One of the last foundations of Mount Riley

MOUNT RILEY

     I spoke on the phone once with a woman who had seen this homepage. She said it must be fun "chasing ghosts." It is, and I especially like the way she phrased it. Chasing ghosts. That's it exactly.

QUICK STATS

  • COUNTY: Dona Ana
  • LOCATION:  Approx. 30 miles east of Columbus on B2
  • NAME ORIGIN:  Named for Mount Riley, a mountain that can be seen in the distance
  • RATING: Three ghostsThree ghosts
     I've stood on dirt where buildings once stood, read accounts of life in places that no longer exist, studied maps of old towns that vanished long ago. I wonder not only what those towns were like, but why they went away. That's really what I chase: an understanding of how and why it happened, of what it was like to be the last person to close the last door. The prey is eternally elusive.

     I thought about the chase as I set out to Mount Riley. The drive is beautiful, as are most in New Mexico. The day was sunny and warm. In the distance, I could see smoke in the mountains, probably the Forest Service or a local rancher "burning out" the area -- burning vegetation and brush to fertilize and make room for the new.

     I wasn't sure exactly where Mount Riley was, so by the time I stumbled on it, I'd pretty much figured I'd passed it. The foundations of the old town are between Columbus and Santa Teresa, on either County Road B2 or A3, depending on whether you're coming or going. What's left of the town are visible off the sides of the road, marked now only by a sign for nearby Mount Riley Ranch.

     There's not much to see. Most of it is cement, and most of it is foundations. On the south side of the road are two or three remains, one with steps still intact (shown below). On the north side is a square cement base with a view of Mount Riley -- for which the town was named -- in the background (shown above). Bits of scrap tin and metal lie scattered on the hard earth around the foundations.

     For a moment, as I stood near the old cement foundations that had made up this community, I began to feel I'd caught my first ghost.

     Maybe ghost towns are history's way of "burning out." Maybe towns die because they have to; they die so that what we know as New Mexico today can grow. Maybe by their death, these places nourish a new place somewhere else. The remains of these old places, their lives, their long-forgotten histories, their good times and bad, fertilize and strengthen the communities we know today.

    So then, did the last person in Mount Riley think about their sacrifice and the eventual good it would do as they closed the last door for the last time? I doubt it. They were busy chasing their own ghosts.  But if it's true, we owe them a debt of gratitude.

     On behalf of all of us, Mt. Riley, thanks.

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

(click on the thumbnail image to see a larger picture)


One of the cement
foundations at Mount Riley.

Another cement foundation
at Mount Riley.

This Mount Riley
foundation has sturdy steps
still attached.