Lake Valley Byway & Ghost Town

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The Lake Valley National Back Country Byway came as quite a surprise to me.  I’m pretty sure almost no one knows it even exists, let alone plans to make it part of their trip.  But for those who do, the rewards are great: a rough, narrow 2-lane blacktop road that cuts through flatlands and rolling hills, horses by the side of the road, and even an old ghost town.

From Hatch, take NM Rte. 26 west/south.  Expect a somewhat boring drive until you reach the Rte. 27 turnoff.  The final destination for the day is Silver City, which you could reach by taking I-25 north to NM Rte. 152.  While the interstate would be faster, Rte. 152 will still slow you down.

Hills near Lake Valley Country Scenic Byway

This is how the scenery starts.  You’ll see a few small hills in the distance, and that’s about it.

Lake Valley Country Scenic Byway, horses

Within the first five miles, I had already stopped 5 times to take pictures.  At one of those stops, I found several horses and a couple of donkeys nibbling on grass at the side of the road.  As I approached the fence, they approached me.

Horse, Lake Valley Country Scenic Byway

One horse in particular was especially interested in being photographed.

power poles, Lake Valley Country Scenic Byway

When the road took a turn to the north, it eventually crossed under some high-voltage power lines.  Power poles in a city are almost always ugly, but somehow out here, they seem majestic, as they line up to infinity.

Conoco Station Ruins, Lake Valley Ghost Town, New Mexico

As the terrain becomes more mountainous, you’ll come across the closest thing to a tourist attraction in this area: the Lake Valley Ghost Town.  Outside the gates to the town, an old Conoco gas sign still swings in the breeze, although the pumps are gone.

Conoco Station Ruins, Lake Valley Ghost Town, New Mexico

Aside from the old gas station (seen from another angle above), all the old houses and stores in Lake Valley are behind a gate.  And believe it or not, this ghost town closes at 4 p.m.!  Since I arrived around 4:30, all I could do is shoot a few photos from the parking area.

The Bureau of Land Management now watches over Lake Valley, and a resident caretaker lives on-site, just in case you’re thinking of hopping the gate after hours.

At its biggest, Lake Valley was home to about 4,000 people, 12 saloons, a couple of newspapers, and a school.  That schoolhouse has now been restored, and houses a small museum.

Old Buildings, Monument Peak, Lizard Rock, Lake Valley Ghost Town

Monument Peak and Lizard Rock rise above one old homestead.

Old Homes and Church, Lake Valley Byway

From the parking area, you can see the town’s old church and a couple of homes, but it’s just not the same as exploring them up-close.

Lake Valley boomed in the 1880’s, while the town’s silver mine produced a generous amount of ore.  The silver vein lining the walls of the Bridal Chamber Mine was so large, miners had to saw the ore into chunks to remove it.  Several websites (including the always helpful ghosttowns.com) report one chunk of silver from the mine, valued at $7,000, was displayed at the Denver Exposition in 1882.  And at 1882 prices, you can bet that was one big chunk of silver.

Lake Valley Scenic Country Byway

As you leave Lake Valley, there are a few more curves in the pavement, as you begin to head into the hills.

Dry Wash, Lake Valley Byway

I made one final stop on Rte. 27, at this arroyo (dry wash).

Old tree and hills, Lake Valley byway

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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