Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 11, 2017

Santa Rita, New Mexico; Ghost Town in the Sky

All of us know that the world is filled with some uncountable number of astounding things, only a small portion of which we’ll ever know about, much less see.

There are, in addition, things we can never see. Some are too remote, or microscopic; others endure only fleetingly or move too quickly to be observed.

Never satisfied, we humans have also invented myriad tales of nonexistent creatures, places, and events, from sea monsters and mermaids to legendary cities within the earth or in the sky, like the Irish Tír na nÓg (which I always hope inspired Lando Calrissian’s Cloud City in Star Wars).

You’ll run out of patience with me if I start reporting on places supernal or supernatural, but recently, writing about library buildings that no longer serve the purpose for which they were constructed, I started thinking about all the buildings I’ve been in — schools I’ve attended, offices where I worked — that have been demolished, and are now only memories. They’ll never be seen again.

I once encountered an entire town that was no longer there.

Here in the American west, ghost towns aren’t particularly rare. There must be scores, perhaps hundreds of them, typically places that burst suddenly into existence when mining or logging boomed in the area, then declined and eventually failed entirely when the resources gave out — often as precipitously as they grew. Some are now tourist attractions, like Bodie, California, at 8,300 ft. elevation in the Sierra Nevada, and extremely picturesque. Click here to read about Bodie and see photos.

Bodie bldgs Brad Nixon 3771 680

Bodie Brad Nixon 3871 680

The town I’ll write about today is not a classic ghost town of weathered buildings, crumbling foundations and a wind-swept cemetery. It’s even more ghostly: It’s invisible, and resides in mid-air. Supernal, yes, although not supernatural.

Several years ago, The Counselor and I were exploring the area around Silver City, in southwestern New Mexico (red rectangle).

Silver City NM map Google

There’s a great deal to see, including the Gila Wilderness

Gila Wilderness MV Brad Nixon 087 (640x480)

the City of Rocks ….

city of rocks NM Marcy Vincent 034 - PS1 (640x480)

… the Mimbres Valley, with its heritage of an ancient Puebloan culture, as well as historic Silver City, itself.

Silver City NM Brad Nixon 054 (640x434)

15 miles east of Silver City is a man-made wonder, the Chino open pit copper mine. Copper’s been mined in the area since Spanish Colonial times, more extensively since early in the 19th Century. By 1901, underground mining yielded to open pit extraction. We pulled off Route 152 to take a look at it.

Chino Mine Pano Brad Nixon 1000

An extremely large hole in the ground.

A pickup truck pulled into the viewing area. Out of it stepped a man about my age: cowboy hat, plaid shirt, jeans, boots. He walked to the rail and looked out at the mine. I figured him for a local: a cattleman or rancher. I asked him some question or other about what we were seeing.

He answered and we talked. Before too long he explained that he always stops to see where he was born: “Right there.”

He was gesturing into the empty air out in front of us, hundreds of feet above the bottom of the pit.

He was obviously playing for effect, and went on to explain that he was born in the town named Santa Rita. As the Chino pit expanded throughout the 20th Century, it forced the relocation of Santa Rita several times so that the land on which the town stood could be mined for copper. There were about 6,000 people in the town, and it made its final move in 1957. That location suffered from heavy erosion, though, and Santa Rita was finally abandoned, its last site ultimately consumed by more excavation.

Chino Mine Brad Nixon 6432 680

My new acquaintance explained that there was a loose-knit society of sorts, consisting of people like him who’d been born in Santa Rita, on a spot that now hovers hundreds of feet in the high desert air above the pit.

A ghostly town if ever there was one: invisible, present only in the memories of those who lived there. Perhaps many of them — like the gentleman I met — are drawn to stand there and look into space, pondering their ghost town in the sky.

For more pictures of Santa Rita, follow this link to my post from a second visit: Return to Santa Rita.

I wrote about nearby Silver City, New Mexico at this link.

You may also be interested in the adjacent Gila Wilderness and, within it, the prehistoric Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

© Brad Nixon 2018, 2019. Map © Google with my emendations.



  1. I was born in Santa Rita how would I get my brith certificate.


    • I’m pleased to meet another one of your select citizens of midair.
      I’m not from the area, and don’t know where Santa Rita’s (and the hospital’s) records might be kept. My suggestion would be to start at the Grant County Courthouse in Silver City. I don’t know for certain that Santa Rita was in Grant Co., but that’s my guess. Someone in the records office, perhaps a clerk of courts, there should be able to give you some direction.
      Best of good fortune to you.


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