In the isolated desert region of southeast Arizona, and along the Mexican border area of southern New Mexico, not much has changed in the past century. This part of the country is still primarily ranch country, just as it has been since white man first occupied the area. One major development that occurred in this area during 1902 was the construction of the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad. Originally built by Phelps Dodge Corp. to ship copper anodes from its Copper Queen mine near Bisbee, Arizona, to its smelters located in El Paso, Texas. This railroad was later extended to Tucson, Arizona, and went to become a transportation lifeline for the region, providing ranchers and local communities with a connection to the outside world. Like most railroads, numerous towns were built along the route to support the railroad. This included small villages where maintenance crews and other railroad employees lived and worked. Some were just water stops, sidings or stations. A few of these railroad towns grew into thriving communities while others solely existed to support the railroad operation. When the Southern Pacific Co. purchased this railroad in 1924, it owned an existing line that ran between El Paso and Tucson, via Lordsburg, New Mexico and Benson, Arizona. To differentiate between the two lines, railroad employees and local residents unofficially called the former El Paso & Southwestern route "The Southline" due to its more southerly route. Years later, because of declining copper prices, and the low population of the region, the Southern Pacific Co. determined that it was no longer cost effective to operate both lines. The decision was made to shut down the southern route. The operation of the line between Douglas, Arizona and Anapra, New Mexico (just west of El Paso, Texas) was discontinued in December 1961. In the years to follow, in a clean-up effort, the iron rails were removed and the ties were pulled up. Most of the buildings and other structures owned by the railroad were dismantled. What remained were the concrete foundations, piles of rubble, several bridge structures,and a gravel roadbed. The towns that were once populated were suddenly ghost towns. Most of these towns still show evidence of their existence however; some have virtually no trace that they ever existed at all. Today the gravel roadbed is still very easy to locate, however finding many of the towns may require some effort. A paved highway parallels most of this old railroad grade, at times only a few feet away. From Douglas, Arizona, heading northeast, US Highway 80 follows the railroad grade to a point just north of Rodeo, New Mexico. At this point, the railroad grade heads to the east, away from US 80, through Antelope Pass in the Peloncillo Mountains. In the pass, the railroad grade intersects with NM State Highway 9. Heading east from this point, NM Highway 9 basically parallels the old railroad grade to Columbus, New Mexico. From Columbus eastward to a point where it begins its decent into the Rio Grande Valley, NM Highway 9 was built on top of the grade. As it descends into the valley toward El Paso, the grade is not accessible by highway, but can still be followed by vehicle. Four-wheel drive is recommended at this point because of washouts and soft sand drifts covering the grade. If you are ever traveling through far southwestern New Mexico or southeastern Arizona, take a side trip along US 80 or NM9. You will see much of the gravel railroad grade that remains, portions of old bridge structures, remnants of old water tanks and rubble from some of the old towns. Stop and look around. These are the "Ghosts of the Southline".
This page is part of the "Ghosts of the Southline" website, a site describing the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad and many of the abandoned towns along its route.
Photographs and documentation found on this website are the property of Lloyd W. Sumner
This site was created and is maintained by Lloyd W. Sumner