Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway
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Amazingly, when we traveled this route last
time the "Dry Cimarron"
River, actually was flowing with
water. Kathy Weiser, September, 2008.
This image available for
photographic prints & editorial downloads
Why Dry Cimarron?
There are actually two reasons. First, it was the settlers traveling
Santa Fe Trail, who after experiencing 60 miles without water,
gave it the nickname.
The other reason is that the area actually has two Cimarron Rivers very close
to each other. The other Cimarron
flows through Cimarron Canyon State Park where it joins the Canadian River. Some locals still refer to the other river as the Wet
This multi-state byway
travels through Cimarron County,
Oklahoma and Union County,
New Mexico, featuring rugged mountain canyons, high plateaus, nature
preserves, unusual geological formations, volcanoes and
towns. The byway also has several
tributaries that venture into Oklahoma and
as well as various routes in New Mexico.
When the wagon trains of the early settlers came through, the
River was often dry, with the travelers frequently crossing the
riverbed without even realizing they had been there.
The lack of water, coupled with Indian attacks made the trip a
hazardous one. Thunderstorms were also a problem when claps of thunder
and lightning caused stampedes of horses and cattle, wagon wheels
bogged down in the deep mud when streams flooded.
Raton has several attractions that visitors might want to see
Fe Trail Willow Springs Forage Station Overlook on the Old Raton
Pass off Moulton Avenue which provides a scenic introduction to the
geologic wonders ahead. While on historic First Street, visit the
Raton Museum, Old Pass Gallery, Depot, Scouting Museum, and National
Historic District Walking Tour.
While not part of the Dry Cimarron, you are so close to this old ghost
town, that we included it here. Gardiner is the only ghost town in Dillon Canyon that a visitor can see from public property. Take South Fifth Street out of Raton around the golf course to the
locked gate, where you can see many ruins of the old mining
James T. Gardiner, a geologist for the Santa Fe Railroad discovered coal
in Dillon Canyon in 1881 and by the next year coal mining operations had
begun. Naming the town after the geologist, it quickly began to
grow. In 1896 a battery of 300 coke ovens were built and in 1897
Gardiner gained its post office.
During the early 1920's, Gardiner was at its peak with 1,000 residents. Social activities were very popular, the small town supporting a Ladies
Club, a Reading Circle, and a sportsmen's club. But in 1929 the
Great Depression started a downhill slide from which the town would never
recover. In 1939 the mines closed and most of the people moved away. In 1940 the post office closed but a few families remained during World
War II, shipping residual coke breeze to smelters throughout the southwest. However, in 1954, all activity ceased and Gardiner became a
One of the banks of ruined coke ovens is
the most obvious remnant. The townsite, itself, still has the ruins
of an amusement hall, a narrow building that once housed a power converter
for the mines, and few home foundations.
To continue your adventure to Sugarite Canyon State Park, take NM 72 in
Raton, east across 1-25 for about 5 miles until you reach a junction and
turn left on NM Highway 526 traveling north 1.7 miles to Sugarite Canyon
State Park. At the park entrance are the remains of the Sugarite
Coal Camp, including a couple of old buildings and numerous rock foundations.
Long before this beautiful canyon became a coal camp, it was called home
to a number of Native American tribes, including the Comanche, Ute, and
Apache who hunted here for centuries
Established in 1912, the coal-mining "company town" was just one of seven
towns in the Raton area built by the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific
Railroad. In its heyday, it boasted up to 1,000 residents, a school, a
theater, the Blossburg Mercantile Company, the Bell Telephone Company, an
opera house, a physician, a justice of the peace and a music teacher.
Miners relied on mules to pull carts laden with coal out from the
depths of the Sugarite Mines. In 1941, it was announced the mines
would be closed and the population scattered, homes were moved to
Raton and Sugarite was left virtually deserted. In 1944, the post
office closed its doors forever.
Old foundations dot the hills in Sugarite
Canyon State Park.
Coal mining tailings are in the
background, Kathy Weiser, September, 2008.
This image available for
photographic prints & editorial
Amazingly, given its size, there is little left of Sugarite other than
low walls and foundations. However, this was not uncommon at the time,
as "company towns" were often moved -- lock, stock and barrel to the
"next" mining camp, or were sold off for salvage.
However, a glimpse at the life of the miners can be seen if you take a
scenic hike through the ruins, which includes numerous foundations
along the interpretive trail.
Continue into Sugarite Canyon State Park to Lake Maloya and Lake Alice
to explore more ruins of abandoned coal camps, fishing, or hike the
park's numerous trails where you can enjoy the wildlife.
Sugarite Canyon State Park
HCR 63, Box 386
Raton, New Mexico 87740
Coal Ovens can be seen in the distance at
The Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway follows one of
paths of the
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