Ghost Town: Cuervo


Just inside the open entryway of one home I saw two mismatched shoes. On first glance I thought they might have belonged to a homeless person who had used the place for shelter at some point, but as I looked more closely I saw that it was not a “pair” but rather — a man’s and a woman’s — one of each. And the style looked to be from the 1960s or maybe 1970s. The old shoes stood in a ray of sunlight that spilled through the cracked doorway and as I looked around I wondered about the people who lived here. Who were they and what happened to them. How did they come to leave this place and where did they go. So many questions that had no answers.

Cuervo, New Mexico, is located along Interstate 40 a little more than 15 miles east-northeast of Santa Rosa. The town began in 1901 when the railroad came through. The CRI&G Railroad (Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad) was expanding its tracks westwards from Texas towards Arizona, and they built a railroad siding here, calling it “Cuervo” after a small hill northwest of town (“cuervo” is Spanish for “crow,” which are abundant in the area).

A post office was soon opened and the little town began to grow as the surrounding land was opened to cattle ranching in 1910. It was a small rural community in a ranching district until Route 66 came. The road brought a  boom with it, as hotels, gas stations, and other businesses opened to serve the passing travelers, and the town’s population peaked in the 1940s at over 300.

In the more "modern" ghost towns or "semi"-ghosts, it is not unusual to find the discarded remnants of peoples' lives in the rubble.

Walking along one of the deserted dirt roads, I passed the rusted hulks of old family cars and scattered bits of belongings. The scene reminded me of a war zone, where people have fled in fear for their lives, leaving everything where it fell in their haste to escape impending danger. These were not refugees who had carefully packed up their things into bundles and left home in urgent but orderly exodus, sure in their hearts that they would soon return. No. This was a scene of chaotic flight in the dark of night accompanied by the sound of distant gunshots moving closer. And yet there was no “war” in Cuervo. The town just gradually became a “ghost.”

When a road or rail line is re-routed, and a town is “by-passed,” it can “fade” away slowly. Cuervo's fate was shared by many other small towns along the historic Route 66 itinerary.

When the Interstate replaced Route 66 in the 1960s, parts of Cuervo were literally buried and the town was physically split in half. The superhighway bypassed the town and travelers no longer stopped there. The businesses died and residents slowly abandoned the town. The school closed in the 1960s and the post office stopped operations in 2011. Today there are only a few buildings that appear updated and inhabited.

The majority of the structures are in various stages of ruin, but remain very photogenic, with the harsh desert sunlight sharpening textures as deep shadows add pronounced definition. The old vehicles hint at a timeline for Cuervo’s fading years. The town site is easily accessible from the old Route 66 alignment that parallels the Interstate and the dirt roads remain public streets, though the site itself is a hodgepodge of private property and public land. Currently there is little formal “protection” or “preservation” for any of the buildings or the town itself and it is difficult to even determine “ownership” of much of the property.

Because of it’s location  and the ease of access, Cuervo receives a fair number of “ghosttowners” and “Mother Road” explorers, and its likely that you will encounter other visitors while exploring. Respect any “no tresspassing” signs and be aware that entering any of the abandoned structures can be dangerous. In 2013 a photographer exploring the ghost town discovered some disturbing sites that indicated possible criminal activity and law enforcement was alerted.


All text and photos ©2021 JoMarie Fecci/ Please contact us for any usage permissions or for further information about the journey or locations included in this reportage.