We are up and out of El Paso in the morning with our jeans and sweaters and down vests on. It is cold, especially the wind and it looks like it will be this way for the next couple of days. We are taking a desolate lonely road today with few towns or gas stations or places to eat. Once we are out of the big city (after a couple of wrong turns) we are on a quiet single lane highway that heads off into nowhere. There are some ranches but mostly just open spaces. We discuss what it would be like to live out here where neighbours are few and far between. Where do children go to school? How many friends does a person need to keep them happy and connected?
One small town we go through is Hatchita, It is literally a ghost town. It was formerly a copper and silver mining place but now is basically abandoned. One or two houses in town seem to be occupied. This is not re creation of an old west town but the actual thing you might see in a movie. It was cool to see and to compare how it is different than an old abandoned village in the Manitoba Prairies.
Down the road in Animus, New Mexico we notice a restaurant and it may be the only place to stop for something to eat on these miles of desolate highway so we pull in. A pile of high school students burst out of the door with what looks to be like their takeout lunches. The woman inside is a nurturing sort who apologizes for making us wait but she tells us she just has to get her kids fed. By her kids it becomes apparent that she means the high school students in town. Usually they use an app to order their food but today they all phoned her personally and she had to rush to get the food all ready. We chat for a while longer and hear that the school (grades K to 12) has about 227 students and they come from as far away as way south of Hatchita and many have a 1 and a half hour bus ride in the morning and then again after school. The restaurant serves up the regular restaurant food. I get a salad and a burger and it is homemade and good. We just start our meal when an old cowboy walks in and orders a meal. He is wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and ranching clothes. He is dusty from the top of his hat run down to his boots. He promptly turns to us and says that he hopes that we ordered the green chili burger as it is the best you can get anywhere. This is the start of a conversation that goes on for a long time. It is fascinating. A real insight into life in these parts. He banters back and forth to the cook/server/probably owner of the place. He is off to get his oil in his truck changed but wants to order the chicken and fries to pick up later to take home to his wife. We talk some more and ask him about his life here. Has he lived here his whole life?
“Nope,” he says, “I grew up on a ranch in Colorado. Then ended up in California working on a ranch there. My neighbour and I helped each other out. Well, neighbour,” he continues, “he lived 21 miles away but he was the closest around. Anyway my neighbour moved to Oklahoma and I said I would help him and drive his rig out there. After I done that I decided I’d take the train back to California. On the first day I met this widow woman and we got along real well. We talked for 2 days straight before she got off here in Animus. I got her phone number and one day I phoned her from California and said I was thinking of coming for a visit. Well I did, and that was 18 years ago and I never left.”
It is a beautiful story and the way it is told sends shivers up and down my spine. The romance of it (not just the relationship between the two of them, but the idea of putting down roots based on a chance encounter on a trip across the country) warms me. I know, of course, that it is never that simple, but the man has a charming way of speaking about his love for place and what it all entails (cattle, dog, cats, 6 chickens).
“Oh six chickens was yesterday. Today there’s only five.”
When he hears that we had spent the previous night in El Paso, he exclaims, “I hate that place. Way too many people. And they are not very polite either.” It speaks volumes of small town friendliness where you depend on your neighbours for a variety of things, the least of which is civility. We mention seeing the miles upon miles of the wall as we drove along the border. “Ah,” he mutters, “How stupid is that! We had a former president who had some idiotic ideas.” Rudy and I are sure surprised to hear that statement in this neck of the woods that, for all indications, seems like it is total Trump country.
We arrive in Bisbee, Arizona where we have arranged to meet Wes and Bridget. We check in at Hotel La More. It was built in 1916 and was inhabited by miners who worked at the local copper mine (now closed) as well as others. The present owner has restored it to its previous charm. Rooms have been renovated to ensure each room has a private bath but it has all been done to remain true to the original feel. The doors and woodwork match the original and the bathroom floor is done with vintage penny tile. Parlours and dining areas are filled with antiques and these areas are meant to share with other hotel guests. I am absolutely charmed. This is exactly my cup of tea.
We text Wes and Bridget and make the 4 minute walk to the RV park where we sit in out of the cold and visit. Afterwards we bundle up and walk around town. There are many old miners’ houses that have been bought up, and fixed up with paint etc. The stores (beautiful huge spaces with wooden floors and brick exteriors) house many artists places and antique and junk stores. There is a massive stone building that was one of the first libraries built in the state. There are other old hotels and town buildings and miners museums. Around supper we stop at a Mexican place and choose a warm place inside to have a bite to eat. Afterwards we head to a place that has live music. Unfortunately it is not to our liking so we head back to our hotel parlour for a cup of tea. While we are there we meet other travellers and even a ghost tour comes through to check for restless spirits. Supposedly there are a number of ghosts who have taken up residence in the hotel. Most famous is a cat that took up residence in room 23. Room 15 contains the Exhausted Spirit who is harmless and just trying to get a good nights rest. However I can see this might be distressing (not to mention crowded) if I would have to share the bed with both Rudy and that guy. But luckily we have booked into room 8 and even if we meet the Lady in White in the hallway (recognizable by the scent of Lilacs that usually accompanies her spectre) we will probably be okay.
I climb into bed expecting to be woken at least by a creak in the hallway.