You will need a car to get to Elizabethtown. It lies just off Highway 38, on the so-called Enchanted Circle. This makes a lovely day drive if staying in Taos, although we used it instead as a scenic and roundabout route to get from there to Cimmaron. It takes you through the high passes of the skiing country around Red River, with some stunning views, so the drive is well worth doing for itself as well as for the several destinations along the way. The stretch from Red River was for us the most scenic, despite the fast approaching rain clouds. You climb steeply out of Red River (a slightly incongruous-looking ski town with a seeming passion for the Swiss chalet style of architecture), reaching 9,854 feet at the top of Bobcat Pass. In places the scenery reminded us of Scotland or Wales, perhaps more so because of the weather, but the views of the golden aspens on the mountain slopes were pure New Mexico. Luckily there were a few pull-outs where we could stop for photos, and simply to admire this awesome landscape.
About 12 miles beyond Red River (or 4.8 miles beyond Eagle Nest if coming from the other direction) a small sign on the north side of the road indicates the turning to Elizabethtown more or less opposite. The rough track swings immediately to the left after leaving the highway (don’t take the track to the right – as the sign warns, the farmer who owns the land is not happy about trespassers on it). It’s only about half a mile to the cluster of buildings that are all that remain of the once thriving town, and the track is perfectly passable in a two wheel drive car.
We had already visited several “ghost towns” in New Mexico by the time we came to Elizabethtown, and while they were all interesting in their various ways, and all very photogenic, and while some of them had relatively few residents, none of them really loved up to the image that the name conjured in our minds. That is, none of them seemed truly to be inhabited only by ghosts. Until we came to Elizabethtown.
We arrived here in the rain, and parked up to eat a snack lunch while the worst of the bad weather passed over. A couple of horses stared at us mournfully from the shelter of an overhanging eave on a nearby hut. A solitary car pulled off the main road, passed us where we sat, and then turned back. Otherwise, we were alone.
Once we’d finished eating, and the worst of the rain had abated, we drove on into the “town”, which is really just a cluster of buildings. One is a museum, only open between June-August, so we were unable to see its collection which, according to our Moon Handbook, “details Elizabethtown’s brief but lively history, from the discovery of gold in 1866 through assorted gunfights to the town’s slow fade after a dredge-mining project failed in 1903.” As well as the museum you can see the stone ruins of the Mutz Hotel, around which the social life of the town would have revolved.
The museum may have been closed, but both it and the other structures, and a few rusting vehicles, made great subject matter for our cameras, the more so as the still-falling rain added an air of desolation.
Like most of New Mexico’s ghost towns, Elizabethtown owes its existence to the gold rush. It was the first incorporated village in the state, and at its peak was home to more than 7,000 people – almost impossible to believe if you visit it today. It was named for the daughter of its founder, a Captain William H. Moore, who came here looking for copper, led here by friendly Indian traders. As well as copper, he and his men found gold, and in the ensuing rush, a town was born. You can read the full history on this website.
But for us, Elizabethtown was all about atmosphere. We had come looking for a “real” ghost town, and at last we had found one.