A Trip Back in Time


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For the past three years, my son and I have started a tradition we hope to carry on for many years to come. We call it our annual Dude’s Trip. We are avid outdoorsman, so we take 4-5 days and go do something that takes us a little to the extreme. Something that makes us push ourselves, and takes us on some amazing adventures. Something you can’t get from the couch or Xbox. Our main goal for these trips…pack as much as humanly possible into those days, and go somewhere different every time.

Our first year we paddled 24 total miles on the lower Pecos River. It was a great introduction trip for my son, who was 12 at the time. He had his own kayak since he was 8, so this wasn’t a huge stretch for him, but still pretty wild. Then last year’s trip, we ditched the kayaks, and headed for the Guadalupe Mountains and the Lincoln National Forest. Four days of hiking and backpacking that included going to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the bottom of Carlsbad Caverns, and ending with us in Cloudcroft, NM and climbing all over the Sacramento mountains.

This year it was decided to head to the great Big Bend area. Our itinerary was simple. The highlight…run Santa Elena Canyon by raft or canoe, then spend the rest of the time hiking 20+ miles of trails we had mapped out over the next 3 days.

All was set, excitement was running high, then three weeks before our departure I hear something on the radio about a big chili cook off, and it’s on those same dates as…wait…oh no…not the…nooooo. Yep, the 49th Annual 2015 Original Terlingua International. Well, crapola. What’s the big deal, right? Lots of chili, booze, live music, dancing, and howling at the moon. It’s a lot of fun and a great experience, I do know, but that’s not the kind of fun I wanted for our trip. They say, well over 12,000 people will converge on the Big Bend area for those 4 days, nearly doubling the population of Brewster county. Will it effect the park itself? Word has it, probably a little, but most will stay closer to the town. Ok, so maybe still a possibility.

I call up my river guide to continue with our trip despite the population speed bump in our plans.

He tells me, “just a heads up, you’re gonna need to be flexible. The river may not be up enough for the Santa Elena trip. But there are other canyons.”

“Other canyons? Ah man, it’s gotta be Santa Elena.”

“Sorry, nature of the beast around here, but it’s still a maybe. Just won’t know until a day or so out and we’ll let you know when you get here.”

I understood completely what he was saying though. My life in the kayak has always been a constant unknown at the hands of “the great giver and taker” of rain. But that’s not what I wanted to hear. Strike two, and time to go to plan B. Only problem…there wasn’t one yet.

We spent a few days looking here, looking there, figuring distance and cost, going over maps, trying to find something fun, adventurous, and of course, a little crazy. Then something jumped out at me on one of the pages. I saw a couple old ghost towns on the map and asked my son, what if we didn’t just go one place, but a bunch of places. What if we could go and check some ghost towns, learn some history, make it more of a road trip? To my surprise, Nicholas was all for it. He likes history, he likes ghosts, he likes towns. Perfect fit for this road trip.

The plans were made. We would leave at 6am Wednesday morning for a five day, three state road trip that would carry us through nearly a dozen ghost towns and across some very remote territory. The goal was to to visit, tour, learn, and capture our adventure through the eye of our cameras. No kayaks, no backpacking. Just me and my boy, our camera gear, a tiny rental car, and a few thousand miles lay ahead.

**Disclaimer* I’m not going to give a history lesson here, it would be pages upon pages. This is just a photographic journey taken by my son and I. So I have put links at the bottom if you’d like to read more about the history of these once great towns.

Not all the “ghost towns” were as I had envisioned. Some were flashy and shaped for the tourist with a price. Some were in the “as is” category and stocked full of info for the history buff. And some were nothing more than a fart in the wind, where the two rocks stacked by the cactus is the only thing left. But the history is there, and that’s what we were after. **

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 Day 1

The morning started off with the alarm blaring at 5:30am.  The excitement of the trip made it difficult to sleep the night before, but we were up moving around, although a little slow. We packed the car the night before, minus the camera gear, so there wasn’t much to do except make some coffee, give the girls an adios kiss, and get out of dodge. I knew we were in for a long haul before our first history lesson.

Let me rewind for a moment. The week before we left, I made a full map of where we were going, along with images for my handheld gps. It was just in case we get stranded in the middle of nowhere, we could locate the closest town or residence. I’m extremely glad I did for the fact we had zero cell service the majority of the trip, so my phone was useless. Another idea I had before we left was researching every town and printing out pages of it’s history. So, about a half hour before we would arrive, Nicholas would start reading out loud all the rich history of each place. It worked remarkable well. When we would finally get to the town, we knew the history about it, as well as names and dates. On numerous occasions throughout our travels, one of us would read a sign, or historical marker and say, hey, that’s the guy that did this or that, etc.

We arrived at our first stop, Lincoln, NM, shortly after 11am. This is Billy the Kid country, and has some of the most amazing history as any place i’ve been. I’ve always been fascinated by the “old days”, and to be able to walk the streets of these towns was an awesome experience.

We first stopped in at the Lincoln State Monument Visitor’s Center and Museum.We were met by a very nice staff worker and given the layout of the town and where we could go and check out things. We toured the museum which is full of great historical artifacts and a timeline of how it all started.

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It was real quiet around town as we walked the streets. There were a few folks out and about, but for the most part, we were on our own. It was just cool enough for a light jacket, so it made it a very pleasant tour since there was quite a bit of walking through out the town.

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After the visitor’s center, we were off to check out some of the other buildings, each with their own unique history in the town. The San Juan Mission Church was a great looking building that is still used for services.

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Some of the buildings were closed after November 1, due to not having heat, but there were plenty of other things to see including the courthouse, the Montano Store, and a few others. The only place we couldn’t go was the original Tunstall store since it was closed for the season.

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As we started heading back towards the visitor’s center, we noticed a trail heading down to a small courtyard area with tables and chairs. It was off the main sidewalk, so we figured it wasn’t a private area. We walked the 30 feet or so, and came upon a group of deer hanging out. We watched them cross a bridge and dart off into the brush. We followed the trail, went across the first bridge to a second bridge that crosses the Rio Bonita river and on to more trails that look to be part of the Bureau of Land Management. There were trail signs, but we were limited in time, so we took a ton of photos and headed back.

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And what trip would be complete without a downpour when we’re in the middle of a trail and a long ways from the car.

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Our next stop would be White Oaks, NM. It was 45 miles northwest of Lincoln. It was still raining off and on, but most was way off in the distance.

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As we got closer to the town we spotted the Hoyle House in the distance and knew we were in the right spot. A quote from legendsofamerica.com…In 1893, Watt Hoyle, one of the owners of the Old Abe Mine, built a two-story Victorian brick home for his fiancée. However, when the young lady wrote him that she was not coming to White Oaks, the mansion, with its stately gables and sharply-pitched roof, became known as “Hoyle’s folly.” He never finished the inside of the home and later, legends would abound that he was so heartsick that he leaped to his death. However, that was not the case. Hoyle actually lived in the house with his older brother and his wife. Hoyle reportedly sold the home in the 1890’s and moved to Denver.

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On arrival we stopped at a small building that had a museum sign on it. It was open, but unoccupied. It gave instructions for a tour of the town, with added historical information and a map. I love this self guided stuff. The museum itself was small and decorated with items that were consistent with living back in the old mining days.We left the house and started driving around. There looks like there are a few residences, but we never saw anyone the whole time we were there. It was nice and quiet. A quote from legendsofamerica.com…Today, White Oaks is called home to just a few remaining residents. However, many of its historic buildings continue to stand including Brown’s Store, the Hoyle House, the 1895 brick school house, and many old residences.

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We even stopped by the “No Scum Allowed” Saloon, but were refused entry. (it was closed, and that’s the only reason we didn’t enter, thank you) lol

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It was getting late in the afternoon, and with the time change and being in the mountain time zone, I knew we would be in the dark around 5pm. We still had two stops to make before the end of the day, so we headed out of White Oaks. But right before we left I noticed another historical marker next to the cemetery. I’m a sucker for an old cemetery…as long as i’m not arriving in a box, of course. We got out to have a look. Any cemetery next to a ghost town will always have a ton of history to it.

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We read about White Oaks on the way, and having already been through Lincoln, a few of the names stood out. Deputy Sheriff James Bell, who was shot by Billy the Kid in the courthouse at Lincoln, and Susan McSween, wife of Alex McSween, Tunstall’s lawyer who was killed during the Lincoln County War.

There was so much history in the area, it was almost overwhelming to try and learn it all in a few hours, but we were absorbing as much as we could.

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Despite all the thought out plans, the itinerary we were trying to follow in order to see as much as we could, was starting to get changed. I spent too much time with the camera in White Oaks. The sun was going down and we weren’t going to be able to get through the next two towns with any light. It’s just difficult when every turn you make is a possible photo opportunity. And that’s part of the reason we were doing all this. So no real big deal, we’ll just have to adjust a few things.

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The decision was made to skip those two towns and head on to our final destination for the day, Truth or Consequences, NM. It was 150 mile away, and we knew if we got there, we weren’t going to be able to backtrack the next day in order to keep our schedule. I would need a closer eye on the time the next few days in order not to get caught up again. But it was still an awesome first day, and after that many miles of driving, walking, hiking, and dodging tombstones, we were beat. We arrived in T and C around 8pm. Our home for the night would be the  Charles Motel and Hot Springs. It was a nice place and had a ton of room. The wifi was ok, but better than nothing knowing my phone still couldn’t get a signal.  We made a quick check in with the wife through facebook messenger, and then started getting things together for day 2. I asked Nicholas for some help, but didn’t get a response. He was already out. Go figure, the poor kid was plum tuckered out. I’m not sure why, since he fell asleep every time the car started the whole day. Oh well, he needed all the sleep he could get, we had more long days ahead of us.

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More info on Lincoln can be found here….http://www.nmmonuments.org/lincoln

More info on White Oaks…http://www.legendsofamerica.com/nm-whiteoaks.html


Here is Part 2 of our trip….http://trailinghookjournal.com/2015/11/19/a-trip-back-in-time-part-2/




Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman is a photographer and filmmaker. He is also an avid fisherman, kayaker, backpacker, and overall outdoorsman. His accolades are too many to list, as with the many streets and towns named after him. He's a legend in his own mind. Check out his home page at www.flyrivermedia.com

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