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Day Trip to Steins, New Mexico

Gone but not Forgotten was the epitaph inscribed on the tombstone in the Steins cemetery. The name was in large letters, GUESS. November 25, 1866 - December 19, 1924. Perhaps a hundred or so headstones once dotted this field of rest and today only a few remain to relay to us the names of those who called this place home. Most of these old headstones today have their epitaphs worn away from years and years of the ever-present wind chipping away at it. The once sturdy crosses crafted from rebar and concrete are now crumbling leaving just the rusted and twisted piece of metal behind. Grave markers made of wood now are simply splinters strewn across this thorn and burr filled gravel field. And as we walked through this old burial ground I found myself looking around and wondering about these folks interned here and reciting the epitaph inscribed on Henry Guess's headstone. Gone but not forgotten. These many mounds of earth along with the crumbling crosses and splinters of wood stand as witness to the life this town once held. They also bear witness to the death of this town. The abandonment evident by the scene in front of me.

The train whistle blew its usual burst of sound while passing through the crossing just on the other side of the highway. A sound I understand takes place over 50 times a day here. A sound that at one time served as notice to all ahead that the "trains a coming". Today this same sound stands as a reminder to all the spirits here that the train has left. Left with all the families who once called this place home. The Southern Pacific Railroad would no longer be pausing in Steins for replenishing the needed water to power the steam engine. The services of the citizens of Steins would no longer be required. The last train out of town left over 50 years ago along with all future generations to care for this plot of ground before me. The echo of the train whistle drew us across the highway to see where these residents of the cemetery would have lived and loved - Steins, New Mexico, population 2.

The underpass took us to the other side of the interstate to what was left of a town that once was home to over 1300 residents. Buildings of adobe crumbling under the ravages of the weather and time sparsely surround the area. The old wood building with bold letters above the front porch tells us we are at the Steins Mercantile. We park and are greeted by the "family" of burros and goats that take up residence now in this town. And then we head into the old mercantile to start our adventure and meander our way through what was left of this once thriving town.

Our tour guide is Linda. She and her husband Larry purchased the ghost town of Steins in 1988 and they are now the population of two here - that is if you don't count the goats and burros and gila monsters. Enticing us on our journey with descriptions of Indian fires up on the hill and a canyon named Doubtful just on the other side of the ridge, Linda begins by telling us about early life in these parts. The history of the Indian wars and the stagecoach journeys fill this spot on the map. The early population of Steins would have had a lot to contend with both in basic survival as well as defending against the Apache warriors that would camp in these hills.

We learn that this town was home to men that made their living pounding out stone in the quarry near Steins Peak and their families that waited their safe return each day. The Southern Pacific Railroad also established a workstation in Steins creating the opportunity for supplies to be brought in as well as the next family to take up residence here. Steins was quite a place. It had a restaurant, three saloons, two brothels, business offices, a post office, and much more. Even a school was built where the children could receive their education. I tried to picture the town as it may have been, but there was not much left to build my picture on. The years of abandonment and the fire some 40 years ago have left little standing intact, but the tour was soon to make this town real for me.

The buildings before us seemed so close together. The streets whose names are long forgotten are now cluttered with leftovers from a life long ago. The large cactus were encroaching on grounds that would have seen clothes lines strung between the buildings holding on to sheets and clothing items as they flapped in the wind. The corrugated tin roofs sit atop buildings made of rough-cut lumber and salvaged railroad ties. These few buildings remain protecting their contents and offering us a glimpse into the life long ago abandoned.

Meandering our way through the 16 different rooms we find a lifetime of memories. Framed photos of loved ones rest upon the mantels and bookshelves perhaps keeping guard on the home's contents. Old calendars hang upon the wall revealing to us a life when the date mattered to the inhabitants here. Kitchen tables sit upon the thick wooden floor where years of dirt and dust have made this floor even thicker. Meals would have been served here. Breads would have been prepared and piecrusts rolled out as children watched from the chairs pushed up close and mothers smiled down upon them. These rooms were filled with many different kinds of remnants of their life. From the kitchen to the bedrooms and the laundry to the sewing room each artifact delicately left for our voyeurism to the past. Each item discriminately discarded by the residents of this once thriving town - no longer needed for their journey ahead of them and yet preserved for our perusal into their past - the life that once was Steins, New Mexico. Gone but not forgotten.

Steins is currently closed to visitors.


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