The Biggest Little Town in New Mexico – Pinos Altos, NM

“A rough and tumble mining town where men worked hard, drank hard and killed rather than apologize” from Once Upon a Time (a history of Pinos Altos)

The Opera House (circa 1860). I had fun with this shot!
The Pinos Altos Historic Museum

Now, I should say up-front that I’m a huge theatre fan. I’ve acted it, directed it, produced it and lived it so I love (love, love) everything about it. There’s just about only one thing cooler than actual living theatre and that’s a true-bred, old-fashioned theatre house. The kind of place that, just by the nature of the room, oozes fantasy, creativity and history all at the same time. Put that together with a touch of old Western and a history of rough men and you’ve got my whole-hearted attention. That’s exactly what we found in Pinos Altos, and was even more fun was that I met one of the owners, Kurt.

But let me go back and bit and introduce the place properly. Pinos Altos is a teeny old mining town nestled at ~7000 feet in the forested hills of Grant County. In 1860 Gold was struck here, and the town burst forth in a frenzy of New Mexico gold rush. Not much has changed since then and many of the characters are much the same. There are touches of the wonderfully eccentric, flirting edges of the independent and the feel of the turn of a century….the perfect cast for a play, in fact.

You can visit the entire town in one afternoon by meandering the mini-cluster of buildings on Main Street. In the space of ~100 feet you’ll go through the biggest little town in New Mexico, and manage to pack in quite a bit of history too. Start with an ice cream at the old Post Office, then stroll on over to see the musty artifacts at the Museum (rarely have I seen more stuff crammed into 3 rooms, and for $1 it’s a deal to visit!). Follow this with an afternoon pick-me-up at the Buckhorn Saloon and finish off the act by immersing yourself in the opulence of the Opera House.

Inside the spectacular Opera House. They fit 150 people into this mini-space during open shows.
Chatting with Kurt outside the Buckhorn Saloon

The latter is by far the most beautiful, creative and spectacular little theatre I have ever seen. Kurt and his partners renovated the building, staying true to the feel of the 1860’s, but what’s even better is that they keep it alive and working with a steady flow of artists, plays and entertainment.  In my theatre days I would have given my right arm to play in a place like this. People come from miles around to be entertained here and it’s no surprise that the shows are always sold out. Open Mike night is every Monday so if you can’t make an actual show that’s the evening to go, and for those pre-theatre munchies The Buckhorn Saloon does a spectacular dinner (reported to be one of the best in the area).

We were lucky enough to get chatting with Kurt when we went, it being a Sunday and a rather slow day. I got a personal tour of the Opera House as well as the invitation to view a cabin he’s renovating, and an offer to boondock on his land if we were coming back. What a guy! The afternoon passed beautifully and the biggest little town in New Mexico gave us a welcome as entertaining and surprising as a good Western. Step aside John Wayne, you ain’t got nothing on this place…

A tin of old spam at the Museum

Paul checks out an old stereoscope at the Museum
The Oliver Typewriter
Turn of the century Clorox and Laundry Soap
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  1. says

    Wow you have a cool career in your past. I wish I could say the same but I can tell you I am a major movie buff. So I would worship people like you… Spam that old – yumm lol… Glad you guys had a great time. A location like that would call for 8 hours – I am a reading buff as well! Love the photo’s..

  2. says

    Oh my — the day we visited Pinos Altos, the theater was closed. and most everything else too. It’s on our list of go-back-to places! We used to be in community theater up in Butte, MT, so we share your enthusiasm for things like this. Have you every visited Virginia City, MT? They have (or did have when we lived in Butte) a delightful theater — peanut shells on the floor, hiss the villain, cheer the hero, music from a Cremona!

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh, what a bummer everything was closed! You’ll definitely have to come back.
      And no, I haven’t been to Virginia City. Will have to add that one to the bucket list for sure!

  3. Sheila & Bill says

    We’ve been following your blog ever since I discovered it in a google search. I don’t remember what I was searching for at the time. At any rate, we’ve just crossed paths. You’re in Pinos Altos, and we’re getting ready to leave Silver City this morning on our way to meet up with our son in Austin. I’m sure you’ll be visiting the Gila National Monument Cliff Dwellings. I’ll be interested to see how that 2-hour, 40-mile drive turns out for your motorhome. Do you have a toad? We’re traveling with a TT, so it remained happily parked at Rose Valley RV Ranch (a very nice park, BTW). Happy travels!

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh bummer…a close miss indeed!! We’re on our way into the mountains today. Not sure if we’re gonna camp all the way at the top or further down (we’ll see), but definitely looking forward to exploring the area. Cheers for the tip on Rose Valley! Will keep that one in the backpocket in case we need it. Happy Travels!


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