White's City, NM
The one quintessential Carlsbad Caverns thing we DIDN'T do was stay to see the bat flight. In fact, in the three visits I've made to the park, I've never once stayed to see the bat flight. I was planning to do so the first time, but it was the wrong time of year. The bats were in Mexico. Then when Beth and I came through in August, we were on too tight a schedule. We wanted to make a bit of headway into Texas before we stopped for the night, although we only got as far as Lamesa. This visit was similar--it was a long drive back to Marfa, and we didn't want to get back too late. My bat flight experience from Austin and the Congress Street Bridge will have to sustain me until I can make it back to Carlsbad Caverns. We should plan to stay overnight, see the bats, and maybe even sign up for the Left Hand Tunnel off-trail tour in the morning. I don't really think I'd like to stay overnight in White's City, though.
Named for Jim White, the guy who first explored the depths of the caverns, White's City is a collection of tourist traps and accommodations right at at the junction of the highway and the road that leads into Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It should be just the type of place I love, since my being denied a chance to visit South of the Border by my sensible dad all through a childhood of trips from Virginia to Myrtle Beach has left a huge tourist-trap-sized hole in my psyche. I eat old tourist attractions and their attendant kitsch up with a spoon, but White's City only makes me sad.
Now, the ladies tending counter at the gift shop there were very, very nice, as was Skye, our server at the Velvet Garter, where the food was much more edible than in the underground lunchroom (did I mention to avoid the pizza?), although if that seems to be damning with faint praise, it is. And I hear good things about the Million Dollar Museum, although it, like the bat flight, has always been shunted to "next time" status. But it just seems so, well, over. So done with. So had its day, and now it's just baking in the desert sun, crumbling slowly into the Chihuahuan soil from which it sprung.
There is one place in White's City that intrigues me, however, and it is the Apache Canyon Trading Post.
It's just a few yards north of the turn-off for the park and the main White's City drag.
I don't recall seeing it during my first visit to the cave, but Beth and I stopped by on our trip, hoping to find old-fashioned gift shop/trading post nirvana. It's something you so rarely encounter anymore--a place where you can buy feathered headdresses, beaded wallets and belts, cedar novelty boxes and "In the Dog House" plaques and the like. There are still a few left--the Jack Rabbit in Arizona, one or two retro holdouts in the Wisconsin Dells come to mind--but for the most part even the cheeziest of souvenir stands nowadays offers faux Indian pottery in dusty, cool tone pastel shades and sweatshirts for women with sultry airbrushed Indian maidens and desert scenes circa a 1975 folk-rock album cover on them. Oh yes, and dreamcatchers, also in *tasteful* pastels. I mean, what ever happened to primary colors, huh?? And just when did the supply of those musty rose-petal-ly *sachet* rocks run out? They used to be a staple of the cheezy gift shop.
You see, that's why the Apache Canyon attracted our attention. When we passed by a dozen years go, its bright white facade and splashy murals in red, blue, yellow, and green (its only nod to the secondary palatte) screamed "Cheeze-fest here!" at us as we motored past. We slammed on the breaks and pulled in, only to find that, though it was all gussied up and freshly painted, it was closed. So on this trip, I talked Jeff and Rachel into a short detour before we headed back to Texas.
Now, I didn't expect the place to be open--after all, it was closing in on 7:00 PM Mountain Dayight Time and there just wasn't all that much tourist action along the highway anyway. And I was right. It was closed, although if you look carefully at the photo above, you'll notice that the relatively fresh plastic liners in the trashcans indicate that it's not abandoned. Although it sure did seem so. Anyway, we took a while to poke around and snap some pictures. The paint has faded since Beth and I drove through, but the trading post still sports some fine examples of western souvenir store enticement art.
It even had some accessible family photo op locations--a jail cell with very lax security:
and a picturesque teepee:
Since I work in the Social Studies department of my publishing company, I know that the correct spelling is tipi, but I think you will agree with me that this actually IS a teepee.
I've been trying to gather information about the Apache Canyon Trading Post ever since I returned home from Marfa--I hoped to find out if it is still in business and if it is the wonderful throwback cheezy gift store I so desperately want it to be. Who runs it and how long have they been doing so? Oh, I have so many questions. The only useful info I could find was on that stalwart standby, Roadside America, where, in a report about how stinky rattlesnakes are, they noted that the two little old ladies who ran Apache Canyon Trading Post had to remove their popular rattlesnake wishing well attraction because they couldn't stand the stench any longer. That report was from 2002--eight years after Beth and I first saw the place.
Please, if anyone knows anything about Apache Canyon Trading Post just north of White's City, NM, let me know! I'm begging you!
The sun was starting to skirt the ridge lines and an isolated thunderstorm was pounding a tiny portion of the desert nearby, so we decided it was time to head home. The only eventful thing I can tell you about THAT drive was the dance of the suicidal bunnies--periodically along our route, jack rabbits and cottontails would dart across the road right in front of the car, as if purposely trying to throw themselves beneath our wheels. We'd encounter ten to twenty of them in a short stretch. Then the action would abate for a few miles, we'd begin to breathe again, and zip! more of them appeared, doing the deadly dash. I don't think I hit any, although at one point Jeff said "I'm just telling you--if it's a choice between hitting a bunny and flying off the road at 80 mph, I expect you to hit the bunny." Oooh nooooo!!! All I'm sayin' is that it was a very good thing that we were literally the ONLY car on the road visible in either direction throughout most of that drive.
Here's a parting glimpse of the Apache Canyon Trading Post. Maybe next time we will find you open, my friend.