Three days in southwest New Mexico

  • A storefront in Hillsboro, N.M., a former gold and silver mining settlement.

    Cally Carswell
  • A postcard picked up at Dust & Glitter, a boutique in Truth or Consequences.

  • Eastbound, the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway opens (clockwise) with a dramatic view of the Santa Rita copper mine

    Cally Carswell
  • The Very Large Array on the Plains of San Agustin, New Mexico, where scientists keep an eye on galaxies far away.

    Jeremy Zilar, cc via Flickr
  • The Daily Pie Cafe was recently renamed; it’s now the Good Pie Cafe.

    Cally Carswell
 

Downtown Santa Fe's uniform aesthetic is no coincidence. It's protected and propagated by city codes: Windows must be modestly sized, edges rounded, exteriors colored an earthy adobe blush. The resulting faraway mystique charms hordes of tourists. But the electric farolitos and "fauxdobe" make others groan: "Enough already!" with the "Disneyfication," one architect told a local magazine in 2008.

My Dad, a native Santa Fean, agrees, and laments the once-funky city's now perfect grooming. Which is partly why he and my Mom have taken a shine to the state's lower half since temporarily moving to Roswell last fall. "The New Mexico I grew up in was more of just a normal place," he says -- and the southern part is still like that.

Indeed, the locals welcome your business, but feel no obligation to put on a show for you. The north's unusual blend of Spanish, Anglo and American Indian cultures is less pervasive here, and the architecture trends more toward "trailer park stark" than "Pueblo chic." But the chile is still hot, the landscape diverse, and the towns un-manicured. Even those cultivating tourism economies don't try particularly hard to impress visitors by, say, keeping regular business hours. It's refreshing: You experience southern New Mexico just as it is.

"I love waking up in New Mexico," my Dad crowed this spring as we sped toward the Magdalena Mountains, a lonely huddle of hills west of Socorro. My Dad is a serious man. But since moving out here from Chicago last year, he's become oddly exuberant. "Our drive yesterday?" he went on. "There wasn't one linear mile that wasn't interesting."

At Magdalena, we were reminded of another distinction between northern and southern New Mexico: politics. The rough-hewn old railroad town is bookended by homemade "Obama: Worst President Ever" signs -- folk art, of a sort, in this part of the world.

Not eager to argue the issue, we continued on to the Plains of San Agustin, an ancient lakebed wearing a necklace of mountains. There, a collection of satellite dishes on steroids sprout from the plain -- telescopes that make up the , with which astronomers probe black holes and observe the birth of galaxies. Much to the disappointment of some visitors, the scientists have yet to chitchat with aliens, but the work they do will be instrumental to discovering extraterrestrial life, if it's out there.

The high-tech array's presence here is ironic, amid far-flung towns that still retain public payphones -- places like Pie Town, to which we hurried with growling bellies. At nearly 8,000 feet on the Continental Divide, it's home to 50 souls, according to one local I asked, and 186, including unincorporated areas, per the census. It got its name in the late 1920s, because one settler sold pie to passing frontier-folk. Yet, by the mid-'90s, a sign on one defunct bakery supposedly read, "There used to be pie in Pie Town, but there ain't no more -- FOR SALE." That place, now the , was closed, so we skipped down the road to the .

Owner Michael Rawl rolls out dough in a tight alcove behind the dining room, next to a poster of Muhammed Ali looming over Sonny Liston and a photo of the Dalai Lama. We had a slice of key lime, a tasty cross between chiffon and cheesecake, and a subtly sweet piece of pecan. Our waitress bemoaned the region's drought -- she gets only 50 gallons of water every other day from a deep well. Employment, too, is scarce, she said: "Most people are just retired here."

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Take over the reins of a dynamic grassroots social justice group that protects Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - Winter Wildlands Alliance seeks an experienced and highly motivated individual to lead and manage the organization as Executive Director. Visit https://winterwildlands.org/executive-director-search/ for...
  • Background: The Birds of Prey NCA Partnership is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Boise, Idaho, which was established in 2015 after in-depth stakeholder input...
  • Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor of Native Americans and the News Media The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is...
  • AWF seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • The Southwest Communications Director will be responsible for working with field staff in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to develop and execute detailed communication plans...
  • An intentional community designed for aging in place. Green built with Pumice-crete construction (R32), bamboo flooring, pine doors, T&G ceiling with fans, and maintenance free...
  • (CFROG) is a Ventura County, CA based watch-dog and advocacy non-profit organization. cfrog.org
  • Take your journalism skills to the next level and deepen your understanding of environmental issues by applying for the 2019-2020 Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental...
  • The San Juan Mountains Association is seeking a visionary leader to spearhead its public lands stewardship program in southwest Colorado. For a detailed job description...
  • The Cascade Forest Conservancy seeks a passionate ED to lead our forest protection, conservation, education, and advocacy programs.
  • Mountain Pursuit is a new, bold, innovative, western states, hunting advocacy nonprofit headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming. We need a courageous, hard working, passionate Executive Director...
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for the Willis McDonald, IV...
  • Couple seeks quiet, private, off-grid acreage in area with no/low cell phone service and no/low snowfall. Conservation/bordering public lands a plus. CA, OR, WA, ID,...
  • Former northern Sierra winery, with 2208 sq.ft. commercial building, big lot, room to expand.
  • The dZi Foundation is seeking a FT Communications Associate with a passion for Nepal to join our team in Ridgway, Colorado. Visit dzi.org/careers.
  • Available now for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojaidigital.net.
  • Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.