Chooshgai, a puzzlingly deserted desert community

May 17, 2007

empty-village2.jpg

Heading north up state highway 491 from Gallup, New Mexico, the community of Chooshgai appeared on top of a flat hill on the right hand side of the road just a few miles inside the Navajo Indian Reservation.

The tops of street lamps were visible from the road, as were the roofs of small houses which peeked over the rise in a manner reminiscent of shy children wanting and not wanting to be seen.

empty-village4.jpgFrom the road it looked like the perfect opportunity to take some pictures of a Navajo community with rocky outcrops and cliffs in the background and the highway below. A few shots of families and cars outside houses with a desert backdrop that would look good on reuters.com.

On closer inspection, however, this entire community appears to have been deserted. Some 100 homes stand empty here, all with their windows intact indeed some appear to have relatively new windows.

The paintwork on most of these basic, single-storey homes seemed in good shape, with only the fire hydrants in the street faded to a merry pink instead of their regulation red though in the heat of the New Mexico desert that fading process is not so slow.

empty-village3.jpgThe street signs seem new, as do those signs indicating a speed limit of 15 miles per hour and warning drivers to watch out for non-existent children at play.

The houses at Chooshgai brought to mind the Mary Celeste, the famously abandoned ghost ship found off the coast of Portugal in 1872, where the 10 crew and passengers were never found.

How this community came to be abandoned is probably not a mystery to people in the surrounding area, but on this day there was no-one anywhere around to ask.

21 comments

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Nick Carey’s picture makes him look like the stern crusader for the downtrodden, oppressed and undervalued. I think an action figure is in order. Oh, and the blogs are interesting, too. Interview some Navajos if you can.

Posted by Jay | Report as abusive

Jay asks to hear from some Navajos in the Route 66 blog. Nick and James have updated their post from the reservation with an interview with Navajo President Joe Shirley. You find it here: http://blogs.reuters.com/2007/05/17/a-ri ch-landscape-an-impoverished-people/

(blog editor)

Posted by Emily Church | Report as abusive

sounds creepy.
need to ask some of the local populace and findout whats happened. sounds like the movie wax house with paris hilton…

The interview doesn’t really explain the abandoned town. How long has it been there? Did people live there and why did they leave? Are these houses that were never finished? I am puzzled by this and would like to know more. Also, more photos and better photos would be great.

Thanks for posting the story.

Posted by Kim | Report as abusive

Oh imagine the party you could throw there! Each building could house a different DJ!

There’s only a mystery here if someone wants to create a big story out of nothing.

This isn’t a town, it’s a school complex, once a government-run boarding school. The school was closed fairly recently for lack of funding.

Mystery over. But it never was a mystery except for writers who want to create stories out of nothing.

Posted by Barry James | Report as abusive

This is odd. If you read that blog posting it tells how impoverished the people are and how they don’t often have running water or electricity. But people this poor generally live in much worse places that what I can see in the pictures above. So why aren’t they living there?

Even more odd is the observation of “all with their windows intact”. In cities, kids wil go out of their way to smash out the windows of abandoned homes. A place like this could keep kids occupied for months.

I wonder if Nick Carey got close enough to any of these homes to see if there were furnishings or half-eaten meals on the dinner tables….

A school complex….that’s interesting. It’s a shame that no one can use the houses though–it does sound like the people around there could use this town IF it has running water and electricity–which it must have if it was a boarding school. Reconnect the pipes and wires and make a town for the impoverished people there? Although, I don’t know how they would pay the bills.

Seems like I am far too interested in this. hmmm…maybe I need to get out more.

Posted by Kim | Report as abusive

How close is this to Roswell? Could it be possibly a mass alien abduction?

Posted by bob j | Report as abusive

There is another place very much like this in the Mojave. I ran across it by accident on a trip to LA in the mid-70s. I don’t know if it ever had a name, but some inquiries in Twentynine Palms revealed that Ronald Reagan once owned one of the deserted shacks. The only thing that was really wierd were the signs saying, “Beware of Mutant Dogs.”

Posted by Bob R | Report as abusive

Has anyone tested for radioactivity?

Posted by Jim Bob | Report as abusive

Despite the “abandoned school” angle, I like this post. The English is just off-center enough to be intriguing, and the aura of timeless mystery is strong.

As a Brit who has travelled extensively on Route 66, scenic 395 , lonely 50 and a number of other Great American roads I would really like to see the Reuters Route 66 bloggers pay a little more attention to detail and enbed a few videos to share the experience of travelling the blacktop of the Mother Road – or whats left it – with readers of the blog who may never have an opportunity to do this themselves.

I bit my tongue on the recent post on Seligman , Az, as the town is steeped in Route 66 history and festooned with the heroic efforts of locals to keep that legacy and their community alive and yet the blog’s angle was the number of German tourists who visit Seligman!

Eh?

The latest post on the abandoned school complex seems to have involved no research at all…

Come on guys, make more of an effort to share your kicks on route 66…

Posted by des curley | Report as abusive

Nick, you’re an idiot. The houses are deserted because they’re about to get renovated. I lived there. I’m a teacher there. I moved to Gallup in August, because the houses are being prepared for tear-down. Perhaps if you cared to drive up to the administration building, an eighth of a mile away from where you took the pictures, or even walk down to the school, perhaps 100 steps away from Apache Avenue, you could have found this out easily.

Quit your idiotic musing over the “puzzling abandoned community.” It’s not that puzzling at all. Your “timeless mystery” of the Navajo Nation smacks in the face of idealizing the Nation. Give me a break.

May I suggest you remove or edit this post before you make yourself sound even more like an ignorant outsider? As a member of the Ch’ooshgai Community School community, I find this piece highly disrespectful.

Perhaps you’re trying to sound like a musing wanderer– instead you’re coming off as disrespecting an entire community. And please, do some research before posting. I am a professional blogger as well. All you need is to talk to some people. Ask questions. Fact check.

You also mention that there is no one around to ask. I find that highly unbelievable. Perhaps the houses are not being occupied, but the administration and school are filled during weekday working hours. In the evening, the dormitories are occupied and custodians are around until 11. If you happen to be there on a Saturday or Sunday morning, why not stroll a mile down to the two gas stations or even the chapter house where it is ALWAYS OCCUPIED and ask a couple of folks there?

This isnt just SLOPPY JOURNALISM, this is FRUAD! This active school is not abandoned. The buildings Nick Carey speaks of are housing for the non-Native American staff who teach at the school. They are being renovated because of asbestos. The teachers, therefore, have moved into town and need to commute in to the school.
Seriously, that this blog has the Reuters name attached is outrageous. They are paying for fiction masquerading as news? How lazy can bloggers be? Totally inventing stories is unacceptable. Over the years I havent had a particularly high opinion of the media world, and this reinforces my low expectations. Time to find a different profession Nick.

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

I agree with Barry James. Anyone who’s ever been on the rez knows abandoned complexes are nothing new.

I don’t know if ignorance is to blame here or just cynical hype, but this guy passing as a reporter should probably learn that research is what makes journalism. Otherwise you’re just some dork blogging.

Posted by Zia | Report as abusive

Wow!!! Incredible hard-hitting investigative reporting. I really appreciate how Carey covers all angles of the story. Raising the bar for Reuters, my boy! Did somebody say, “Pulitzer?”

Posted by Joe C | Report as abusive

Nick,
I want to apologize for the name-calling in my previous posts. I was angry (still am). My wording, though, was unprofessional. As a fellow blogger I know there are times when it is difficult to come up with new material. This time, though, you dropped the ball substantially (it is an active school) and in a way that I found deeply offensive to our community. While I fully stand by what I said, I want to apologize for the way I said it. – Jessica

I don’t know if this is ‘cynical hype’ or ‘some dork blogging.’ Don’t you think Nick looks like Russell Crowe? Are we supposed to care what he’s writing?

Posted by Cerebral Chick | Report as abusive