Carrizozo, New Mexico – A growing community in the shadow of the Sacramento Mountains

An interesting historic town that is home to a growing arts community.


We picked up a brochure for Carrizozo at the Valley of Fires Recreation Area Visitor Center. The brochure, “Discover the Town of Carrizozo – At the Crossroads of New Mexico,” provided a brief history of the town’s founding and mentioned several places of interest.

One of the places, McDonald Park, had a unique fountain that looked like a spider. There was also a picture of the historic Carrizozo Trading Co. building. The backside of the brochure listed bullet points with reasons to visit. Several of the points were historic buildings and art galleries.

Since we are interested in historic buildings and enjoy looking at art, we decided to take the short drive from the recreation area into Carrizozo.

We neglected to locate addresses of the places we wanted to see. At the intersection of US 380 and US 54, we turned south. The street signs showed we were on Central Ave. We drove past the Gift Gallery, which is housed in a National Historic Site. Unfortunately, it was closed for the season. We continued to drive awhile before turning around and heading back to Central Ave and 12th. At the Gift Gallery, we stopped to take street view pictures. That is when a helpful resident walked over. Since Andy was taking pictures, he told us about the photo gallery on 12th St that we may want to visit. Andy thanked him and we turned onto 12th St.

Roy's Gift Gallery
Central St. view of Roy’s Ice Cream Parlor
Roy's Gift Gallery2
12th St. view of Roy’s Gift Gallery

We didn’t drive far before Andy pulled over and parked the car near the Carrizozo Lyric Theater. He got out to take pictures and I walked across the street to look at the unique sculpture in McDonald Park. It was the large spider from the brochure. It appeared to be constructed of black lava.

Lyric Theatre
Carrizozo Lyric Theatre – 501 12th St
spider in January
Fountain in McDonald Park – January 2018

Back in the car, we drove a little further up 12th Street, stopping again near an old Ben Franklin store. As I was walking around trying to stay warm, Andy was taking street view photos of the store. Another helpful man pulled up and got out of his car. He asked if we knew portions of the film, The Book of Eli, had been filmed in Carrizozo. He then introduced us to Steve Fortelny, who was unloading his pickup truck parked in front of the store.

Ben Franklin front
Fortelny Fine Art at Ben Franklin Gallery – 404 12th St.

Steve invited us into his home/studio/gallery in the former Ben Franklin building. We asked about the renovations he had made to the inside of the old store. He showed us what he had done and told us about a few of his future projects.

We walked around the studio, looking at his paintings and various other pieces. He showed us the piece he was working on for the upcoming “A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose” presentation at Malkerson Gallery 408.

Explaining Rose piece
Steve Fortelny 

Steve told us the interior of the Lyric Theater was used for the bar scenes in The Book of Eli. Styrofoam was used to transform the storefronts of buildings for the movie. After the movie crew left, Steve took some of the leftover styrofoam and created the wall on the side of his gallery.

side wall
Wall on side of Ben Franklin building constructed partially from styrofoam.

Even though Steve was busy working on his latest creation, he took time to give us a tour, explain some of his renovations, and show us his art. We enjoyed our time exploring his gallery.

We said our goodbyes to Steve and went up the street to the Tularosa Basin Gallery of Photography. Sherry Hayne, another artist living and working in Carrizozo, greeted us at the door. During our visit, we learned that the gallery was exclusively displaying the winning photos from the 17th Annual New Mexico Magazine Photo Contest. As we walked through the gallery, Sherry explained that the works of over 35 photographers were on display and all of the photos were taken in New Mexico. Andy and I enjoyed looking at the beautiful landscapes and wildlife photos.

Tularosa Basin Gallery of Photography
The Tularosa Basin Galley of Photography – 401 12th St.

The Tularosa Basin Gallery of Photography is one the largest photography-only galleries in New Mexico. Located in the original Carrizozo Trading Co. building, it has over 7,000 square feet of gallery space. The original office from the trading company is still in use as the gallery office.Inside photo gallery

Sherry recommended we visit Malkerson Gallery 408, on the other end of 12th Street. She told us the owner of both the photo gallery and Malkerson Gallery was working there. After purchasing a copy of the February 2018 New Mexico magazine and picking up a few of the free postcards, we thanked Sherry for the tour and stepped out into the cool sunshine.

postcards and magazine

One of the things that intrigued us about Carrizozo were the painted burros. There are burros on rooftops, burros on the sidewalks and burros in the lovely sculpture garden at 408 12th Street.

Burro on 12th St

rooftop burros

As we walked up to Malkerson 408 Gallery, we were drawn into the garden by the large sculptures and painted burros. We were soon greeted by Joan Malkerson.

street view malkerson gallery
Malkerson 408 Gallery – 408 12th St.

When we had finished looking at the garden, she led us through the back door into her store. One of our first questions was about the burros. She explained the idea originated in her gallery and the local artists paint them. This is the 12th anniversary of the burros, often referred to as the Painted Burros of Southern New Mexico. She graciously allowed Andy to take a picture of the burro room in the gallery.Burro room at Malkerson Gallery

We learned that Joan and her husband, Warren moved to Carrizozo when they retired and purchased the gallery for Joan to pursue her art. She told us about a close-knit group that helps each other. Since the nearest grocery store is 20 miles away, the one making the trip will often call others to see if they need anything. We heard about a group of artists passionate about their craft and the town. Currently, there are 20 local artists and 3 artists in residence working and creating art in Carrizozo.

We purchased a small burro from Joan as a souvenir of our visit to this interesting little town. Next time we won’t visit in January. We would love to come back during the spring or fall when more shops are open and festivals are happening.

We didn’t search the Internet for Carrizozo before our visit. Afterwards, I located articles about Carrizozo in New Mexico travel guides and a few online sites. In several articles, the little town we visited was described as “a quirky town experiencing a resurgence as a growing arts community.”

I don’t know about quirky. Based on the people we met, I would describe it as a growing colony of down to earth artists that have found a place to call home.

Our little burro with the alien from Roswell, turtle from Juarez and our mascot, Sully.


2 comments on “Carrizozo, New Mexico – A growing community in the shadow of the Sacramento Mountains”

  1. I’d never heard of Carrizozo but it’s got a great, small-town Americana vibe!


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