Exploring New Mexico’s Loneliest Ghost Town

When Sorrel Downer made her way down to New Mexico she was expecting midnight scares. What she got at the Old Cuchillo Bar and Hotel was an unforgettable experience…

Photo by Paul Garland via Flickr

I love the idea of ghost towns. And the pictures, which always show them in sunlight. New Mexico is full of them thanks to rivers that dried up, mines that failed, railroads that drew traffic away from stagecoach trails. It never occurred to me that at night they’d be dark, but I did think about that a bit as we drove down through lengthening shadows into a silent valley and past the disused church to the Old Cuchillo Bar and Hotel which isn’t exactly a Bar and Hotel anymore, but the remains of a bar, post office, trading post, stables and the unusual home of Josh Bond who generally lives here all alone, but of late has been offering accommodation to paying guests.

Photo by Thomas Shahan via Wikipedia

An artist and designer who stumbled across the town 11 years ago, and bought this property five years ago, and has been unravelling its history and attempting to preserve it ever since. We weren’t going to have to camp out in the ghost bar with flickering candles; instead, he showed us into his beautiful home, and a chic room with Internet, a pile of Dwells and Architectural Digests, good art and the world’s most comfortable bed.

Josh is slowly working his way through the simple but plentiful rooms, sifting through the things that were left behind. There are some that are semi-ruined, like the stables, where the locals would hole up protecting each other and their horses during Apache raids, and the Post Office was badly damaged by a fire some years back. But through the dark and creaking store, full of furniture, saddles and boxes of papers, the saloon bar is intact. In fact, it looks as if a bunch of old-timers heard a noise, put down their drinks, stepped outside, and never came back.

Photo via Wikipedia

To help raise the money he needs to keep the place, and because he loves to share it, Josh has hosted ghost-hunter groups. “I don’t subscribe to everything they believe,” he says. “But these buildings are 150 years old and they settle and make noises . . . I live alone, so I don’t need to spook myself more than I already do.”

The last group set up 16 cameras and are currently sifting through the footage for signs of paranormal activity. “They’ve sent details of some of the things they’ve found, and I’ve told them I don’t want to know the specifics, just send a report and we’ll leave it at that. But it’s interesting. The way I describe it is as residual energy. There’s been 150 years of boots scraping and that energy is still here.”

Josh has been researching the history of the property and Cuchillo as a whole, scouring through documents and talking to descendants of the early settlers, as well as his friend, Mr Romero, the 80-something year old previous owner. The town was a trading hub, and a popular R&R stop-over for miners, cowboys and travellers passing through on the stagecoach from Silver City.

Not only was it customary for cowboys to bury their money so they didn’t lose it all in the bar, but as the boarding house was operating back when travellers were vulnerable to attack by Apaches, guests would frequently give their money to the owner to hide for safekeeping. Apparently a big haul was discovered buried in the courtyard some decades ago, and Josh spends a fair bit of time with a metal detector in the hope of unearthing the rest and using it to restore the property and keep it and the things that belong in it together. At the moment he’s facing the fact he might have to sell it.

“It’s an overwhelming responsibility. I feel that I should be doing something every second of every day to try to save it” he says. “Have you seen Christine? The Stephen King film? I feel the same kind of possession by this house. Do I own it, or does it own me?”