I’m the worst blog writer ever. Seriously. I never write. I thought about writing pretty much all of the summer and fall of 2018. Even jotted down some phrases, ideas, sentences that stuck out in my mind as pretty good and then…..insert crickets chirping here…nothing. I can’t even find the notes where I recorded my thoughts.
I spent most of the second half of 2018 figuring out my professional life, leaving one small company with a great group of coworkers to eventually return to the large company that I left three years ago. It has great coworkers too.
Business travel isn’t new to me and I knew there would come a year in my life where flying for work upwards of 4 times a week every week would get old (or I would get too old for it). It turns out that year was my 44th on the planet.
I’m still traveling but now I get to drive the great state of New Mexico more often than I’m on a plane. And that’s been nice. It also got me thinking that I rarely haul my nice (and expensive camera) out of the house. You know, the camera I bought myself as a treat several years ago with a promise that I’d indulge in (and improve) my photography habit.
My work territory is the state of New Mexico. The entire state. For those of you that have a hard time gauging the sizes of states, New Mexico is the 5th largest state in land mass. The Land of Enchantment encompasses 121,365 miles. On the flip side, New Mexico is the 36th largest state when it come to population with approximately 2 million people. What that means is that there is lots of space in New Mexico and parts of the state are incredibly remote – I mean like nothing on the AM dial remote.
Because our population is so small as compared to our land mass, the population in New Mexico is mostly concentrated along the Interstates. Albuquerque is by far the largest city followed by Las Cruces, Santa Fe and a handful of other cities. After that, the population drops off sharply and you’re left with a series of towns and villages.
In the fall of 2018, I visited all 89 of the school districts in the state (these are my customers). It took several weeks but I finally finished crisscrossing the state.
The highways of New Mexico are littered with abandoned and run down homes, farms, and towns, remnants of days gone by. Scattered along the interstates, highways and state roads are also hundreds of roadside markers. Now, I know a lot of you just go blowing by those markers, but there’s some really interesting history to be found there. I highly recommend this book: Roadside New Mexico: A Guide to Historic Markers. It was recommended to me by the park ranger at the Abo Ruins (worth a stop) and it gives the extended history of all the roadside markers (past and present) in New Mexico. Talk to the park rangers at your National Parks and Monuments…they know a lot of cool stuff.
Those of you that know me well know I’m fascinated with ghost towns, abandoned buildings and the like and there are plenty to see in New Mexico. In some cases, towns were left to die after I-40 overtook Route 66. Others, like Cedarvale, were farming meccas where drought eventually came, ruined the crops and drove the population out.
(Cedarvale was once home to the country’s largest pinto bean producer. All that’s left now are the remnants of a WPA school). Others stopped flourishing after the railroads came and went or the mines were exhausted.
What is even more amazing are the changes in these towns or the quirky ways they are keeping themselves on the map and what one can find in these little towns if you just look a little bit more deeply.
Let’s take the Village of of Mosquero. Mosquero, in Harding County, lies way, way, way out in the middle of….well, nothing. Depending on which census you look at, there are somewhere between 90 and 120 residents in this little village. Sitting so far off the beaten path, not much would bring your average traveler to Mosquero, but it’s a quaint little village where the residents have transformed the sides of almost all of their buildings on the main street into beautiful murals. I’m voting Mosquero the friendliest town in all of New Mexico. I think every resident of the village waved to me as I was exploring the streets and several stopped to chat with me, asking where I was from and could they help me find something – or someone.
In fact, I am starting to miss the friendliness and politeness that is present in most small towns and that sometimes feels largely absent in our bigger cities. I guess you get used the absence of niceties when you live in a larger city (and Albuquerque isn’t really that big…it’s the biggest small town you’ll ever encounter). I mean, sure, you have a handful of people in cities that are friendly and polite, but it just seems that in the smaller towns you see niceness on display in larger and more frequent ways. More kids hold school doors open for me in small towns. More kids call me ma’am in the smaller towns. (Note to small town kids: I don’t really love being called ma’am. I get it’s polite, but could we shoot for “miss” instead?) Maybe as cities grow and grow, we lose the desire to be nicer because we don’t really know our neighbors any more…
The whole point of going down that rabbit hole is to tell you that heading off the beaten path to a small town or village sometimes really pays off. And, perhaps I’m just less vigilant than some of my acquaintances, but I’ve seen some really incredible stuff in parts of my state that other people tend to avoid. “You could get killed out there.” “I never go way out there.” “That’s a weird town.” I think these are all just ways to say that the people in this town aren’t exactly like me and therefore I’m going to react with fear.
Now, I’m not advocating that you go out and behave like an idiot or intentionally put yourself in a situation that looks/smells/seems/feels dangerous, but I am saying: maybe don’t judge a book by its cover.
In addition to the friendliest village ever (Hey Mosquero, hey!), I might have missed all the following if I hadn’t ventured out a bit:
Shiprock and the graffiti art of the Navajo Nation. A lot of people I know are hesitant to visit Shiprock and/or the far Northwestern part of our state. Don’t be! If you do you will miss out on one of the world’s most interesting geologic sights and some incredible art. Shiprock is the erosional remnant of a volcano and it’s incredible. (As a side note, one of my customers told me that New Mexico has more volcanoes than anywhere else in the country. Thank goodness they’re all not actively spewing lava.) You can visit and photograph Shiprock a million times and get a stunning and totally different looking picture each time. If you’re brave and you have a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle, you can drive out to the Shiprock. (Don’t go climbing it. It’s a sacred site to the Navajo people.)
My other favorite thing in Shiprock (the town) is the incredible graffiti art left on some the buildings in town. I got out of my car on this past trip and really spent some time taking a good look. There’s a lot of talent on these walls.
Art is scattered around the state in some of the most unlikely places you can think of: the painted highway barriers on the Mescalero Apache land, a stilt walker in Albuquerqe, a sculpture of St. Michael that looks almost like animation in Pecos, the Basket Array in Grants, the cowboy sculpture in Jal, murals in Mosquero and Corona and on the walls of Ft. Selden, the painted burros in Carrizozo.
Also scattered across the state, merely a stone’s throw from wherever you are….old churches. Mostly Catholic (occasionally another denomination sneaks in) the old churches here in New Mexico are some of my favorite things to photograph. Many have been in use for centuries and lots of them make you feel like you’re somewhere deep in Central or South America. Whether you’re Catholic or not, religious at all or not, these little churches are always worth stopping for.
And, if you’re like me and you geek out over abandoned buildings of any kind, we’ve got those too, including several grist mills. The one in Cleveland, NM has been turned into a pretty great museum.
This year I visited two interesting (and funky) ghost towns…well, semi ghost towns. Both Loma Parda and Mogollon have a handful of eccentric, year-round residents. If you want to see the really good stuff, make friends with the locals, trust me. It turns out that the main streets in these abandoned towns are just the surface of what’s actually out there to see.
Loma Parda has a pretty seedy history. Located not too terribly far from Fort Union, it was the place that military officers most often found the men that had deserted the fort and they found them drinking and spending time in the company of “women with loose morals.” Today you can wander the streets with a herd of bison.
Mogollon is a placed I’d long wanted to visit. The road to get here is perhaps the scariest, one lane, mountain climbing roads I’ve ever driven. Watch out for the UPS driver flying up the road from the opposite direction. Mogollon was a mining town and much remains…see if you can pick out the actual abandoned buildings from those built for movie sets. The Silver Creek Inn is being worked on and you can actually stay in Mogollon in the summer months. (If anyone has stayed, let me know!)
Don’t be afraid to take the dirt road and venture out a little bit. You almost always find something worth seeing, someone worth talking to and some food worth eating.