Clovis and Socorro linked by Abo Highway

By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

I love to travel over the southwest highways. You can almost see forever on some of the highways. Not too many people today know much about the Abo Highway, now called Highway 60.

Soon after the creation of the State Highway Commission in 1912, future U.S. 60 (from the Texas line to Belen) got designated as State Road 19.

The state slowly made improvements to the highway, though much of it was still cow trails and section lines.

The origin of the Abo Highway is murky. Named after a Pueblo Indian trading route, the highway started in the mid-1910s as a way to link Clovis to Socorro. Organized in 1911 by a confederation of California, Arizona and New Mexico road boosters, the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Association pushed to build a cross-country road from Los Angeles to New York. It didn’t quite make it.

By the mid-1920s, the highway had expanded east into Oklahoma and Kansas, promising a hard-surface link to civilization. It was said on June 22, 1922, “All it takes to make a Christian or a believer out of a county commissioner or other road authority, is to take him on a trip through the east, where all the main roads are hard-surfaced, then bring him back to the dirt roads of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas or New Mexico.”

The Abo Highway folded sometime in the mid-1930s, just as U.S. 60 came on line as a transcontinental route joining Virginia Beach, Va., to Los Angeles. New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma are the only states in the Southwest where one can drive a continuous alignment of U.S. 60 today.

Starting in the east at Clovis, the Abo or Abo Pass Highway clung closely to the Santa Fe Railroad right-of-way. Current maps, however, show a relic section of the Abo Highway just to the north of U.S. 60. Curry County Road 12 starts at the outskirts of Clovis and moves west on an unpaved path to Melrose. At Melrose the old highway continues west several miles, passing through Cottonwood Grove before swinging back to U.S. 60. This is the only section we know that still retains the highway’s name.

At Fort Sumner, the Abo diverted from current U.S. 60, dipping south to follow the railroad and touching the now-abandoned communities of Agudo, Ricardo and Iden. (Iden is where historian H. A. Kilmer of Clovis was born.) Different also from today’s highway, the Abo Pass Highway spanned the Rio Grande near Socorro, approximately 25 miles south of it current Bernardo crossing. From Socorro to the Arizona line, U.S. 60 closely shadows the alignment of the old named highway.

Clovis is the eastern terminus of the Abo Pass Highway. The OST pathfinder Harry Locke, who mapped part of the Abo Pass Highway around 1919, instructed drivers to reset their odometers in front of the Lyceum Theatre on Main Street. (OST stands for Old Spanish Trail.)

John M. Murphey, architectural historian of the state of New Mexico, let me use some of his research on the Abo Pass Highway and Highway 60. Murphey contacted me after he read my column about the 1919 dirt road journey from Fort Worth to Las Vegas, N.M., via Clovis. We both are still wondering what F.F.F. (the F.F.F. Road) stood for as the 1919 writer of the little route book did not explain.

Murphey had one more piece of information to give us: “I can tell you not once did our $500-a-month clipping service pick up one of your articles, Don. Occasionally we get a history piece from the Hobbs or Lovington papers, but nothing from Clovis.”