Nestled deep within the Mogollon Mountains in western New Mexico, it was quite a feat getting to this once flourishing mining town. The tiny, former town of Mogollon sits approximately 12 miles from the nearest actual “town”, Glenwood (population: 139), and only 3 miles of that is 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 because the road and overall atmosphere concerned me so much, and I had my 5-year-old with me. I reminded myself of all the blogs I read about this town and if they could make it, so could we, and we trudged on. 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: The road to Mogollon is very narrow, very curvy (at one point, there was a blind curve with a large mirror literally 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. I had zero cellphone service the entire time, which is pretty much the norm in that part of New Mexico anyway. Also, there is no gas station in Mogollon given that it’s technically a “ghost town”… and it’s 18 miles round trip. Please plan your trip safely and smartly!✨
Named after Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón, the Governor of New Mexico from 1712 to 1715, the correct Spanish way to pronounce it is “mo-go-yone”. However, 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 13 years later, in 1889, by miner John Eberle once the mines were officially established. One year after that, a post office and jail were built, and the school followed two years later. In its heyday, Mogollon boasted anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 residents, 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 was called “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 it 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 of course, people.
Sadly, fires and floods afflicted the town from the very beginning. 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 consisting of rock and water), homes, bridges, and businesses, and sadly killed many people.
Unfortunately, during WWI, the demand for gold and silver dropped significantly, causing many mines to close. This naturally had a enormous impact on mining in Mogollon and the number of residents who remained, which in turn influenced the town itself. By 1930, the population had dropped from almost 2,000 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 final nail in the coffin, the town was never able to recover after that.
We visited at the very beginning of December, which is unfortunately well beyond the tourist season. All of the businesses, the Mogollon Museum, and the town’s only restaurant, The Purple Onion, were closed – they’re all open only between May and October. Due to this, visitation to the town was practically nonexistent. There was one car leaving as we arrived, and only one that drove through (and promptly left) while we were there. We never saw a single person anywhere else, which was a plus and a negative. We were unbothered by other sightseers and basically had the entire town to ourselves. However, it was also incredibly creepy and unsettling.
The town was – quite literally – a ghost town when we were there. Luckily, it’s not completely dilapidated or turned into a massive 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 still 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, and while they look super cool, they are NOT relics of the town’s original Wild West past (please see below).
Overall, I’m very happy I pushed aside (most of) my fears and visited this historic little mining town, although I do wish we’d gotten the chance to visit the museum. Also, while I’m very happy we went, truthfully, I was unnerved and on edge the whole time. This is likely solely due to being alone with my young child… in an abandoned town… 12 miles deep inside the Mogollon Mountains… with no cellphone reception… and nay a soul around. Sadly, this was an experience due to time of year. So, if you‘re a brave solo traveler, or go with someone else (perhaps not a small child), or go during peak tourist season when there are more people, it’s well worth a visit. Truth is, you can’t beat American Wild West history like this.