It was spring break way back during college. Rather than do the usual South Padre drunken beach nonsense, my petite mechanical engineering girlfriend and I decided to head off and explore the deserts of the American Southwest. This was before the time of Google Maps or any basic planning, and we loaded up her Toyota Camry with only the lightest of camping essentials and minimal outer wear. It was spring break and we were headed to the desert. It would be hot and arid. Obviously.
We were on the backside of a blizzard by the time we got to Pie Town, New Mexico. I might have specifically picked this route because it involved going through a town called Pie Town. We pulled off the snowy, unplowed roads and stepped into Pie-O-Neer. It was not a busy day (because the roads were approaching impassable) and we got to chatting with the owner, Kathy Knapp (the Pie Lady of Pie Town). She told us about this ghost town in the Gila Wilderness named Mogollon where she and her husband, Stan, spent time, rebuilding and residing in one of the derelict structures. I filed that info away.
[The rest of the trip was incredibly eventful and symbolic of a period of my life that involved an unhealthy admiration of the writings of P.J. O'Rourke, but none of that is relevant to this immediate tale].
During thanksgiving break a couple years later, my different and this time tall and broad-shouldered mechanical engineering girlfriend and I decided to head west on a road trip through the desert. (Several more years later, after taking a regular-sized geologist girlfriend on a western desert road trip, my buddy would start referring to this trend as "Standard Reid Date #1"). After thanksgiving dinner in Silver City, we ended up in the Gila Mountains and I said "oh, let's go to Mogollon, I know people there!"
Mogollon is hardly on the way to anything and the approach involves very steep, very winding, very narrow roads. We did this at night, arriving in the ghost town I'd never seen well after sunset. We started walking around and, randomly, ran into a guy taking out his trash. I asked if he knew Kathy and Stan. I have never seen somebody more distrustful and suspicious as that poor guy, approached by two strangers in the dark, one of them an obvious rugby player (my girlfriend). He said "um, yeah, they're in that house" and pointed across the street.
"Oh, well, that was a different girl..." was the best I could explain.
"Uh huh... Oh, well, anyway, COME IN!!!"
Kathy led us on an excited tour of the building they were remodeling, all by hand, bit by bit, way out here far from any resources. It certainly was beautiful and stunning work. Stan shuffled behind, always slightly around a corner, slightly distrustful and mostly annoyed. Our imposing arrogance was met with Kathy's boundless glee. As the tour wrapped up, Kathy declared "OH! You MUST take some pie!" and loaded us up with assorted boxes of Pie Town pie.
It now being late and us not having a home, I probed with a leading question, "say, is there any place around here we can set up a tent tonight?" Kathy was on the verge of making far too grand an offer when Stan jumped in, finally drawing the line. "Back up there, on the pass, out of town. No space down here. You'll want to go before it gets too cold." We headed up the pass.
[The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful, although I do remember a pretty good breakfast burrito in Glenwood].
Today, fifteen years later, I walked up and down Mogollon for the first time in daylight. Half of the small town is cute and well kept, half continuing to decay. Mine cars decoratively line some yards, jagged rusty scraps poke out of unkempt weeds in others; fresh paint on some buildings, tar paper peeling off others. I saw a few figures shuffling about, all quick to hurry inside, none willing to make eye contact. I was still ready to drop the Kathy and Stan names, just to see where it led.
I drove back up towards the pass where I knew, from experience, there was decent, quiet camping.