Hit the Old Magdalena Trail

Getting There  |  Datil Well Campground  |  Magdalena Trail Brochure

Dave Farr Oral History - Life on Magdalena Stock Driveway (Dave Farr Homestead, Ranch and Family Oral History)

Autumn was, and still is, the time of year for roundups and time for ranchers sell their calf crop. Of course to do that you have to get the cattle to the buyer, which is done by truck nowadays. In the old days were the glorious cattle drives, trailing the herd on one of the famous trails, like the Magdalena Trail. Never heard of it? It was just as important as the old Chisum Trail, only ours was in use until about 1970. So around here the old days weren’t so long ago. 

This trail got started in January of 1885. That’s when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe built the rail spur to Magdalena, and ranchers from all over western New Mexico and eastern Arizona started trailing their herds of cattle and sheep there for shipping. Folks started getting a little edgy in the early 1900s afraid that new homesteaders might start fencing off the Trail. They petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to have those lands set aside as a stock driveway, and so “The Magdalena Stock Driveway” was designated in 1918. 
Parts of the historic trail are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but others are on state or private lands – so please respect private property. You can get maps from the BLM that will show land ownership. Public lands are open for you to explore; please leave gates as you find them.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played their part too, putting in much-needed fences and wells along the way between 1935 and 1942. The wells were spaced about 10 miles apart, which was considered a one-day’s journey for cows and two for sheep.
After Pearl Harbor, it was considered patriotic to use the Magdalena Trail. Even though some ranchers had started trucking by then, wartime shortages of fuel made trailing your herd the right thing to do. Besides, livestock actually put on weight during the drive.

Getting There

You can get to Magdalena in about an hour and a half from Albuquerque (I-25 south to Socorro and Highway 60 west), and tour the cattle trail in a day.  Start at the stockyards in Magdalena and work your way west or start in Springerville or Quemado and travel east to Magdalena as the herds did.
Highway 60, which follows the route of the old trail, is a reminder of how Route 66 must have been back in the day.  There isn’t a single stoplight in Catron County and there are more elk than people.  There isn’t much out there to remind you that it’s not 1950. 
If you care to have a picnic, check out the wonderful old-fashioned general stores in Datil and Quemado. You can have your lunch at the BLM’s Datil Well Campground, just west of Datil; it’s right on the Stock Driveway.  There you’ll see one of the troughs the CCC built in the late 1930s.   Twenty two camping sites are available for 5 bucks a night.
You’ll also see antelope on the Plains of San Agustin, perhaps with radiotelescopes from the Very Large Array in the background.  Whichever end you start, be sure to stop at the old stockyards in Magdalena, the end of the trail for untold thousands of cattle and sheep.
For more information about the trail, or to obtain a Magdalena Trail brochure, call the BLM in Socorro at 575-835-0412.

Magdalena Railroad Depot
Magdalena railroad depot today

Cattle Drive on the Magdalena Trail
A Farr Cattle Company herd, a 1950’s cattle drive on the Magdalena Trail.

Sacred Heart Church, Quemado
Quemado’s Sacred Heart Church was built in the 1930s.