The architecture of the old Riley school echoes the mountain behind


     Sometimes I worry that the people at the photo developing center think I'm crazy. Time after time, roll after roll, picture after picture of aging, broken buildings, abandoned railroad cars, long-deserted houses. No trees except those that frame rusting hotel signs; no mountains except as backdrops for adobe ruins. Broken glass, empty window frames, here and there a discarded shoe. My own photographic junk yard.


  • COUNTY:  Socorro
  • LOCATION:  20 miles north of Magdalena 
  • POST OFFICE:  1892-1898, 1899-1902
  • NAME ORIGIN:  Named for a local sheep rancher
  • RATING: Three ghostsThree ghosts
  • GNIS Info & Map

      I've always found beauty in decay. To me, decay shows the strength of time, the inevitability of the past-tense. It's not a morbid fascination, though it may seem so on the surface. In fact, the interest has just the opposite effect. Seeing so many "were's" scattered among so many "are's" gives me a hopeless case of Short-Timers Disease, and in turn, permission to "sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight."

      The "were's" and "are's" of Riley are most obvious in a front view of the old stone schoolhouse there. You can't help but notice how the architecture of the building echoes the mountain behind. The arrangement makes you wonder which one arrived on the scene first. Their shapes alone seem to be holding up the two structures, each dependent on the other for the delicate balance that has kept them standing for many, many years. The school builders must have done this intentionally, shaping their building to the surrounding landscape, thereby making both stronger.

      It's working. Riley has been around for over a hundred years. It started as a ranching settlement and was originally known as Santa Rita (not to be confused with the now-vanished settlement of Santa Rita in Grant County, the current site of an open copper pit). It probably doesn't hurt that the town's namesake was a pretty tough person herself. After a twenty-year marriage to a violent man, Rita joined a convent. While praying one day, she asked that she be allowed to suffer as Christ had. At that moment, the thorns on the crucifix she had been praying to struck her in the forehead, creating a deep wound that never healed. She died on May 22, 1457. Every May 22, her Feast Day, a priest leads mass in the Santa Rita Church in Riley.

      Whether it's the beauty of the land, the strength of the architecture, or the toughness of the town's original namesake, something gives Riley "presence." How else to describe the feeling that the old stone school building is "proud"? How else to explain the belief that if the building should ever fall, the mountain behind would come down too? And how else to explain to the folks at the photography shop why time after time, roll after roll, picture after picture, my photographs of decay and neglect never fail to make me smile?      


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

A broken stove sits in the
corner of the Riley school building.