A Ghost Town With Three Names
I heard about an old two story brothel still standing out in the middle of the desert. After seeing some photos of the building and surrounding ghost town, the historian part of me was immediately intrigued and I began to do some research and planning a trip out there.
I called up Lindsay Youngs and we agreed to meet in the Placitas Sunday morning, drive out to where the pavement ends and ride our gravel bikes the rest of the way. The temperatures were set to reach into the 60's - perfect for early February.
There’s not a whole lot of information about the ghost town of Guadalupe, NM. A quick Google search yields nearly nothing aside from a county sharing the same name. Digging a little further I discover the reason why anyone would place a saloon and a brothel way out in the middle of a desert nothingness - or at least some sort of rationale.
I would imagine Guadalupe fitting right in with anyone of the hardcore westerns of the late 60’s. The Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson type westerns. Guys riding in covered in the fine beige dust that coated our gravel bikes looking for some swill and a good time upstairs.
Founded as a stop along the Sante Fe to Prescott stage coach line the bottom of the two story building served as a saloon and the upstairs a brothel. Some claim it's the oldest standing brothel and two stories at that. But I've found no evidence to support that claim. The surviving buildings now provide shade for cattle and it’s a toss up as to whether the few remaining outhouses are still hospitable. But what it lacks in occupiable structures it makes up in scenery and endless fast gravel roads.
The last Post Master was named in 1952 and John Wesley Powell featured it on a map from 1880. At one point the Post Office named the town Miller: Ojo del Padre, Guadalupe or Miller. Take your pick.
Census records show mainly women and children - perhaps an unintended consequence of the brothel. In true western spirit the town had a General Store, blacksmith and even a dance hall complete with a couple of local musicians. Most, if not all spoke Spanish - a 16th Century dialect common in the area. There was a school of sorts and evidence that there may have been a church or a chapel of sorts.
A number of people who lived here were listed as “wards” - slaves of sorts (servants or laborers) - and many of those were Native Americans.
Off in the distance there is always the looming tower of Cabezon Peak - a reassuring landmark to help guide you back should you get lost on any of the countless roads and doubletracks that roam endlessly. Save for the random scrub there is no hiding from the sun. Coyote tracks and scat can be seen anywhere and the one that ran across the road in front of us was big and healthy. A beautiful beast who obviously has had his fair share of wild rabbit.
Guadalupe is still a ghost town of sorts - at least it still has that vibe, even though there's not much left of the original town. There is at least one family living there now slightly off in the distance. The gleam of the sun off the glass of their house and trucks along with the barking of their dogs breaks up the absolute silence and remoteness of the area.
We pause to say goodbye to the handful of cattle staring back at us and continue on our way. Beaten down by the sun we slowly start to pedal away each in our thoughts wondering what life must have been like in this otherworldly place.