Like almost all towns in New Mexico, Mountainair started out as a railroad town, but it soon became famous as the Pinto Bean Capital of the US being the largest grower and processor of this food stable. A drought ended the harvest, but the resilient little town morphed into a ranching community. More recently, artists found the town a congenial home and are transforming its walls into canvases. All these threads have come together to make Mountainair a fascinating little town to visit.
The train depot may be closed to visitors but this historic site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, saw many a train pull through. Nearby are the old buildings that were once pinto processing plants.
The Cibola Arts Gallery is a co-op showcasing the jewelry, paintings, sculpture and more from over a dozen artists who make Mountainair their home. They’ve also spread out into the community creating public murals and mosaics. One striking example depicts its past as a railroad town. It’s a long wall anchored at one end with the Santa Fe Railroad train and at the other end with scenes from the town.
Every prosperous town needed a hotel, and in 1923, the Shaffer Hotel opened in Mountainair. That was the era of Art Deco with its rich colors, bold geometric shapes, and artistic embellishments, but in the southwest a related style, Pueblo Deco was whipping through the southwest. Albuquerque is home to one of the finest examples – the Kimo Theatre – but there is another building in Pueblo Deco style in Mountainair. The restaurant of the Shaffer Hotel is a must-see for anyone interested in the design elements.
Mountainair is still a ranching community, and everyone needs a hardware store. Gustin’s is not only a hardware store, it is also the final resting place for a collection of mounted animals. One of the family was a taxidermist and the animals can be found throughout the store. The zebra was donated, after death, by the Albuquerque Zoo.
For a final stop, head one mile out of town to Rancho Bonito. Once owned by Shaffer and his family, it is now closed, but it remains a great photo-op example of American Folk Art. The building is also listed on the National Register of Historical Places.