"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Santa Fe Trailings--Route 66 ghost town
I've always zoomed past this ruin straddling the New Mexico-Texas state line, at 75 miles per hour on I-40, hurrying to the mountains or hurrying home. But not this past trip.
Early Friday morning heading west out of Amarillo, pleasant weather, sunshiny day, not in a hurry. Why not take the exit and see this collection of buildings and trees just as the Interstate curves to miss the old pavement of the ghost town's main street, former US 66.
The place is deserted, except for perhaps one resident, in a house partially hidden behind bushes, junk and scraggledy, bare-branched trees, given away by dogs barking as I stopped the car to take photos. The trees look as dead as the town and vacant buildings. I suppose my folks and I drove through this place years ago, driving from Albuquerque to Texas, before the Interstates but I don't remember.
Back home later in the week, I looked up the town's history and found more ghosts keeping me company on that broad main street last week.
The town was born in 1903, two years after the Rock Island built the railroad through there. That means my Dad rode through there in 1932 in a boxcar with a friend, on his way to Juarez, Mexico from hometown Comanche, Oklahoma (also a Rock Island town), to celebrate graduation from high school. I wonder what he thought of the "town." But though he meant to make it a round trip, he never made it back through Glen Rio (the post office was in New Mexico, but the mail arrived at the train depot in Texas). On the return trip, Dad and his friend, Carl Price, spent the night in Tucumcari, and when hopping the appropriate train the next morning, he slipped, fell and lost his leg under those steel wheels.
The town is midway between Tucumcari and Amarillo and just 10 miles from the US 66 mid- point between Chicago and LA. By the 1920s the town had a hotel, a hardware store and a land office. A newspaper, The Glenrio Tribune was published from 1910 to 1934. In 1938, six years after my Dad's accident, the first pavement of US 66 through the area was completed, and John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" was filmed in the town in just three weeks. There were never more than about 30 people in town, although a welcome station for US 66 travelers was built, and many stayed at the First Inn Last Inn Motel, or ate at the art-deco style Little Juarez Diner. Texas was dry, so the only bars were in New Mexico, and the gas station, with lower taxes was in Texas, and the states fought over tax receipts for years.
The remains of a once new post office stand in Texas now. In 1955 the Rock Island closed its depot, and death came gradually as I-40 was built in the 1960s and 70s. Only two people lived there in 1985, then it was deserted for a while. Now "private property" signs forbid access. What gave the town life killed it--the railroad and the highway. The town's name --with typical chamber of commerce false boosterism-- comes from English for valley and Spanish for river, but there is neither a valley nor a river anywhere. Only vast prairie, brutally cold in winter and brutally hot in summer and brutally violent in spring, and brutally desolate all the time.
Less than two miles away is New Mexico's new welcome sign spanning I-40...