It was quite a feat getting to this once flourishing mining town nestled deep within the Mogollon Mountains in western New Mexico. Mogollon sits approximately 12 miles from the nearest “town”, Glenwood (population: 139), and only 3 miles of that 12 is actual highway. The rest is a 9-mile precarious road, which has a serious “Hills Have Eyes” vibe to it. At one point, I considered turning around and saying “forget it” because the road and overall atmosphere concerned me so much (I had my 5-year-old with me). However, I reminded myself of all the blogs I read about this town (if they could make it, then so could we) and on we trudged. The road remained narrow and winding, but did eventually move away from the cliffside and more into the woods. The creepy atmosphere dulled only slightly once we finally arrived at the town.
Very important: again, the road to Mogollon is very narrow, very curvy (at one point, there was a blind curve with only a mirror attached to the canyon wall to help guide you), and at certain points, it’s adjacent with the cliffside with no safety railing. It’s not somewhere I’d ever want to be at night or when the weather is bad. My cellphone had zero signal the whole time, which was pretty much the norm in that part of New Mexico. Also, there is no gas station in Mogollon given that it’s a “ghost town”… and it’s 18 miles round trip. Please plan your trip safely and smartly!
Now that the warnings are out of the way… named after Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, the governor of New Mexico from 1712 to 1715, many pronounce it the correct Spanish way, “mo-go-yone”, but the locals prefer a more, “relaxed” version, calling it “muggy-yohn”. The town was founded in 1876 after the discovery of gold; however, the first permanent cabin wasn’t built until 1889 by miner John Eberle once the mines were officially established. One year later a post office and jail were built, and the school followed two years after that. In its heyday, Mogollon boasted anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 residents, at any given time, and was known as one of the wildest mining towns in the west due to its extreme isolation. The town was regularly home to gamblers, stage-coach robbers, claim jumpers (a corrupt miner who attempts to seize the land that another miner has already made a claim to), gunmen and outlaws.
The main mine in Mogollon was “Little Fanny”, which was extremely dusty and horrible for the miners’ health. Many began to suffer from “Miner’s Consumption”, formally known as silicosis, which is a work-related lung disease caused by breathing in crystalline silica dust. Most miners had an approximate 3-year shelf life before they became too sick to work. By 1909, the population of the town was around 2,000 and had five saloons, two restaurants, four retail stores, two hotels, several brothels, a town photographer, theatre, bakery, and an ice maker. The “Silver City and Mogollon Stage Line” provided a daily service between Silver City, New Mexico and Mogollon, hauling gold, silver, other cargo, and people.
Sadly, fires and floods afflicted the town from the very beginning, and for numerous years after. In 1894, the first massive fire broke out and destroyed half the town due to all the buildings being made of wood. Subsequent fires followed in 1904, 1910, 1915, and 1942. As for flooding, Silver Creek runs right through the heart of town and floods destroyed the town in 1894, 1896, 1899, and 1914. If it wasn’t a fire, it was a flood, and both continuously destroyed many of the mine tailings (mine waste, usually consisting of rock and water), homes, bridges and businesses, and killed many people.
Unfortunately, during WWI, the demand for gold and silver dropped significantly, causing many of the town’s mines to close. This, of course, had a tremendous impact on the number of residents remaining in Mogollon, which in turn influenced the town itself. By 1930, the population had dropped from almost 6,000 to 200 people. Once the value of gold increased after 1930, the town experienced a small revival in population, but then WWII hit, and it happened all over again. The town was never able to recover after that.
We visited at the very beginning of December, which is sadly well beyond the tourist season. Unfortunately, all of the businesses, the Mogollon Museum, and the town’s only restaurant (The Purple Onion) were closed. They are open only between May and October. Therefore, visitation to the town was almost nonexistent. There was one car leaving when we arrived, and only one that drove through (and promptly left) while we were there. I never saw a single soul anywhere else. It was a plus and a negative. For one, we were unbothered by other sightseers, basically having the entire town to ourselves. But then again, it was sooo incredibly creepy.
The town was – literally – a ghost town. However, it’s not completely dilapidated or turned into a tourist trap like other ghost towns (cough… Calico Ghost Town: Welcome to the Wild West. and Goldfield Ghost Town: Gold & The Supes…. cough). Many of the buildings are very well maintained, some even newly built, while others are completely rotting and falling apart. All the buildings are privately owned, and some people allegedly live there year-around. I googled the population of Mogollon in 2021 and could only find the population from 2000… which was zero.
Lastly, some may recognize Mogollon from the 1973 “Spaghetti Western” called My Name is Nobody, starring Henry Fonda and Terence Hill. The movie was filmed entirely in Mogollon, and they even built a saloon/theater and general store as part of the set. These two buildings are still standing 48 years later today, and while they look super cool, they are NOT relics of the town’s original Wild West past.
Overall, while I’d like to have spent a bit more time in Mogollon (mainly just getting the chance to visit the museum and cemetery – too scared), I am still very happy I pushed (most of) my fears aside and visited this historic town. While I was able to get a good feel of the town, frankly, I was unnerved the whole time. I was alone with my small child, in an abandoned town, 9 miles deep inside the mountains, with no cellphone reception, and not a soul around. However! If you are braver than me or can go during peak season when there are far more visitors, definitely visit the cemetery and explore the other buildings that are beyond the main town area. You can’t beat American Wild West history like this.