City of Dust: Contreras, New Mexico

Empty Desks

In Socorro County, New Mexico, tucked off a side road that parallels I-25, not far from a muddy stretch of the Rio Grande, is the little village of Contreras. This was where a man named Matías Contreras once raised cattle and sheep and gave his name to a small community. A post office opened in 1919 but closed in 1935.

Not far south of Contreras is La Joya, the literal end of the road, and, in fact, a map from 1918 has Contreras as Los Ranchos de la Joya. La Joya’s recorded history post-European contact goes back much farther, to 1598, when Juan de Oñate’s expedition found a Piro Indian pueblo there and called it Nueva Sevilleta because the setting reminded the Spanish explorers of Seville, Spain.

To me, the most striking building in Contreras is the old, long-empty school, naturally. I don’t know much about it, but I do know that students were attending classes there in the 1930’s. So perhaps it’s one of the many Works Progress Administration (WPA) structures built in the area around the time of the Great Depression. Nearby Alamillo has a WPA school that became (and might still be) a residence, although it looks quite different.

There used to be a plaque to the right of the front doors (see top photo), which I somehow managed to miss. Later I was told it commemorated some local folks involved with the school, but before I could get back to look more closely it had been removed. I don’t think it was stolen though; probably it was taken off because the building is in such poor condition. Maybe whoever has it will read this and tell us what it says! I should mention that I photographed the school a few years ago and not only is it in worse shape now, it’s also been fenced-off.

Otherwise, the San Jose Catholic Church, part of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, is well-maintained and hosts a fiesta in March. There are no going commercial or civic concerns, but there are some well-kept homes and, if you visit whilst under the vengeful eye of the relentless afternoon sun on a parched, triple-digit day, plenty of dust. Of course, as this is the blog for connoisseurs of dust, everything is as it should be with this trip to Contreras, New Mexico.

There’s not a lot out there on Contreras, so pretty much all the historical information for this post came from Robert Julyan’s trusty “The Place Names of New Mexico.”

I have a backlog of so many small towns and villages in New Mexico that I may well never get to them all at this rate. But I can keep trying! Next time I’ll just reach my hand into the hat and see what I pull out.

John Mulhouse moved to Albuquerque in 2009 after spending the previous decade in Minnesota, Georgia, Tennessee, and California. He loves the desert, realizes it doesn’t care too much about him, and thinks that’s all as it should be. More of his documentation of the lost, abandoned, beaten, and beautiful can be found at the City of Dust blog and the City of Dust Facebook page.


  1. Joel Adrian Martinez from Contreras NM
    Info @
    Class of 1957 La Joya High school
    Lives In Albuquerque NM
    I went to Elementary school in that “Old School” in the picture.

  2. Rich, I love these and your photography. How about White Oak? The cemetery is where the deputy killed by Billy the Kid (during his escape from the noose) is buried. There are still a few homes and a saloon, the No Scum Allowed. Once the 2nd largest city in NM. Sic transit Gloria.

    1. Thank you, Jerry, but the City of Dust posts are actually the work of the talented writer/photographer John Mulhouse. He has gathered a lot of his ghost town articles in “Abandoned New Mexico: Ghost Towns, Endangered Architecture, and Hidden History,” published by Fonthill Media, available at:

  3. My dad told me a story of going on train/bus in late 40s early 50s to visit his dad’s grandpa (paternal), Jose Contreras, born 1870s My grandpa was born 1913 in Albuquerque.
    Faustino Contreras. Thought I could have distant relatives.

  4. Info on Contreras NM I went to school there & I was born and raised there, My Grand parents and
    Great-Grand Parents were Contreras I also live in Edgewood NM My Phone #is 505-688-0465
    Joel Adrian Martinez

  5. Late 60s thru 70s heavy “hippie” presence….less we forget.. Contreras and La Joya ….John and Eileen Corbin Rick Hill, Jim and Caroline Rogers ,Tony Vignelli, Richard and Carol -La Joya, Jah Son -La Joya (Rasta times) and so many more….Cabin and Mary the Warful brothers, Andy Donovan, Willow, Evergreen, Rocky, Jack and
    Susan, and many many children and others I just can’t think of right now but probably will in the middle of some night. Some there for a little while….Some for years… Some buried on the hill. Should I mention the ‘Shrooms and grass? The music? The good and bad times? I think you can use your imagination. Peace!

  6. Great picture, does anyone have a picture of the limitar school house, I’ve asked before in the limitar history site

    1. Thanks for your comment, Alan! I’m afraid I don’t have a photo of the Lemitar School. Is it long gone? I assume so as the nearest school I can place from the immediate area is the Escondida School. The Escondida School is still there, although it’s falling down slowly but surely. I do have some photos of it if you’re interested.

      Best, John

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