Updated: Nov 5, 2020
As you drive through the village of Abiquiu towards Ghost Ranch, you will see Highway 96, the road that runs past the Riana campground, the Abiquiu Lake dam and the Abiquiu Lake Recreation Area. Most visitors stop at this point and don’t venture further, not knowing what lies ahead. There are several pull-off spots along 96 that are the perfect locations to capture a stunning photograph of the lake and the red rocks.
Pull over and “take time to look”, as Georgia O’Keeffe once said.
The windy road continues with twists and turns, past the village of Canones, alongside of the great Cerro Pedernal – Old Flat Top mountain. We are proud to let you know that we’ve
climbed to the top of this mountain, twice! Pedernal literally means ‘flint hill’ and its highest point stands at 9,862 feet. This mountain is the subject of many of O’Keeffe’s paintings, and her ashes were scattered on top after her death.
There are several more villages out along this road after you pass Canones, including Coyote and Youngsville. These villages have so much history – dinosaurs, Puebloan tribes, Spanish colonizers, battles and conflict, cattle wrestlers, land grants, and Georgia O'Keeffe. Today, much of the land in the area has been passed down from generation to generation, and you are more likely to hear Spanish spoken on the street than English.
While many people have heard of the village of Abiquiu, primarily because of Georgia O’Keeffe and Ghostranch, very few people know anything about the other villages you will encounter while travelling down 96. So, we thought we’d focus this blog on our neighboring village of Youngsville, just 8 miles down the road from #AbiquiuVacationHomes, and the
location of our local post office. Unlike where you live, we don’t get mail delivered to us – instead we drive to our post office to pick up our mail, say hello to Veronica behind the desk, and likely chit-chat with neighbors who we tend to meet there in the mornings. And, our local UPS driver, Freddie, deserves a call-out for his friendship with everyone on his route, how he calls ahead if a signature is needed to make sure you are home, and is always willing to lend a helping hand.
In the early 1800s, Youngsville – which was then called El Rito Encinos, or Rito de los Encinos – was a small village of sheep and goat farmers who were given their land through a ‘land grant’, where the Spanish crown deeded land claimed by Spain to their loyal subjects. The largest and wealthiest farmer in the area was Juan Bautista Valdez, a loyal subject to the Spanish crown. Valdez lived in Abiquiu, and in 1807 he petitioned the Spanish crown for two thousand acres in what was at that time known as the Canon de los Pedernales. Valdez was allotted the land known as the Encinos tract; nine other petitioners were also awarded allotments of land in the area.
Permanent settlement in El Rito Encinos was frequently disrupted by raids led by the Navajo, Ute and Apache tribes, and these raids forced the settlers and ranchers to move back into the village of Abiquiu for safety. When the raids ceased and the area experienced moments of peace, settlers would move back out to El Rito Encinos to care for their sheep and goat herds. They stayed in the village during the cold winter months and brought their sheep and goats up into the mountains during the hotter summer days. Today, the ranchers still follow this schedule with their herds of cows, and if you are hiking up in the mountains in the summer you are likely to run into a cow or two or three.
Over the years, the land grants became a source of conflict with law suits and fraud. When the United States took over the territory of New Mexico, courts were held to confirm land grants. Many heirs to the orginal land grants had to petition to keep land that had been passed down to them. For the Valdez land grant, farmland was granted to heirs of Valdez, but the communal lands were turned over to the public to be managed by the US Forest Service. Many other land grants were rejected completely and the land reverted to the public domain of the United States.
In 1913, a man named Jack Young opened a general store in El Rito Encinos and also became the first pony-express postmaster general. Given these positions of importance, he
changed the village name to Youngsville, in honor of himself and his last name.
In the 1940s, the Forest Service became concerned about the damage to vegetation by sheep, and they encouraged ranchers to give up sheep farming and turn to cattle ranching as they thought cattle would cause less damage. Goat and sheep ranchers became cattle ranchers, and many generations of cattle ranchers still exist in Youngsville.
Today, a drive through Youngsville leaves one will a multitude of feelings: a drive back into the old west, a drive through a living history, and a drive through lands of immense beauty. If it wasn’t for the modern post office, one might think it was a ghost town. The old general store has long been deserted and left crumbling, as is Bernie's Bar across the street.
There are still a few generational families in Youngsville who are cattle ranchers, many are descendants of Valdez and the original land grant. Because the area is free-range – which means cattle and horses can roam freely – you will still see cows and horses along Highway 96 in the cooler months. So be sure to drive carefully! But, beyond ranching, there are few jobs in the area. Most find it hard to make a living, and young people are moving to the city after graduation.
The San Pedro Catholic Church, part of the Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church parish in Abiquiu, holds mass on a scheduled basis. Saint Peter/San Pedro is the patron saint of Youngsville and his Feast Day is June 29. We especially love the parking sign out front: "Reserved for Father"...just in case the parking lot fills up.
The post office is vibrant and remains a critical service in the area. From Youngsville, Cerro Pedernal looks more like a peak than the flat top, as you are looking at it from a side view. It's beautiful, and first time visitors have a hard time believing this is the same 'old flat top'.
At the time of writing this blog, land and homes in Youngsville ranged from a low of $19,900 for a 5-acre lot to $12 million for an estate on 1,500 acres overlooking the Chama River.
The Youngsville cemetery is still in use and, last I heard, Youngsville residents can be buried there for $96/plot.
Youngsville, NM - drive through slowly and take time to look!