The next morning, we woke up to our first morning frost. It was caked onto the hood of the car so deeply that my brother was able to carve his name in it. The family staying in the motel room next door haphazardly left their luggage piled uncovered in the back of their pickup truck overnight, unaware of the frigid temperature drop. Adding an extra sweater, we were on the road.
In a last minute change of plans, we decided to alter our route so that we would leave I-10 after hitting Deming, head up north on Route 180, and veer east on Highway 152 for a more scenic experience. Despite taking a gamble by driving smaller local roads, I find that it’s almost always a more exciting drive. Before our turnoff, we tried to find the ghost town of Chance City along I-10. Incomplete instructions from a ghost town website said to take the exit at Gage, drive south for 2.5 miles, and then turn off the road and onto a dirt road for another 1.5 miles. Sounded simple enough…but finding ghost towns is virtually always more complicated than one expects. We found the Gage exit, but at the 2.5 mile mark, there was a barely-noticeable dirt path off the main road. No way to tell if this was “the” road, but there wasn’t anything else that seemed like a better choice. The path was barely passable without a truck, but we trudged along at a snail’s pace as the crunchy branches of desert bushes scraped the underside of our poor little rental car. With the number of rentals my family members have collectively “injured” on strange road trips and off-road endeavors, I’m surprised we haven’t all been banned.
After a little over a mile, there was no sign of the tell-tale adobe ruins. I opened the car door and perched my feet up on the seat in order to see as far as possible. The air whistled through the mountainous plains and our car suddenly felt very small in the middle of nothingness. No people, no towns, and no real road. We resigned ourselves to failure and muddled back over the path that led us here, passing a deteriorating blanket and pillow stuffed underneath a few dead branches. Confused and instantly apprehensive, we hit the road again.
Once we reached Highway 152, the towns became smaller and more infrequent. Starving, we stopped in the 125-person town of Hillsboro, NM because it was the first place that I was able to find a café with somebody to answer the phone. General Store Café was super quaint and local, but it featured the best burger I’ve ever tasted in my life. The burger was super juicy and flavorful, but not dense like they often are. My mom asked the owner of the café what her secret was, but the owner smiled coyly and simply said that their specially-ground beef had a secret proportion of fat to meat. Big cities might be foodie-havens, but small towns hide lunch secrets.
The café owner, hearing of our ghost town attempt from that morning, recommended that we walk up the dirt road just outside and take a look at the town’s jailhouse ruins. Up we went, kicking clouds of sandy-colored dirt up with our heels. At the top of the steep country hill sat several large, half-deteriorated jailhouse structures. After exploring the fully intact metal cell doors and crumbling stone buildings, my ghost-town fix was officially sated. The picturesque hilly backdrop just beyond the ruins made their presence that much more cryptic.
When we could drive no further, we turned in for the night in Socorro, NM and grabbed some dinner at a local brewery—Twisted Chile Brewing Company. The beer was good enough to warrant buying a small growler full of it to polish off over the next couple nights. Strolling through the empty town at night, lit up by lingering Christmas décor, I relished the feeling of being someplace quiet and easy. My claustrophobic city home was suddenly a distant, fading memory.