Mogollon Silver City Pinos Altos New Mexico

Magdalena, Datal, Plains of San Agustin, VLA (Very Large Array Dishes), Catwalk NP, Mogollon, Silver City, Pinos Altos

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Magdalena, Datal, Plains of San Agustin, VLA (Very Large Array Dishes), Catwalk NP, Mogollon, Silver City, Pinos Altos in New Mexico

Places Visited:

New Mexico: Magdalena, Datal, Plains of San Agustin, VLA (Very Large Array Dishes) Glenwood, Catwalk NP, Mogollon, Silver City, Pinos Altos

July 13, 2003
We drove 192-miles to Silver City RV-Park. Silver City, New Mexico full hookup, 30amps, gravel sites and entrance roads some shade $16.50 per-night.

We were heading out of Magdalena by 7:30AM since we were moving the motorhome 200-miles and have many things we want to stop and do on the way. We have been setting some records lately for our early starts. Today we are headed to Silver City, New Mexico located in SW New Mexico about 50-miles north of Deming and I-10.

From Magdalena we headed west on US-60 to the small community of Datil. RV'ers may be interested to know that there is a private full-hookup RV-Park at the intersection of US-60 and New Mexico-12. Pay attention to that information because you will not find it in any "campground" directory. There is also a 20 spot campground at the old Datil Well site with no hookups. The Datil Well campground is easy enough to find by following signs from either New Mexico-12 or US-60. It is less than 1/3 mile west of town. Between Magdalena and Datil on US-60 are a number of pull-offs for picnics or overnighting in your RV. Most did not have good shade. Keep in mind that New Mexico allows overnight stops in their roadside pull-off areas.

Leaving Magdalena, we are in anticipation of seeing the VLA Very Large Array dishes spread across the Plains of San Agustin. We weren't disappointed. From atop the Magdalena Mountains we can see the VLA antennas spread out across the plain. There are 27 of these giant dishes 82 feet in diameter spread across the plains. They are arranged in a gigantic Y-shape with each arm of the Y thirteen miles in length. The VLA is high tech of the highest order, a gargantuan radio telescope which is used to "listen" to the stars. Just as an
astronomer with an optical telescope can view the optical image of a stellar object, the Very Large Array can create an image from the radio waves emitted by quasars and galaxies which are far, far away in both space and time.

In order to achieve results comparable to the multiple antennas in this vast array by use of a single antenna, the dish would have to be seventeen miles in diameter. By changing the separation of the antennas, the arms of the array can be varied from 2,000 feet to thirteen miles. This changes the resolution of the array, an effect similar to a zoom lens on a camera.

Each of the 235 ton antennas are carried along the array arms by a special self-propelled transporter on two parallel sets of railroad tracks. To say the transporter is HUGE is an understatement. The Very Large Array was completed in 1981 at a cost of $78,600,000. The Plains of San Agustin was chosen as the site because of the absence of electrical interference.

In the midst of these antennas is a Visitors Center where you can get all the technical information you want and more. I already had this much information and it was more than Joyce wanted to know. We waved but did not stop. It was probably our loss but we have a full day scheduled.

The Very Large Array antennas are located on the eastern end of the Plains of San Agustin. These Plains are something every visitor to New Mexico should see and experience. The plains stretch west from around Magdalena to somewhere near the Arizona border. During the late 1800's and through the 1970's this was cattle country. The lush plains provided food for great herds of cattle. When the rail road came to Magdalena to haul oar from the Kelly mine they also constructed a stock yard to load cattle for shipment east. The area
west of Magdalena became known as the "Beefsteak Trail" or Magdalena Livestock Driveway.

Annually, herds of cattle were gathered in the western part of New Mexico and eastern Arizona for the drive to Magdalena. The driveway varied from a few hundred yards to five or six miles in width. The route went through timber land, over mesas, up and down canyons and across the Plains of San Agustin. Cattle were alternately driven and grazed.

In 1919 21,677 cattle and 150,000 sheep were driven over the trail to the Magdalena Stockyard. Cattle usually moved at the rate of about ten miles a day and sheep at five, grazing as they went.

During the 1930s the CCC Civilian Conservation Corps fenced the trail-way across the San Agustin Plains and drilled water wells at 10-mile intervals.

The stockyards still stand in Magdalena as silent testament to the past. They were used from 1885 until 1970. I am totally amazed that cattle drives were still being conducted in the late 1960s. I was equally amazed when one of the "Old-Timers" at the reunion told me that paved highways did not exist west of Magdalena in New Mexico until the 1980s.

From Datil we struck out on New Mexico-12 heading to the "metropolis" of Reserve. I think it is the county seat of Catron County, New Mexico's largest county and least populated. Locals joke that Reserve installed a stop light since they were the county seat and thus a little uppity. We didn't see the stop light, or the need for one either.

The ride from Datil to Reserve skirts the Plains of San Agustin. From time to time we see a ranch house out on the plain. Before getting to the small village of Aragon we climbed to 7,321 feet as we crossed the Continental Divide. When we read the sign proclaiming the Continental Divide and the altitude we were both amazed. From Magdalena at around
6,500 feet we had climbed until we got to the Plains of San Agustin then dropped off the Magdalena Mountains onto the plain at least a 1,000 foot drop and now we had climbed to 7,321 feet. The climb was gradual and easy on the motorhome.

In the village of Apache Creek (intersection of New Mexico 32 & New Mexico 12) there is a store and a commercial RV-Park with hookups. Don't laugh these RV-Parks are not listed in any directory. RV'ers trying to make plans for visiting this area have no idea any campground is here.

Although no RV-Parks are listed in Woodall's or Trailer Life there are two private RV-Parks in Glenwood. Both are located on the road to the Catwalk and are both less than 1.5-miles from US-180. There is also a Forestry Service campground "Big Horn" with no hookups on the north edge of Glenwood on US 180. This campground and or picnic area would be an ideal place to drop off your motorhome or RV for a few hours while exploring the area.

We had four things on our list of things to do around Glenwood. A Scenic Drive to Mogollon, see and experience the "catwalk", the fish hatchery and eat lunch. We did not do the fish hatchery but did accomplish the other three.

We parked the motorhome in Glenwood for around 4-hours. Glenwood is still over 60-miles north of Silver City (our destination today). Even though Silver City is our destination we wanted to experience the drive to Mogollon and walk on the "catwalk". The only way we could reasonably work these things in was to stop in Glenwood, leave the motorhome and take the Saturn. If you are passing through Glenwood on US-180 there are plenty of places for you to drop off your motorhome or RV. You can even take it to the "catwalk" parking lot just 5-miles east of US 180 on a good paved road.

The Catwalk, is a National Recreation trail along the canyon cut by Whitewater Creek. To get there take Catwalk Road (SR-174) from Glenwood. You can't miss it since it is the only road in Glenwood other than US-180. You can't miss the signs either since Glenwood does not have many signs to confuse you. There are two private RV-Parks on Catwalk Road plus a fish hatchery. You could easily drop off your motorhome at the Fish Hatchery or city park, all on Catwalk Road. Whitewater Canyon was used as a hideout by both Apache Indians and Butch Cassidy. But that is not the intriguing thing about Catwalk Canyon.

The canyon has been there and Indians and outlaws have used the canyon as hiding places but neither of those things have anything to do with a "catwalk". Now comes the history part. I wanted to ask questions of the rangers on duty at the catwalk but they were dumber than a sack of rocks. After about the first six "I don't know" or "duh, that's a good question" I quickly realized I knew more about the "catwalk" than the two rangers on duty to answer questions. Here is what I have been able to learn about the catwalk.

A plant was needed to treat ore from the Confidence Mine about 10-miles away. This plant was constructed at the mouth of Whitewater Canyon because of the availability of water in Whitewater Creek. Water is SCARCE around here, they would have preferred to locate the processing mill at the mine site. The nearest source of energy to power a mill was in Whitewater Creek. However, the water in Whitewater creek would dry up from time to time. To solve this problem a pipeline was built to reach about three miles up Whitewater
Creek to where there was always water in order to have water power for the milling operation. The "milling" operation consisted of crushing oar into a fine powder where the copper, silver, gold and lead could be extracted.

Now you have the setting of a narrow canyon with vertical rock walls extending up over 200-feet. In the 1890s a pipeline was constructed 3-miles up into the canyon to a source of water. The original pipe was 4-inches in diameter. It was replaced about 10 years later with another pipe 18" in diameter. The pipes were attached to the vertical rock walls in the canyon. By attached I mean someone drilled a hole in the rock and inserted an anchor that a cable was attached to. Those _" cables were the weight bearing pieces of the pipeline dubbed the "Catwalk". Workmen who performed maintenance on the pipe line had to do so by crawling atop the narrow pipeline. As you might suspect, they named the route the "Catwalk". Back then a 3-mile walk on that pipe must have been the extreme in excitement.

An information board at the "Catwalk" said that the oar processing plant operated from 1893 to 1913 or 20-years. Virtually all the original pipe was removed and sold for scrap metal when the plant closed. However, we were able to see pieces of rusty cable and an occasional beam hanging from the side of the canyon. The trail or "catwalk" is no longer on top of that old pipe. Instead there is a steel "catwalk" along portions of the canyon wall. The steel catwalk was originally constructed by the CCC. Today the "tourist" catwalk is
about 4-feet wide and has hand rails. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for those workmen who negotiated the original catwalk in the daily course of their jobs. The trail up Whitewater Canyon continues 15 or more miles up and out of the canyon to a 10,000 foot ridge in the Mogollon Mountains. Needless to say Joyce and I did not go that far.

It is fair to say that the vast majority of the trail today is just a trail. You can experience the real "catwalk" portion of the trail with a ½ mile walk. Adjacent to the parking lot is a sycamore shaded picnic area along Whitewater Creek complete with tables and grills. It was so hot today that we only did a mile or so of the catwalk trail before returning to the car. It was just too hot to continue.

After that hike we returned to Glenwood and had lunch at the "Blue Front Restaurant and Bar". It had been recommended in the Scenic Driving New Mexico book. As it turns out it was a good choice since it was the only restaurant in town plus it had AIR CONDITIONING and ice cold drinks. They also served food but nothing to write home about. Did I mention that it was HOT and they had air conditioning?

After lunch it was "scenic drive" time. We headed to the small mining community of Mogollon. When I say small that it is. I don't think there are more than 10 or 12 occupied buildings in town and all are tourist related. There are several mining museums and a small place to get food. Humming birds were as thick as flies. We stopped to watch a variety of hummers swarming around feeders with ½ gallon of sugar water in each. Folks, a ½ gallon humming bird feeder is a serious feeder. From the number of hummers swarming around the feeders I will bet they had to be refilled daily. Joyce did not enjoy the hummers and would not get out of the car to visit the museums. In short she was petrified from the drive to Mogollon and was in no mood to have fun!

The drive to Mogollon starts at the intersection of US 180 and New Mexico 159. We headed east on New Mexico 159. This is one of the most spectacular "scenic drives" we have ever taken. However, the drive is not for everyone especially the squeamish. The road gains four thousand feet of elevation in about twelve miles. It is NO place for an RV! The road is not wide enough and it is much too steep. Switchbacks wind straight up the Mogollon Mountains with no guardrails. Portions are single lane width, there is no center line in the narrow road. New Mexico 159 separates the truly bold from the timid. Flatlanders will either get the thrill of their life or be scared out of their wits. I was experiencing a tremendous "high" while Joyce was "petrified". Joyce had read somewhere that it was best to blow your horn when negotiating narrow switchbacks on the road. She would stop hyperventilating long enough to scream "blow the horn" as we approached each of these switchbacks. For anyone afraid of heights this road may be beyond the limits. Convict labor was used to build the 12-miles of switchbacks up the west face of the Mogollon Mountains around the turn of the century.

Gold literally poured from the Mogollon mines during the 1890s, making Mogollon the largest gold producer in New Mexico during that decade. In addition to gold substantial silver, copper, and lead were also recovered. Mining stopped after WW II. Now all that remains of that once grand town is a few houses and tourist-oriented businesses that line the narrow canyon.

The paved portion of the road ends in Mogollon. However, the road continues as gravel. With that said Joyce was going no farther than Mogollon. Once there she caught her breath. We weren't going any further! She was not getting out. Actually, we may have had some fun walking around the few buildings and museums especially at that altitude where the temperature was so nice. The place literally reeks of a 1890s mining community. Mine shafts are visible everywhere. We only stopped for a short while to watch the hummingbirds swarming around massive feeders.

Joyce did better coming down. I don't know if it was because she was "prayed" out or what. She was no longer insisting that I blow the horn as we approached each of those hairpin turns. The views coming down were much more awesome than going up. Going up we could only see the climb and feel the Saturn groan under the unrelenting grade. Coming down we could see the valley where US-180 travels some 4,000 feet below. Those convicts literally carved a narrow notch in the side of those mountains, emphasis on NARROW. No more material was removed than absolutely necessary. Thankfully, we did not meet any opposing traffic on any of the hairpin turns but we did meet opposing traffic. Each time both vehicles slowed, not that either of us were going "fast", then crept past each other. When we were in the outside lane Joyce could visualize us being pushed over the chasm by a passing car. There are no guard rails so it was a possibility. The edge of the road is literally the edge of eternity. Thankfully, there is not much traffic and we were able to enjoy the magnificent views on the way down. Joyce got an atta-girl for calming down enough to enjoy the trip down. After gaining her composure Joyce related that it was the lack of guard rails, no center line in the narrow road and the sheer drop off that was so terrifying.

For those of you with high clearance vehicles I would highly recommend the entire scenic drive (keep on going past Mogollon). Books covering the route say it is possible to do it in an automobile, at times, but it is best to do it in vehicles with a high clearance. I would LOVE to ride over the entire road. Regular automobiles can easily make the trip to and from Mogollon. Have a good radiator system for the ride up and remember to use a low gear and rely on engine breaking coming down, otherwise your breaks will overheat and fail. If you do not understand engine breaking it is best you not visit Mogollon.

By the time we got back to Glenwood and connected the Saturn to the Motorhome we had experienced our share of excitement for the day. The 60-mile drive into Silver City was totally uneventful.

July 14, 2003
Silver City RV-Park. Silver City, New Mexico full hookup, 30amps, gravel sites and entrance roads some shade $16.50 per-night.

There was no getting up early today. In other words we slept in then Joyce led me through the myriad nick knack shops in Silver City before she tired of that and ducked into Nancy's Silver Café on Main Street. Nancy's was like any small town Main Street café in America, except for one small thing. We were the only ones in the café speaking English. The waitress did converse with us in English but switched to Spanish with the other customers. They had an American flag flying in the restaurant. That got me to thinking about the "talking-heads" on TV every night yapping about illegal immigrants, railing against "Spanish-speaking" areas in the country and other topics designed to arouse emotions. The most patriotic people we have run into out here are those of Spanish ancestry. The ones that I have met are much more patriotic than the Anglo population.

Again today we experience the "cash-only" community. Along with the "cash-only" policy is the "no-receipt" policy. No wonder these people fight Wal-Mart coming to town. After all Wal-Mart takes credit cards, and provides receipts. Next thing you know Uncle Sam will have a paper trail and realize the city is there.

After lunch we drove about 8-miles north of Silver City to the old mining town of Pinos Altos (Spanish for pines tall). The tall pines are long gone. At one time they fueled the smelters of the mining town. The elevation of our RV-Park in Silver City is 5,700 feet. Just as we reach Pinos Altos we crossed the Continental Divide at 7,080 feet. Just past the official sign on New Mexico 15 is an RV-Park called the Continental Divide RV-Park. Keep that one in mind if you are around Silver City and need an RV-Park.

Pinos Altos is a historic old mining town. Three prospectors found gold in a river bed. That gold was quickly exhausted. Mines were opened that involved picks and dynamite. For the next 30 years gold was mined in a series of private mines around Pinos Altos. Several "name" individuals were associated with Pinos Altos. Roy Bean operated a store in the 1860s before moving to west Texas as Judge Roy Bean. We all have heard the stories of "Judge Roy Bean" dispensing justice in west Texas. Just outside Langtry near the Mexican border in southwest Texas there is still a "tourist-trap" commemorating the days when Judge Roy Bean dispensed justice from his business establishment.

In addition to Roy Bean William Randolph Hearst was represented in town also. The Hearsts had ranching interests headquartered east of Deming (50-miles south). They briefly owned a local copper mine then opened a store in Pinos Altos. Then in 1898 the adobe Methodist-Episcopal church was built with Hearst money. That adobe church is still a landmark in Pinos Altos but it now houses an art gallery.

The Buckhorn Saloon originally built in 1865 has been refurbished and is now a popular eating establishment as well as bar. The original bar and accessories behind the bar are still being used. They have been well preserved. Next door to the Buckhorn Saloon is the old Opera house. It has been refurbished from period materials. They present a an Old West melodrama in the Opera House every Friday and Saturday night. If you are in the area this might make a good evening event. The opera house was magnificently appointed. It could easily be used as an 1860s western set.

We looked for the "hanging" tree in front of the old Court House that brought Western justice during those wild times in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We didn't find the Court House or the tree. If you find it please let us know.

Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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