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 is highway. The rest is a 9-mile precarious road, to say the least, which has a serious “Hills Have Eyes” vibe to it. At one point, I even considered turning around and saying “forget this” because the road and overall atmosphere concerned me so much (I had my 5-year-old with me). However, I pushed aside my fears, reminded myself of all the blogs I read about this town (if they could make it there, then so could I), and on we trudged. The road remained narrow and winding but did eventually move away from the cliffside and into the woods. The creepy atmosphere dulled only slightly once we finally arrived at the town.
Just to reiterate, as I believe this is very important: 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 is on a cliffside with no safety railing. It’s not somewhere I’d ever dare to venture at night or when the weather is bad. My cellphone had zero signal the whole time, but that’s pretty much the norm everywhere in that part of New Mexico. Also, there is obviously no gas station in Mogollon given that it’s a ghost town, and it’s 18 miles round trip. So, please plan your trip safely and smartly!
Named after Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, the governor of New Mexico from 1712 to 1715, many people 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 brothers, a town photographer, theatre, bakery, and an ice maker. The “Silver City and Mogollon Stage Line” provided a daily service between Silver City and Mogollon, hauling gold, silver, other cargo, and people.
Sadly, fires and floods afflicted the town from the beginning, and for many, many years. 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. So, 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 (at one point) 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.
My daughter and I visited at the very beginning of December, well beyond the tourist season. Unfortunately, all of the businesses and the Mogollon Museum, as well as, the town’s only restaurant, The Purple Onion, are open only between May and October. Visitation to the town was almost nonexistent. There was one car leaving when we arrived, and only one that drove through (then promptly left) while we were there. I never saw a single soul anywhere else. For me, it was a plus and a negative. On the plus side, we were unbothered by other sightseers, basically having the entire town to ourselves. On the downside, it was sooo incredibly creepy. Like “you are being watched and may end up in a horror movie” creepy…
The town was – literally – a ghost town. However, it’s not completely dilapidated or turned into a tourist trap like many other ghost towns. 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), I am still very happy I pushed my fears aside and visited this historic town. While I was able to get a good feel of the town, I didn’t push on to the cemetery or past the main town limits because, frankly, I was scared. I was alone with my 5-year-old, in a ghost town, 9 miles deep inside the mountains, with no cellphone reception. It just seemed like the smartest decision was to not push my luck. However! If you are braver than me or 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!