By Abe Villarreal
On a weekend day trip of discovery through the tiniest of communities, the cows seen far outnumbered the people.
Three guys on empty stomachs hopped into a car rental and headed north on Highway 180, leaving Silver City at 7:00 a.m. The summer monsoons made the morning cool and crisp, although we knew it would warm up soon enough.
For those who are unfamiliar with the American Southwest, when you leave larger and better-known cities such as Tucson, Las Vegas, or Albuquerque, you inevitably hit the wide-open road. For miles and miles, there is no sign of civilization.
Cows seemingly roam free. Hawks look down on you from their perches upon bullet-ridden road signs, and tumbleweeds come to life with short gusts of winds. Abandoned shacks, once small homes or storage sheds are now carcasses that dot the rugged terrain next to lonely highways.
The Southwest remains a romantic and dramatic place of folklore and history. It’s the kind of stuff I love. My two road partners, Le’Ron and Tommy, maybe not as much.
As we made our way through the first leg of the trip, the landscape greeted us with a greener façade. The afternoon summer rain has been a daily visitor. A much-needed blessing for what will remain a thirsty and sometimes dangerous desert.
The first tiny town we encountered was Riverside, NM. It is one of five places named Riverside in the state. This Riverside lies on the east bank of the Gila River, which we pulled over to take a look at just after we passed the unincorporated community.
The river was brown, rippling, and in the air was the smell of cinnamon. To the distance, gentle hills and mountains surrounded us. The views were already the favorite part of our early morning.
Less than three miles later, we hit the town of Cliff, a larger community of nearly 300 people. Each year, Cliff is home to the Grant County Fair and those in Silver City make their way 30 miles out of town to experience the homemade arts and crafts, eat favorite deep-fried foods, and eye the latest blue ribbon pigs.
We were hoping to grab a cup of joe, but the only eatery, Tammy’s Café, was closed until lunchtime. The café advertised cowboy jerky, which sounded just like the snack made for this kind of journey.
Back on the road, we headed northwest getting closer to the Arizona border and wondering what we would see next. In less than 10 miles of travel, we came across Buckhorn, New Mexico.
We pulled over at the sight of The Last Chance Liquor. It looked like the kind of establishment that had seen quite a few travelers through many generations. As we walked in, two happy dogs and Leroy, the owner of Last Chance, greeted us.
Leroy shared a cup of coffee and told us about his life at Last Chance, building the store when he left the Army in 1966. He had 13 months wages that he partially spent on purchasing the four-acre property.
The store shelves had one of most things you need to survive – salsa, soap, crackers, and tissue. I purchased a $3 bag of jerky Leroy made himself, and we were on our way.
Next week I’ll let you know what other small towns with big personalities we visited along southwestern New Mexico.