Picture This – Cuervo

28 Jun

BB-New Mexico 084

Have you ever heard of a ghost town with its own interstate exit? Cuervo, New Mexico has one, which makes it unique among ghost towns in the American West. While some abandoned villages are conveniently located, most of them sit in the middle of nowhere. To see them, you really have to make an effort. Cuervo is different because you can see it from Interstate 40.

That’s how I saw it the first time I taught the New Mexico field trip class that my university offers. We had pulled out of Tucumcari and were heading into Albuquerque. As we flew by, I noticed a bunch of abandoned buildings on the left. This was in the days before smart phones, so I had to wait until we got to the hotel to find out what I saw. I also took a mental note that we needed to stop in Cuervo the next year.

We have stopped at Cuervo ever since. Well, there were a few years when we dipped down into Clovis, New Mexico, but most of the time we have spent a few minutes in Cuervo.

While there, I tell the students about the economics of the West and how ghost towns have come to dot the landscape. We talk about the “boom and bust” nature of the West and how towns developed around resources rather than around places where towns would sensibly exist.

There is really nothing like teaching history where that history took place. It’s as close to a spiritual feeling as I have ever experienced. I have been lucky to do it on the New Mexico trip and other places, as well. I have talked about the Scopes Monkey Trial in the courtroom where it began. I have talked about the Battle of Little Bighorn on Last Stand Hill.

Those were big events. Cuervo is just a little town that didn’t make it. It’s not a story of heroes or villains. It is a story of ordinary people who tried to make it in a tough land and discovered that they couldn’t. When I am in Cuervo, I wonder about them. I wonder when they realized that things were going bad. I wonder what business was the first to close and which resident was the first to abandon a house. It has to be tough to leave a building that no one else wants.

If you are ever driving down Interstate 40 in New Mexico then pull over in Cuervo. There is a story there.

11 Responses to “Picture This – Cuervo”

  1. satanicpanic June 28, 2013 at 05:15 #

    These towns are scattered around the desert southwest. Old mining towns or hot springs. We used to find old abandoned houses around some of the failed settlements in the desert where I grew up. Most of the houses still had junk in them- old magazines, clothes, records; like someone left and didn’t bother taking their stuff with them. Or maybe they died. Pretty haunting stuff.

    • Rick June 28, 2013 at 05:33 #

      We have found things in these houses, too. It’s strange to walk into a building that was simply abandoned. Haunting is the perfect word for it.

  2. Madame Weebles June 28, 2013 at 21:08 #

    I’ve never been to a ghost town but it must be a very strange experience. Especially if the towns were abandoned in the not-too-recent past. It does make you wonder where the people went, when they realized the jig was up in Cuervo, if they were sad to leave or relieved to be going elsewhere.

    • Rick June 29, 2013 at 03:27 #

      Cuervo was a 20th Century town. One would think that the economic turbulence that caused ghost towns would have stabilized by then, but we have towns dying today, too.

      • Madame Weebles June 29, 2013 at 18:54 #

        Good point. Yeah, I would have thought that ghost towns were all 19th century casualties, with the only exceptions being towns like Centralia, with the anthracite coal burning underneath. Obviously not.

  3. Laughing Orca Ranch August 12, 2013 at 06:35 #

    While in Cuervo, have you been inside of Getty’s Memorial Baptist Church? Wasn’t what you saw there very disturbing?

    • Rick August 12, 2013 at 13:49 #

      We didn’t go into the church because it looked to still be in use. What was disturbing about it?

  4. psychologistmimi September 12, 2014 at 11:32 #

    interesting history. I do love new mexico and the small random towns I have driven through

    • Rick September 12, 2014 at 12:48 #

      Thank you. It is a neat town to visit. If you are ever in that area, then you should check it out. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

  5. The RAP man November 1, 2014 at 21:05 #

    Picture this — a bottle of Cuervo Gold. Maybe there’s an empty bottle in one of those empty buildings. Hmmm.

    Cuervo, the ghost town, has gotten some bad press today. Link goes to a KRQE news story and video.

    Photos of buildings related to the above article:

    That’s likely what commenter Laughing Orca Ranch was referring to.

    • Rick November 1, 2014 at 22:24 #

      Thanks for the link. I am certain this was the reference. Unfortunately, I thought they were talking about a different church.

      We have stopped in Cuervo many times and have yet to find a bottle. Although, our students continue to look for one.

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