JEAN HEWITT BOUGHT HER HOUSE IN Corona by accident. The longtime Mainer farmed oysters until her perpetually cold toes compelled her to spend one winter in Arizona. Driving back east, she stopped for a night at the Corona Motel. The next morning, on a walk through the village, she saw a For Sale sign on a cream house with red trim. When the real estate agent said the house had been shown several times with no offers, Hewitt made one well under the asking price, just to try to console the owner.

“I was thinking they’d never take it,” she says. “Then the Realtor called while I was in Kansas.” They’d accepted. Corona became home.

“I love it,” says the 87-year-old, who has lived in Corona for two years. “It seems to be very sedentary and uninteresting, but there’s a wealth of stuff happening—like building windmills.”

Corona, a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it village along US 54 in the geographic heart of the state, was founded in 1903 as a community of miners and homesteaders. But as mines shuttered, ranches struggled, and farms faded, its tiny downtown withered. Grocery stores and the bar closed. Houses emptied. But some people remained, attached to the massive blue skies, the thickets of juniper and piñon, and the herds of deer known for meandering among them.

from left Corona was founded in 1903 as a community of miners and homesteaders; Corona resident Jean Hewitt.

Now, the gusty corridor along the Gallinas Mountains where the town sits is poised to host a massive wind farm. Already, the highway north of town passes through a forest of wind turbines, and three times as many more are set to be built. The wind projects mean the village, which has a population of 130, is scrambling to fit perhaps a thousand new people beginning this fall.

Some worry about a change in the town’s character and a horizon forever altered. Others say this could be a moment for ranching families, many of whom are leasing acreage for turbines, to find more solid footing.

“This is about the only kind of industry that can move in and help diversify ranch income,” says Shad Cox, superintendent of New Mexico State University’s Corona Range and Livestock Research Center. In addition to studying cattle and sheep ranching, the center runs tours of wind turbines on its property, allowing landowners and lawmakers to walk among the steel towers before making decisions about welcoming them. Part of what’s drained Corona’s population is the propensity for homesteading families’ kids to grow up and take a one-way ticket out of town to find work. Income from wind turbines, Cox says, “is going to provide a number of ranches, especially smaller ranches, the opportunity to keep their kids here.”

from left Corona Motel owner Rhonda Oord; The Corona Motel has fun room themes, including an alien motif.

PEOPLE SEEM TO STUMBLE UPON CORONA. Drivers traveling to and from somewhere else find it as a rare stop for gas among many empty miles, or they pop in to the Highway 54 General Store for road snacks or a scoop of ice cream. Even some of the town’s residents landed there while looking for something else. Steve Vanlandingham was just browsing adobes when he saw his current place for sale and went, “Where is that?” He liked Corona’s central access to points throughout the state (though like most rural areas, it now seems to mean several hundred dollars in travel fees to anyone who can work on HVAC or electricity).

Penny Reilly and her husband, Mike, were shopping for ranches when her eye caught the name of one near Corona: Black Dog Ranch. Penny loves black labs.

When Rhonda Oord retired, she decided to ditch Seattle for somewhere sunny and, because she loved decorating—her kids didn’t know what a living room was, it was just “the cowboy room”—she bought a motel. She spotted the Corona Motel on Craigslist and came to see it. “I just felt like this was the town,” she recalls.

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This spring, behind the motel, workers were framing new Western-themed cabins—a saloon, a bank, a pony express stop, a sheriff’s office—to join other rooms themed for the jungle, beach, aliens, the 1950s, and Hollywood. She thought the alien room’s colors were so fun that the lime-and-purple palette took over the motel exterior.

The alien theme hints at Corona’s proximity to the famed Roswell incident, the alleged 1947 alien crash landing that captured national interest. Whatever it was that crashed in the desert on that June day rained debris on a ranch much closer to Corona, but Roswell snagged the headlines because military personnel from the Roswell Army Air Field responded to the scene.

The Highway 54 General Store acts as a community hub as well as a spot for needed supplies.

Oord and Reilly are also two of six owners who opened the Highway 54 General Store in 2021. “That’s a necessity,” Reilly says, waving a hand toward shelves of dry goods, bins of produce, and coolers of meat and cheese. Then, tapping the long wood table between shelves of coffee mugs, purses, and hand lotions, and the pizza warming racks and ice cream freezer on the store’s “fun” side, she adds, “But this has become a necessity, too.”

It’s a community hub. High school classmates come in for root beer floats. A couple makes a date night out of getting scoops of ice cream. Most evenings, a half dozen locals, including Oord and Reilly, gather there, talking new vehicles, new babies, and the latest wrinkles in planning Corona Days, an annual festival combined with class reunions. Karissa Murillo, site manager for Blattner Energy’s 3,000-megawatt project, came to Corona for the previous wind project, completed in 2021, and stayed in part because of this close-knit circle.

“Corona is a New Mexico gem, and the gem is the people,” says Murillo, who hopes to keep calling Corona home even after construction ends on the next project, in 2026.

from left The Corona Museum is filled with heirlooms that have since become pieces of history like letter jackets and band uniforms; A vintage fire truck outside the museum.

Murillo and Oord almost can’t help but turn the conversation back to the puzzle of where thousands of people will stay when they arrive beginning in October. All around town, people are pulling weeds to ready empty lots for RVs. There are no apartments, but some homeowners are renting houses by the room. The village is working on essential services, like trash pickup, and energy companies are pitching in. So far, the influx seems to be supporting a very practical business boom: a new hardware store and a new laundromat.

The Corona Museum is filled with heirlooms that have since become pieces of history: letter jackets and band uniforms; a Victrola; a wedding dress; a phone booth for calling long distance; “friendship quilts” with the quilt circles’ names stitched into the squares; a roll of brown paper for packages from the mercantile.

“That’s Uncle Lonnie,” says Sherill Perkins Bradford as she wanders the museum’s rooms, gesturing at a photo. To an old  image of downtown, with cars stacked in front of the Corona Trading Company and the Brown Hotel, she says, “That’s what it looked like on Saturdays.”

Bradford’s great-grandfather gave his homestead to create the town when the railroad headed its way. Her mother ran the Du Bois Drugstore next door to the hotel that was later converted into the museum. She remembers running up and down its central hallway as a child and the last time she shopped at the village mercantile before it closed, buying fabric for a dress, and when the high school had enough students to field a football team. She left town for work for two decades. But when she and her brother decided their parents needed more care, she welcomed the chance to return and work on the ranch.

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Some Corona residents have signed up to host a piece of the wind farm.

“You see something different every day, and you see the same things every day,” she says. “You don’t miss a sunset or a sunrise if you’re on top of things.”

Before lunch at El Corral Cafe, Bradford drives her truck out on washboard roads to check her heifers, passing rows of turbines. With the window open and the engine off, the massive, sweeping blades sound like traffic on a distant highway. She’s worried, and a little annoyed, at the blinking lights, the expense, the eventual heaps in landfills they could make, and whether workers will flood in and then go away, leaving Corona a ghost town again. Still, she has signed on to host a piece of the wind farm.

“My brother and I really didn’t want wind towers,” she says. “But if we had to look at them, then we wanted the money to go with it.” Like Cox, whose rangeland center shares a fence with part of her ranch, she thinks that income could be the lifeblood for some ranches.

She swings by to put eyes on two heifers, one dark and one mahogany, that are expecting their first calves this spring. They’re contentedly chewing, so she turns her truck toward town and declares, “They’re up and eating and happy, and so am I."

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Fuel up at El Corral Cafe.


Eat. The restaurant is El Corral Cafe, where a plate of stuffed sopaipillas or enchiladas clocks in at the retrospective rate of $8.50, and the wall celebrates the remarkable abundance of hometown rodeo heroes.

Sleep. The one and only motel in town is Rhonda and George Oord’s Corona Motel and RV Park. Book the bunkhouse for a big family, the caboose if you can get it, or the alien room for a glow-in-the-dark roommate on the wallpaper. Camp at the Red Cloud Campground in the Cibola National Forest, about 20 minutes outside town, for a retreat among big ponderosa pines and wildflowers.

Shop. Stock up on snacks, supplies, and gifts at the Highway 54 General Store. The pizza oven stays on until around 6 p.m.