The Road to Ruin (and other Destinations)

“That’s the place to get to – nowhere. One wants to wander away from the world’s somewheres, into our own nowhere.” D.H. Lawrence

It was always my intention to devote a certain amount of this blog to travel pieces. Not necessarily make it a ‘travel blog’ but at least share more posts about being on the road because, well, it’s one of my favorite places (despite the title). For me, it’s hard to beat an open stretch of pavement leading to unknown places and my ipod shuffling through my playlist while I swig bad gas station coffee and beat mercilessly on the air drums/dashboard. But, as is most often the case, life has little regard for the best laid plans of mice and men. Still, there’s no time like the present to try and make amends.

I recently took a brief trip to New Mexico, just ahead of the Memorial Day crowds. I’m happy to report that the Land of Enchantment, once I got off the freeway and headed into the hills, lived up to its billing. But here’s the thing – while pictures of sweeping vistas and snow-capped peaks are wonderful, for some reason my eye has also been drawn to less awe-inspiring scenes. Roadside oddities, mostly. In particular, our failures as a species. When those best laid plans go awry. When dreams both big and small end in quiet desolation. Maybe it comes from growing up around Detroit, a city that never really got back on its feet after the riots of ‘67 and fell into such disrepair that it became the poster-child for the term ‘ruin-porn.’ Or maybe it’s that I see some stoic elegance amidst the destruction. Then again, maybe I’m compensating for my own perceived failures (too heavy?) or maybe it’s just a train-wreck mentality. Take your pick.

Along with these random remnants of humanity is the simply weird – plenty of that around, too. I’m sure they all have their stories, so I like to think that I’m picking up where Charles Kuralt left off (sans mistress, of course).

Questa is a blip of a burg in northern New Mexico that wears ‘rough around the edges’ as though it were a badge. And like an emissary, this sits just north of town, welcoming intrepid travelers.

no gas today

Looks like I’ll have to hold it a little longer

I had a job a few years ago that involved a great deal of travel in Wyoming and western Nebraska. At first blush it appeared to be a perfect fit, considering my love of driving and the opportunity to explore new places. Of course, the actual work consisted of stocking shelves in grocery stores, overnight, so that was a bit of a trade-off. Still, it gave me the chance to poke around in some of the loneliest places in the lower 48.

There’s an old Jimmy Buffett song called Son of a Son of a Sailor wherein he sings “…I’m just glad I don’t live in a trailer.” Well, this guy outside of Ogallala appears to live in half a trailer, but at least he has his priorities in order.

home sweet home

Home is anywhere you can pick up 500 channels

And as long as we’re talkin’ trailers, this former mobile home in Ethete, Wyoming (a community that appeared to have more canine residents than human ones) gives new meaning to ‘open concept.’

open concept

Realtors will tell you ‘location’ is everything, but walls would be nice, too

Welcome to what Rand McNally refers to, with great optimism, as the ‘town’ of Angora, Nebraska. There’s not so much as a driveway or parking lot to be seen, giving the impression that someone simply dropped this building in the tall grass and walked away.


A harbinger of retail’s woes

When people talk about ‘God-forsaken’ places, much of Wyoming comes to mind. And I imagine it can be tough to keep your faith out in these no-man’s-lands, where evidence of a higher power (or anything else, for that matter) might prove hard to come by. Yet still we seek guidance. It looks as if the Vatican hasn’t done right by this diocese in Jeffrey City…could use a little more stained glass, if you ask me.


Maybe the Pope will stop by on the NEXT world tour

And I think perhaps God has forsaken this edifice at the foot of the Wind River Range.


A realtor would also tell you “All it needs is a coat of paint”

Then there’s just plain WTFery. Some guy decided that the fringe of civilization north of Alliance, Nebraska was the perfect spot for a post-industrial Stonehenge ‘reboot,’ so he planted a ring of vehicles in the prairie and, yes, he calls it Carhenge. In very un-American fashion, admission is free.


Ours is not to reason why…

And here’s another high plains artist, working in a unique medium…


Again, your guess is as good as mine

Until next time.


17 thoughts on “The Road to Ruin (and other Destinations)

  1. There is this road in Eastern Montana between Glendive and Glasgow that runs about 100 miles with only one tiny town (Circle) in between. I am drawn to roads like that whenever I go west.

    You pass by little houses and trailers and have to wonder what people do for a living. Perhaps ranchwork, roadwork or utilities, other than that there is not a lot.

    But my favorite drive of all – is the Dalton highway, from north of Fairbanks to Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay). Once you get north of the Brooks Range, the land opens up into rolling arctic meadows that stretch uninterrupted from Siberia to Hudson Bay.

    It is not that I don’t like people (with some exceptions) or that I am totally into nature…but it is the solitude that calls me, the same kind of solitude you find on the Great Plains.

  2. I’m all for using what’s available to decorate or embellish, but I can’t say skulls are my thing.
    I’m glad you had an interesting road trip, and that you saw fit to share the treasure trove of dilapidated buildings with us.
    My mother-in-law thinks only two places she’s ever been are beautiful — Oklahoma and Indiana. I think that says a lot about her.

  3. That carhenge display was original, if nothing else!
    I’m the same when we I travel: I love the beautiful and historical stuff I came to see, but what’s most interesting is the less-than-perfect (to put it mildly) stuff that is always there, too. We once stayed at a very nice resort in Mexico but what I remember most about my trip there was seeing a very young girl walking away from a little shack and across a field with an empty milk carton in her hand. She was headed to the water pump at the edge of the field, clearly the only water supply her family had. You could tell from the bored expression on her face that she had done this many times. She looked about four.

  4. I really enjoyed your prose here. I was completely immersed in your trip through the less fancy-schmancy areas of new Mexico.
    I wonder if the cattle skulls decorating the fence were a warning to cattle that the grass is NOT always greener on the other side…

  5. What a fabulous post, filled with all the things I love most: roads, funkiness, solitude, and gettin’ up and goin’. When I listed my favorite things on my About page, my favorite place to be was described as “a hundred miles from anywhere.” You pretty much nailed that here. In the process, you reminded me of one of my favorite Texas towns: Nada. Compared to these places, it looks like a metropolis, having a grain elevator and a store, but still — there’s that name.

    The photo of the place at the foot of the Wind River Range is my favorite, I think, but I’m pretty taken with those skulls, too. I used to collect raccoon skulls, and would put them around my potted cactus. Sometimes they’d evoke conversation, and sometimes I’d just get a side-eye, as my guests moved a little farther toward the door.

    • Similar to Nada (which is great), there’s a ‘town’ about half an hour east of here out on the high prairie called Nunn. It’s watched over by a somewhat forlorn water tower, upon which are painted the words ‘Watch Nunn Grow.’ Not much to watch, I’m afraid.

  6. Pingback: Of Fools and Gold | Lies Jack Kerouac told Me

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