Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chloride: A Gem of a Ghost Town

Chloride, a long-dead silver mining town in New Mexico, might strike it rich again, as a ghost town.

Its mother lode is no precious ore; it's the people preserving it.

They live there. They roll up their sleeves and get dirty to preserve, protect it and show it off.

And so far, there are only three of them: Don and Donna Edmund (in their 70s) and their daughter, Linda (40s, maybe 50s). The trio's standing in the middle of the main road when we drive up. They welcome us with laughter (for blocking the main road of a ghost town) and we fold right into their conversation, as if they were expecting us.

And, basically, they were. They say they get about 10 visitors a day (we are numbers seven and eight), and oh, about 250 a month. How?

It's amazing anyone finds this place. It's tucked inside the New Mexico mountains off desolate Route 52, a beautiful drive with stunning vistas, a funny little town called Cuchilla, where a speed trap is manned by a police car with a cardboard cop and a mannequin inside,  and where multiple ranchers raise cattle, which crisscross right in front of you. So, slow down.

We're visiting today because I read about Chloride on a travel blog.

"So how do 250 people find out about Chloride?" I ask Donna, a patient, slight woman, who tames her bits of gray hair with a baseball cap.

Oh, she says, "Word of mouth. The Internet. Ghost Town enthusiasts."

So this is my word of mouth, on the Internet: Check out these few pictures, then visit Chloride. And soon.

It's when we catch up with Donna later that I learn she's as much a treasure as Chloride is.

She's giving the tour of the Pioneer Store museum (mostly a 1923 general store) that she and her husband restored in the 1990s. And she smiles, caresses things and lovingly cups them in her hands as shares her stories with us.  She has intimate knowledge of every item in the store, every tin of food, every piece of clothing. She knows how and why they were used.

Not because she studied the stuff somewhere.

But because she spent three years scrubbing decay and rot away from yesterday so we can enjoy it today. And because she learned from the now-dead old-timers in town who grew up with this stuff.

And now, she turns around daily and tells us what they said, for free.

In brief, when she and her husband bought the boarded-up general store in 1989, they found the 1920s general store inside. Intact. But, covered with bat guano, rat droppings and animal damage. They cleaned it up so it shines.

Their accomplishments exceed amateur status. Everything's professionally installed. Don and Donna and Linda did this. Not a hired team of Merry Maids or guys from "This Old House" or historians from the Smithsonian. They did it. Don and Donna and Linda. A couple of retired 70-somethings and their daughter.

And they give the tours. So I'm standing next to and listening to one of the very people who scrubbed and cleaned and identified each item in this store.

My head swirls. What happens with Don and Donna are gone? Their daughter plans to carry on, but then what? Can she achieve her parent's dreams?

Most of the charm of this place is with Donna. Would the tour be as  rewarding with a paid guide? Or a volunteer?

I hope so. What a treasure this is and what a loss it would be if it fails.

So before I leave, I dig into my pockets and find $9 to leave behind as a donation. It's a paltry sum in light of what needs to be done to rebuild this place. But I leave it behind anyway, as a good investment. Because the people in charge are dreamers, who roll up their sleeves. And I want to see them succeed.

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