furniture, as well as Tom Ying’s hats, letters written in Chinese, and Chinese newspapers.
There is still much work to be done and plans are in place for an outdoor walking and garden space to be built behind the museum, among other things. You can visit the property and watch its restoration unfold every Friday through Sunday, from 11am to 4pm.
On the streets of Hillsboro …
As you leave the Black Range Museum, make sure to grab a Historic Walking Tour map of Hillsboro and embark on a self-guided exploration of the historic homes and other significant buildings that are still standing in town, including a short climb up the hill to the old Courthouse and Jail site.
In 1884, Hillsboro was named the county seat for a region that included parts of present-day Sierra, Dona Ana, Grant, and Socorro counties. The remnants of the Courthouse and Jail, with sweeping views of the countryside beyond Hillsboro, were the site of many a highly publicized trial and arrest. The slowly crumbling walls, solid iron doors, and barred jailhouse windows that remain are something special to behold for those who appreciate the opportunity to step briefly into a bygone era.
Strolling down Main Street, you’ll pass by a few colorful antique shops, the Hillsboro General Store Cafe (established in 1879), the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Mission (reconstructed following a flood in 1972), picturesque historic houses, and the Enchanted Villa Bed and Breakfast (built in 1941 as a vacation home for wealthy entrepreneur Sir Victor Sassoon).
While wandering around, I also spotted a sign for an RV Village with RV and tent sites and vintage trailers for rent. Word on the street is that the owner is working hard to restore airstreams and tin can trailers for weary travelers to rest their bones, as well as offering RV sites with hookups for those already hitched to a trailer on the road. We snuck a peek and it looks like a charming, quirky camp is in place just a few blocks from Main Street in Hillsboro.
Wine-ing down …
The last stop of the day was at Black Range Vineyards. Owned by Brian and Nicki O’Dell, the tasting room features a selection of local New Mexico wines, including a few produced and bottled at Black Range Vineyards in Hillsboro. I sampled a flight of whites and reds; the El Gallo Loco red blend with a hint of New Mexico red chile was my personal favorite. The gently rolling heat of the chile mixed with the fruity, peppery flavors of red wine was a unique “New Mexico True” treat that really hit the spot.
A final perk of the evening was that every Friday around 6pm, Black Range Vineyards comes alive with the sounds of the local pickers. They gather in the Blind Dog Art Gallery, a room adjacent to the wine bar, and fill the air with a sweet blend of folk and bluegrass guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and stand-up bass.
To our delight, this warm group of musicians welcome newcomers with open arms and even asked us to join the circle and play a few tunes. So Rob (my day tripping companion) picked up a guitar and I sang a bit before hitting the road back home.
Hillsboro’s Black Range Vineyards Friday night pickers gathered in Blind Dog Gallery. Artwork by David Farrell.
For anyone interested in checking out this lively bunch of instrumentalists, they also play every Saturday morning at the Hillsboro Farmer’s Market, which starts at 10am. Black Range Vineyards is open every Thursday through Sunday, 12pm to 6pm, with later hours on Friday night.
My exploratory day trip to Caballo was so enjoyable that later the same week I took Mojo on another Geronimo Trail adventure. This time, I started on 181 South at its more northern junction out by Elephant Butte Lake, jogged over to the 195 south for a drive (still going south) through Elephant Butte, then, on a whim, I took the turn onto 51 toward Engle.
Although it’s technically not on the Geronimo Trail, Engle is considered a side trip to the Rio Grande leg of the trail, and it’s along the El Camino Real Auto Tour, so I went for it. The sun was shining with dark gray clouds gathering in the direction I was heading, and I imagined a little rain on the road might make things more interesting.
Driving along with the radio blasting and very few cars passing, the Fra Cristobal and San Mateo Mountains to the west and San Andres Mountains as a distant backdrop in the northeast, I was feeling good. The skies were shifting overhead as I cruised along, and when those gray clouds finally burst, about a mile or so past the right turn I made by the entrance to the Armendaris Ranch, I pulled off the road to run in the rain with Mojo.
If I’d kept driving south, I would’ve ended up at the Yost Escarpment and Point of Rocks Trailheads, which are both part of the Jornada del Muerto. My old Honda Accord wasn’t really up for the dips and dives in the freshly muddied and unpaved, rocky road, though, so I headed east and ended up at a long dirt road that took us past the Spaceport.
The sun was shining again, so I got out for a short walk and then turned around and headed back toward town.
As I approached the mountain-hugging section of 51 that winds somewhat steeply on its climb to the Elephant Butte Dam Historic Site and Overlook before making its way down toward Truth or Consequences, I noticed a small pull-off spot with a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sign posted at a trailhead.
We left the rain behind in Engle and I was itching for a hike in a place I’d never been, so I parked the car and got out to stretch my legs.
After wandering around for a while on the dirt trail interwoven with a wash that stretches on for further than I could go before dark, I made my way back and found a rocky spot closer to my car that looked like the perfect place to sit and drink in some awe-inspiring scenery.
We watched the sunset there—Mojo and I. Coyotes were yipping and howling in their crazed, cartoon-like way as the sky lit up in a fiery burst of red, pink, and gold. I took photos, wrote a song, and whispered words of thankfulness for this amazingly beautiful place we call home.
One thing I love about living in a space of such immense openness and seemingly untouched wilderness is the ability to hop in my car, drive for not very long at all, and end up almost entirely devoid of the energetic interference of others.
Not that I don’t love people. But I need a healthy dose of solitude to maintain my sanity. Thankfully, Sierra County is rich in long stretches of space unoccupied by two-legged beings with their endless mental chatter and obsession with technology and material goods. (Yes, I realize I’m one of these creatures.)
That’s why one of my favorite things to do around here is simply go for a drive and soak in some scenery. Since I’ve been so blessedly tasked with writing about my explorations along the Geronimo Trail, it occurred to me recently that I may as well start using that as my guide.
So a week or so ago, when I found myself wanting to get out of town, I did just that. I put Mojo, my 11-pound canine companion, behind the wheel (not really), and hit the trail.
From the moment we turned onto 181 South in Williamsburg, I knew we were in for a sweet ride. Those familiar white puffy clouds were dotting the otherwise blue sky, and the Caballo Mountains were calling to me. When the time came, I made the turn toward Caballo Lake State Park. I’d never really ventured too far into the park, so I paid the $5 day use fee to get out and go for a walk.
I chose the Upper Flats campground trail, which no one else appeared to be on that day. I sensed that I’d be on more of a leisurely stroll than a challenging hike, but sometimes that’s all you really need.
One of the first things we encountered was a shady grove where other humans had obviously been camping in recent days and/or weeks. Mojo began running excitedly in circles trying to inhale as many new smells as his little part-dachshund nose could handle. Maybe this makes me strange, but there’s something about seeing him derive such immense pleasure from merely sniffing out spots to mark with his scent that makes me smile.
Sadly, the campers had left a bit of trash behind (seriously, why does anyone litter?). But one thing that really lifted my spirits was the sight of several butterflies swirling around a particular plant (pictured below). It was a beautiful thing to behold.
The small section of Caballo State Park I meandered through features wide trails and primitive camping areas designated throughout. In the middle of a weekday, the only other life forms I encountered were insects, lizards, rabbits, and birds, which on this sunny September day included snowy egret, great blue heron, coots, and migratory white pelicans floating along the surface of the lake. Fitting, considering the park is on the New Mexico Birding Trail.
Eventually, I stopped at a somewhat secluded spot to sit down and write. Staring at the Caballo Mountains with the sunlight reflecting on the lake, I felt a familiar, serene sensation wash over and through me. It’s the moment I wait for when I’m on these types of excursions, so I savored its sweetness.
As I got up to leave, Mojo tugged me toward a side trail that led to another overlook. As soon as we reached the tree-lined edge, I was struck by the sight of something I don’t see much of around here in a wash of lakeside land below—green, and lots of it.
It may sound silly, but I actually felt tears well up in my eyes as I allowed them to drink in all those green things growing in the middle of the desert. Granted, my arrival at this particular view lined up harmoniously with the Golden Hour of sunlight saturating everything around me in a magical splash of warmth and color.
But still. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a handful of years and although I don’t miss the near constant rain, I often find myself aching for the old growth forests and intense greenery of those coastal areas.
Let’s just say that when we drove away from the park after sunset and headed back home, my heart was swelling with gratitude for Sierra County’s natural treasures.
When was the last time you took a drive to Chloride?
See the roadrunner? Also known as Chaparral Bird.
If you’ve never been, just the ride alone is scenic enough to make it worth your while. All weather roads that wind their way through breathtaking mountain vistas, vast high desert spaces stretching on for miles, and puffy-cloud-studded blue skies galore. You’ll pass through Cuchillo with the old white church and Winston with its well-known General Store. You may even run into some ranch cattle crossing the road here and there, and if you look closely, a roadrunner may catch your eye (as in the above photo).
So, what’s the draw of making that turn toward Chloride? Aside from being a somewhat under the radar “gateway to the Gila” (yes, the roads are rough but it’s true!), it seems like there’s always something new underway in this historic gem of a ghost town that’s been visited, documented, and featured in several publications and documentary-style shorts through the years.
I’ve lived in Sierra County for a little over a year now, and this was my first time exploring this well-preserved slice of New Mexico’s history and meeting its devoted caretakers and stewards, Don and Dona Edmund and their daughter, Linda Turner. I spent a full day seeing the sights and soaking it all in. With only 11 current residents making their homes in Chloride as of my visit, it was quite a trip just to imagine how it must have looked, sounded, and felt to be amidst the town’s silver mining madness over 100 years ago.
At one time hustling and bustling with around 3,000 folks who came from all over to try and strike it rich—or just live simply—out west in the late 1880s, Linda (our very friendly and knowledgeable tour guide) says we would’ve seen saloons, dance halls, eateries, boarding houses, miners, tradesmen, blacksmiths, businessmen, and a community of folks who may have appeared gruff on the outside but were known to look after one another when it came to basic needs and dealing with out of town cowboys and miners who got a little too rowdy (a.k.a. they tied ‘em to the “Hanging Tree,” pictured below, and let them cool down overnight and wake up in the morning chained—not hung—to said tree, smack in the center of town). And yes, like most mining towns in the west, this one is believed to have had its backwoods “cribs” where the ladies of the night did what they had to do to survive.
The Hanging Tree
What you’ve most likely heard of already is the most prominent feature of present-day Chloride: the Pioneer Store Museum. Built in 1880 by a man named James Dalglish as a one-stop shop for all your food, self-care, household good, U.S. postal service, and work-related needs, the store remained under his ownership until 1897, when he moved his family to Hillsboro (another historic town on the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway).
In 1908, after leasing the store for several years from afar, Dalglish sold it to the U.S. Treasury Mining Company, which was owned and operated by the James family. The new owners kept it stocked and serving the people of Chloride for a number of years, but with their business dwindling and the town rapidly losing its residents, the James family closed up shop in 1923. Lumber and tin were used to board up the doors and windows, and all the merchandise was left sitting on the shelves.
Pioneer Store Museum: chock-full of history.
Amazingly, when the Edmunds purchased the property from the youngest son of the James family in 1989 and stepped inside the store for the first time in almost 70 years, they discovered bottles, boxes, trinkets, and treasures galore—most of them perfectly in tact. Yes, they had to shoo away rats and bats and do a complete restoration and cleaning of the property to get it ready for public appreciation.
But ultimately, the building had remained standing for several decades following its closure, “sealed like a giant time capsule,” as Linda described it. And once the sorting, scouring, and repair work was done, there remained a significant assortment of artifacts that makes an old west history lover like myself feel like a kid in a candy store.
Kid in a candy store
As you wander around the museum, you can marvel at the fact that much of the original building—floors included—is what you are seeing when you walk through the Pioneer Store today and ogle the fascinating assortment of odds and ends that have stood the test of time. There are the basics, like clothing, shoes, boxes of underwear, hair-care products, large cell batteries, stamps, cookware, household tools, liquor, and foodstuffs.
And then there’s the giant vintage radio that belonged to one of the women in town who liked to broadcast local news to the neighbors, as well as my personal favorite: typesetting tools and printing blocks from back when the upstairs of the building housed the Black Range Newspaper from 1882 to 1896. The presses were relocated to Hillsboro when Chloride’s silver boom died out, but a few of the original Black Range printings are preserved and on display in the museum’s document gallery (sweet!).
I also really loved the antique fireproof credit machine and cash register in one, which was not only beautifully designed and constructed, but also kept a detailed and highly organized paper trail of all customer accounts and general store business affairs. (People owed some pretty big debts to the store back in the day!)
Fun fact: The antique credit tracker and cash register runs on large cell batteries and when Mr. Edmund hooked it up to see if it still works, he found that it did. Talk about built to last!
Inner workings of the antique credit machine & cash register
Another mildly entertaining observation was to take note of the food and beverage companies that were alive and kicking at the turn of the century: We saw Folgers and Maxwell House coffee cans, boxes of Quaker Oats, and a quarter-full bottle of Jim Beam Whiskey, just to name a few.
Dry goods of yore
One lesser-known tidbit Linda shared involved a man by the name of Thomas Edison (yep, that one). Apparently, Edison embarked on an exploratory research assignment that took him through several mining towns out west, including Chloride. While in town, he met and hit it off with a local resident by the name of Henry Schmidt. Schmidt, who was one of the original town surveyors and settlers in 1880, was a tinkerer and inventor in his own right, though far in body from the bright lights and big investors of the cities back east.
He and Edison had a great deal in common, and they became good friends through the years, with Edison making several return trips to Chloride to compare notes and spend time with Schmidt. On one of those trips, he left one of his latest inventions with Schmidt. It remains in the Pioneer Store Museum today, dubbed the Edison Magic Lamp.
An interesting aside to the Edison story is that Henry Schmidt, who lived in Chloride until his dying day, now has one of his self-made X-ray machines, the construction of which was influenced by Thomas Edison, on display in the University of Texas School of Medicine in Galveston. And according to Linda, when Henry’s son Raymond passed away not too long ago, four hand-wound electric motors were found in the home—two labeled Thomas A. Edison, Menlo Park, New Jersey, and two labeled Schmidt & Edison, Chloride, New Mexico.
Appropriately, these were sent to Henry’s great grandchildren as family heirlooms and keepsakes. However, Linda would love to one day see them show up in Chloride again. “Hopefully, if they ever decide they don’t have a place for them, they’ll think about me, and bring them back to the museum here in Chloride,” she added with a smile.
Beyond the Pioneer Store Museum, a Chloride attraction that has yet to become a reality but is in the works is the Cassie Hobbs house. As an avid reader of pioneer women’s stories, I was instantly intrigued by Cassie, one of 12 children who was born and grew up in a covered wagon until age 14, and then married a cowboy named Earl at 16 and traveled with him from camp to camp for many years. She spent much of her life in tents and wagons, and along the way learned how to build custom-made furniture and make all of their clothing from scratch every time they set up camp.
She eventually settled with her faithful rambling man in Chloride, where she continued to craft fine furniture, intricately woven shoes, and colorful outfits for herself and her neighbors from the comfort of her home, all while growing a vegetable garden full of food and regaling locals with tales of tougher times. As Linda said, “She epitomizes the pioneer spirit.” And since her passing, the Edmunds have been working toward turning Cassie’s home into a museum that preserves and portrays her countless creations and pioneer woman ways.
Handmade by Cassie Hobbs
I could go on—about the stories Linda shared, the handful of additional historic buildings that are currently in restoration and will eventually be added to the Chloride collection, and the countless hours the Edmund family has spent rescuing and restoring these ancient relics.
But one important point must be made: Did you know this entire operation is run by donation only? I sure didn’t. I was actually quite shocked to learn that the New Mexico Historical Society does not help in any way to fund their work, and so Don, Dona, and Linda have relied entirely on patron offerings and fundraisers since they first opened the museum doors over 20 years ago.
Consider helping the history of New Mexico’s boomtowns live on by supporting their cause, be it via an in-person visit and donation or a check in the mail. Or, perhaps a more indulgent way to contribute to the preservation of Chloride is to plan on staying in one of the cozy cabins* available by the night to weary travelers. I got a peek inside, and I can definitely see planning a getaway down the road. Soaking in the rich history of a restored rustic cabin from the late 1800s combined with the comfort of a modern mattress? Plus star-filled night skies free of light pollution and an opening to the Gila Wilderness within walking distance?
Count me in. Oh, and I’ll take another taco plate and a slice of homemade pie from the Chloride Bank Café, to stay.
Delicious food within!
*More information is available at the Pioneer Store Museum website regarding current hours and buildings open to the public, rental cabins, and a thorough history of the town and its residents.
Our correspondent Elise will be out on the trail in coming weeks and months, and will share her experiences here.
Elise planted her roots in Sierra County’s quaint and quirky town of Truth or Consequences in the summer of 2015. Hot springs, blue skies, sunshine, and starry nights are what drew her to this particular southwestern corner of the country, as well as a growing desire to escape the industrialized machinery of fast-paced, ultra-expensive city life.
When not writing about her explorations and experiences, she enjoys soaking in the mineral-rich hot springs of T or C, hiking with her man and her two little dogs around town, and hopping in the car for exploratory adventures throughout New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, as well as singing, songwriting, playing guitar, yoga-ing, meditating, reading, baking gluten-free goods, planting seeds, and watching things grow in this high desert haven of a home.