Ghost town: a shadowy semblance of a former self
I'm not terribly organised this morning, and as I check out of the hotel and pack my luggage into the boot of my hire-car, I think i'm going to be a bit sad to say goodbye to my Ford Escape, which has been an absolute delight over the past seven days. I have a three-hour drive to Albuquerque this morning, and since I've had a late start, I don't have much time to squander. The good news is - there's nothing much to see on the way, apparently.
After yesterday's huge rainstorm, which I had fortunately missed, the new day smells fresh and clean. The remaining floodwater has already disappeared; sucked into enormous stormwater drains or evaporated under the hot New Mexico desert sun. As I drive out of town, I am reminded that a little water makes a huge difference in arid regions; the dusty vegetation now has a brighter green hue, softly blanketing the infertile sandy soil below.
The shortest route to Albuquerque is on Highway 285. The arterial road is well-maintained; the flat, barren terrain outside is not unlike the road between Bendigo and Kerang in Victoria. A straight road that disappears into the horizon, seemingly forever, provides great visibility but not much variation. I know that if I had more time to relax and enjoy my surroundings, I would probably see it in a different light.
I don't want to admit it, but my holiday is almost over and I will soon have to face the reality of the cold, bare Melbourne Winter. I've enjoyed the reprieve from the southern winter and have relished the hot, dry temperatures I've experienced since the day I arrived in North America almost exactly one month ago.
About 120 kilometres from Roswell, I see the John Cerney cowboys looming and salute them as I pass them by. Artwork on any road is worth celebrating. I've almost reached the town of Vaughn, and the road runs parallel with a train line. A train races along towards the west; its engine too far ahead for me to see. There appears to be a hundred well-filled grain cars hurtling along behind. We travel along in unison for a while until I meet the town and the train continues in a forward direction.
Across the world, many once-thriving country towns fall into decay when industry delines and opportunities cease to exist. Vaughn is one of those towns. I pull into a service station for a rest stop. Inside the retail section is a crowd of people with baskets as they comb the meagre shelves for grocery items. There is an abundance of processed and frozen food and a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. It appears to be the only grocery store in town, but more significantly, it is probably the only business here that makes any money. I follow Highway 285 through town; shops and businesses abandoned, the windows and doors of the buildings boarded up to prevent squatters and other vandals from entering. Vaughn had been established in the early 20th century as a South Pacific Railway town, growing in importance in 1907, when the Eastern Railroad of New Mexico was completed. Lying at the intersection of the two railways, it became a division point. Today, the town's claim to fame is its reputation as a known drug-smuggling route. I pass the Western Motel, built in the 1950s and probably never seen a lick of paint since. It doesn't surprise me that it and the nearby Ranch View Motel are permanently closed.
Then, on the outskirts of town I see it. I rub my eyes because I cannot believe what my eyes are telling me. Like a mirage or an oasis in a desert of decay and decline, the bright green square of grass surrounds a brand-spanking-new children's playground. I look in the rear-view mirror and see a desolate group of abandoned buildings, whilst this little patch in front of me promises hope for the next generation.
I drive twenty-five kilometres down the road before slowing to crawl as I approach the town of Encino, population 94. There is a post office on the right side of the road and I pull into the tiny carpark to buy some stamps. There is a car parked next to me; the lady inside is talking on the phone. I open the post office door, closing it gently as instructed by the notice sticky-taped to the glass. I enter the second door and look around. The open-plan space on the other side of the counter is typical of the small-town post offices in the USA, but it is completely empty. It appears to be abandoned. Perhaps someone is out the back. I look around the counter area for a bell to ring, and am surprised to see a sign laying on the counter.
OUT TO LUNCH
YOUR BUSINESS IS IMPORTANT TO US. PLEASE WAIT AND WE'LL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY
Ah yes! The old 'out to lunch' trick! Seriously though, if the office is closed for lunch, perhaps it would be better to lock the front door and put the OUT TO LUNCH sign on it.
As I return to the car, I notice that the only other sign of life in this town, the woman on the phone, has disappeared. Across the road from where I'm standing are two very derelict buildings. Secretly, I wish I had some time to explore those abandoned structures. Despite the obvious decay, the town doesn't feel creepy; it's just sad.
The name, Encino means 'oak' in Spanish and was probably named after the scrubby trees that once covered central New Mexico. The town sprang from a waterhole that had become popular as a rest stop to accommodate thirsty travellers. From humble beginnings, small farms had been established in the surrounding areas, before the railways built a depot. In 1905, the first post office was built, a couple of churches, a newspaper, a mercantile, and a lumber yard followed. In 1965, the railways pulled out and over the next twenty years, one-by-one, the businesses and schools closed their doors and the people disappeared, leaving the buildings to decay. Encino, New Mexico, is a forgotten town.
As I leave the post office, where perhaps the workers have been abducted by aliens, I smile to myself when I see a mobile speed indicator, which beams a sad face at me. At 37mph, I am apparently speeding. Honestly, who am I going to hit? A ghost?
Highway 285 meets the Interstate 40 at Clines Corner, some 40 kilometres from Encino. As I join the freeway that will lead me into Albuquerque, I toy with the idea of pulling in at the giant fuel stop located at the junction.
Clines Corner is not a town or a village. Built in 1937 at the then intersection of Route 66 and US 285 by Roy E Cline, it was established as a rest stop for travellers. Today, it is a huge service station and truck stop, cafe and gift shop.
I resist the urge to stop, instead I continue on the freeway, the excellent freeway, which will lead me to my accommodation next to the airport. Sadly, my holiday is all but over.
I must return the car this afternoon, repack my suitcase and prepare for an early start in the morning.
TITLE QUOTE: Lambert Florin (American author)
FURTHER READING: Information about Encino is difficult to find, but this website is very good http://cityofdust.blogspot.com/2013/05/after-depot-encino-new-mexico.html
ACCOMMODATION: Sheraton Albuquerque Airport Hotel 2910 Yale Blvd SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106.
NOTE: This hotel is the closest to the airport with a shuttle running all day long. However, Marriott have purchased it and it is (July 2019) being renovated. My room was not clean, the hotel is expensive, they charge extra for wifi, and a sneaky charge for car parking was included. I wasn't happy with the hotel or the service.