On a Tank of Gas: Mining for Ghosts and Camping Under the Stars

  • This article first on March 14, 2017 in The ABQ Free Press

Enjoy the treasures of central New Mexico

Vastness is commonplace in central New Mexico, a land full of ghost towns, mountain ranges and wildlife refuges. If you’re after a weekend away from people, this is the place to go. The distance from civilization gives it a special charm you can only understand once you visit, so let’s go.

Head south on I-25 to Socorro, where you can pick up signage to get to Magdalena.

Once in Magdalena, make a left on Kelly Road, just in front of the ranger station. When the road forks, make a left and follow signs for Kelly, New Mexico.

Albuquerque to Kelly Mine: 108 miles

Kelly was once a thriving mining town with a population of a couple thousand, but in the mid1900s, in the absence of materials to mine, residents moved north to Magdalena.

The road into town leads you to a church where, on occasion, there are tours. Just above the church to the east, the touted mine stands boldly. The road is a bit rough from here, but it is a short walk.

The town is now referred to as Kelly’s Ghost Town or just Kelly Mine. And, believe it or not, it still has residents – two, according to the sign, but that is just the living.

A town doesn’t earn the title of “ghost town without incident, so while you’re there, see if you spot any suspicious activity – or maybe it is the wind.IMG_8309.jpg

On a serious note, be careful where you step. Loose nails and sharp objects are abundant, not to mention the many gaping holes in the ground.

In fact, one large hole is terrifyingly easy to access and is claimed to drop 1,000 feet down, so keep your little ones close.

That hole is the mineshaft entrance, and leads to nearly 30 miles of tunnels below.

The headframe that stands more than 120 feet above the shaft has quite the significance. It was designed by Alexandre G. Eiffel – that’s right, the same bloke who designed the Eiffel tower.

The yellow-tinged dirt below is a testament to the hard work over a century before when lead, zinc and silver were all mined for western expansion.

All about the area are holes in the hills, opening to various shafts.

If you explore, stay conscious of your footing and don’t wander too far into a mine without a guide or proper knowledge, as they are incredibly unstable.

After a morning of exploration, time for a serious, worthwhile hike.

Head back down the dirt road to the pavement and follow signs to Hop Canyon.

Kelly Mine to Hop Canyon, Trail #25: 6.3 miles

Once pavement turns to dirt again, it is about 2.5 miles to the trailhead parking area. The poorly marked parking lot is on the right, after a line of homes.

The trailhead lies between the trees on the west side of the lot. This is not to be confused with Trail #25A on the east side, across the road.

Next to the trail number sign is the trail info for Mt. Baldy. It is five miles in and five miles out, so pack accordingly and start with enough time in the day to make it back before sundown.


It’s perfectly acceptable to only hike part of it; a mile in gives you spectacular views to the north and to the west, and the alternating sounds of crunchy rock and padded pine needle underfoot create a nice rhythm.

Whatever distance you go, it will be worth it.


Hop Canyon to Water Canyon Campground and Hikes: 22.7 miles

Head back down the road to US 60 and east again until you see signs for Water Canyon Campground, about 15 minutes outside of Magdalena.

The scenic road leads to the east side of the mountains we just roamed.


The area is comfortable and welcoming, and get this, no fees for overnight camping. And, if that’s not enough, the area can accommodate RVs – without hookups, of course.

Should you decide to carry on farther down the forest road, have a high clearance vehicle. The roads are a bit rough.IMG_8381.jpg

Set up camp and call it a night, but don’t go to bed yet. The stars look impeccable, and the moon is so bright, you could almost read a book without a headlamp. This is one of the many treats central New Mexico has to offer: virtually no light pollution, perfect for stargazing.

Be sure to tune in next week for the rest of this trip.

To Be Continued Next Week

Stops 3; Miles: 137


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