HURLEY, N.M. - The clock is ticking for the Hurley towers, concrete monuments of a long-gone copper smelter, the latest victims of progress in an industry that no longer needs them.
Eyesores to some, the massive spires are tangible links to the past for others. Now that the smokestacks' demolition is scheduled, former residents have been trekking back to Hurley, misty-eyed at the prospect of losing them forever.
"It's a sad thing. Maybe that's progress. But to old guys like me, we're just sorry to see them go," said Jim Kester, 70, who recently traveled from Austin, Texas, to see the stacks one last time.
One smokestack reaches 625 feet and the other 500 feet into the turquoise sky over tiny Hurley - amid a landscape of pinon pine trees, coffee-colored cliffs, and distant purple mountains in New Mexico's southwestern corner.
"It's part of your personal history, a foundation in your life," said Kester, who lived in Hurley when he was a boy in the 1940s. "You'd see the big furnaces fire up the whole sky at night when they'd pour copper during the war. You don't forget things like that."
Within the last decade, however, Phelps Dodge Corp. - owner of the Hurley stacks - has demolished no-longer-needed copper smelters in the Arizona towns of Morenci, Ajo and Douglas. In January, BHP Billiton demolished twin stacks at San Manuel, Ariz. In New Mexico's remote Hidalgo County, another Phelps Dodge stack is due to come down soon.
The Hurley smokestacks are scheduled for demolition Friday. Phelps Dodge hasn't set a date for the Hidalgo stack, which is just north of the Mexican border.
Joe and Karin Wade have welcomed plenty of the unexpected guests returning to Hurley to see their history before it falls. About 18 months ago, they opened an art gallery in the building that formerly housed a company store. Visitors often share their stories with the Wades - tales of relatives who lived in Hurley when the family breadwinner labored at the smelter. Then they'll step outside to pose for photos below the twin stacks.
They laugh and reminisce. Some weep.
"There's a lot of emotion. Many of them say they're going to lose something that's been an important part of their lives," Joe Wade said.
Since the 1980s, more of the world's copper has been produced outside the United States.
"That really began to spell doom for the smelters," Phelps Dodge spokesman Richard Peterson said.
The Hidalgo smelter closed in 1999, the Hurley smelter in 2002. Huge buildings and support shops already are gone, and the hollow smokestack towers rise over empty concrete foundations. At peak capacity, each smelter cast about 500 tons of copper daily.
To unsentimental outsiders, the smokestacks are little more than blotches on Hurley's otherwise pristine landscape.
And when the stacks were in use, there was the smell and the smoke.
"Imagine lighting a whole box of kitchen matches at once. That sulfur smell, that's what would be all over the place," recalled Mark Mallard, 44, of Monroe, La., who also grew up in Hurley.
A community group is selling $2 raffle tickets, and the winner will push a ceremonial plunger to blow up the smokestacks.
Manuel Carreon, 77, who has lived in Hurley since age 7, wants no part of it.