Friday, February 15, 2008

Seeking Heat & History

So, as this winter blew into Kansas City with a force I haven't seen in almost a decade, I knew by early December, that a respite from the misery would be required in order to maintain my sanity. Where to go? Warmer weather, buckets of ghost towns and lots of historic stops - hmmm. Looked at the southern parts of Texas, California, and New Mexico. Went to Arizona last year. New Mexico "won" and so yesterday, at the crack of dawn, we hopped on a plane from Kansas City to El Paso, Texas and by noon we were shedding the heavy coat that was required in Kansas and loading up into an SUV. Beautiful 70 degrees -- yes I feel sanity creeping slowly back into the brain. Maps in hand, GPS device hooked to the front window, cowboy hat and boots securely in place -- we're ready! And off we go! The plan is a tour of southern New Mexico, but we first head east, making an off-the-beaten-path trek to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Always on the look for those big brown signs, indicating an exit to something historic or cultural. Ah, not 15 minutes later as we travel eastward on I-10, we spy a big brown sign for the Mission Trail.

Following Don Juan de OƱate's blazing of the Camino Real through the El Paso area in 1598, a number of new missions and settlements sprang up including the Ysleta Mission, the Socorro Mission and the San Elizario Mission. Their cathedrals, built in the 1800s, continue to stand and serve their parishioners today.

We made a stop in San Elizario, a very old settlement initially formed in 1789. When the area became part of Texas and El Paso County was formed, San Elizario became its first county seat, a position it maintained until 1873. The town then began to decline in importance, but became notorious during the 1877 Salt War of San Elizario (also called the El Paso Salt War,) in which several men died in a dispute over rights to the salt deposits just west of the Guadalupe Mountains, ninety miles to the east.

The San Elizario Historic District is filled with historic buildings dating back to the early 1800s. Its historic chapel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, faces a small town plaza.

Heading eastward once again on Texas Highway 20, I feel as if we're traveling on Route 66. Like those many towns along the vintage Mother Road, there are numerous other highways that were also bypassed by interstates and suffered similar fates. This appears to be the case for the many small towns that dot Highway 20, running adjacent to I-10 to the south.

First stop -- Acala, Texas. Once a thriving agricultural community of some 100 people, Alcala is now reduced to junk cars and tumbling buildings. Further down the road is Fort Hancock. Though not a ghost town, as the "city" calls itself home to about 400 residents, a view from Highway 20 would make the traveler think otherwise. Of the fort itself, their are no remains, just a marker in front of a plowed field. Onwards to McNary, yet another seemingly abandoned town. Once called home to railroaders and farmers, the town now sports little more than a couple of abandoned gas stations.

A few more towns before we come to Van Horn, where we turn south on Highway 90 in search of Lobo, Texas. Some 15 miles later, we spy the desert remains of what was once a watering stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The town became popular for cotton farmers in the 1940's but declined when the water table fell in the 1960s, making irrigation costs far too expensive. The town was virtually abandoned and sat drying in the desert sun. In 2001, three German residents purchased the town with plans to make it into a "Bohemian Retreat" and providing for an annual arts and music festival. Though we found information that some restoration has taken place on the buildings and a couple of events held there in the early 2000's, by all appearances, Lobo is most definitely a ghost town today.

Returning northward we again blow through Van Horn on our way to the Guadalupe Mountains and a desperate search for Salt Flats, Texas. An interesting ghost town we were dying to see, we either got bad directions or the road is now fenced off, because we could never find the turn-off. Darn, darn, darn!

It's still all good! This is a piece of Texas I've never scene - cactus desert against the rising Guadalupe Mountains - beautiful! Northward we go when Dave spies several horses atop a mound to the west. So still are these horses, that we "city hicks" are absolutely sure some rich Texas rancher has built these beautiful statues atop the desert mound. Mad, screeching stop, turn around and stand staring at these lifeless beautiful animals for minutes. Suddenly, one moves, we're laughing so hard we're almost rolling on the ground. Ok, "city hicks" back in the truck and off we go.

Just after we pass the entrance to the Guadalupe National Park, we find a pull off to the old "Pine Spring" Butterfield Stage Station. Taking the walking trail to the stone ruins, I can only imagine the misery of those long ago stage passengers as they traversed any trail along this rocky terrain.

Determined to make Carlsbad, New Mexico by dark, Dave puts the pedal to the metal only to meet one of Texas' finest highway patrol members, to the tune of a $200+ ticket. Bad, bad!!
Our tired and sleepy heads find us in what has to be one of Carlsbad's absolutely worst hotels at the Continental Inn. Looks ok from the outside, but gross, gross, gross inside - run down, broken and stinky!. Aw, tomorrow is another day, and I'm not up for another hotel horror story. Just don't stay there!

1 comment:

EngDesignTX said...

You should see the view from Guadalupe Peak (highest peak in the state) or from El Capitan.
Like the old Who song "I can see for miles and miles and miles......"