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A Route 60 Tour of New Mexico and Arizona

© Buff Strickland A stretch of Route 60

Photo: A stretch of Route 60

She named the pies for me: butterscotch, Dutch apple crumb, New Mexico apple, cherry, peach, blueberry. On weekends, banana cream, coconut cream, and chocolate. It was Saturday but, she said, “We’re out of chocolate already.”

Pies have been sold in Pie Town on and off since it was settled in the late 20’s, so the legend goes, by a man named Norman who enjoyed making pies and sharing them with locals and people passing through. When the town applied for a post office 10 or so years later, the government wanted a more formal name, but Pie Town stuck.

I hung around for a while at the Pie-O-Neer, listening to the waitress, Thea, tell every table about the ins and outs of the romance novel she had written, Cat’s Masquerade, with the blowsy relief of someone delivering a thank-you speech at the Oscars, while also managing to take everyone’s orders and deliver the food. I had a very good green-chile stew and a slice of banana cream pie. Then I made friends with some locals, Don Kearny and Nita Larronde. I ended up standing behind the counter and serving them coffee while Don told me about his job as a wildfire expert with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Pie Town’s official population is 60. It is located on the Continental Divide at an altitude of almost 8,000 feet. On the drive from Magdalena I hardly saw a soul. And yet the curious thing about Pie Town is that while you are at the Pie-O-Neer you feel like you are in the middle of everything.

I might have hung around longer but one of the workers in the kitchen explained that her truck’s starter was out; she had to get a rolling start, and the Mustang was in the way.

By the time I got to Globe, Arizona, it had been dark for half an hour. The sun had set as I switchbacked through Salt River Canyon. Now I welcomed the glow from the gas stations, the fast-food joints, the neon of old motels: El Rey, the Hideaway, El Rancho. I was jazzed and disoriented by the headlights and taillights swarming past me.

Part of the allure of a driving trip like this is the notion of getting away from it all, or all that is familiar. Part of “all” is your own sanity. Perhaps it was the film noir lighting, or driving fatigue, or that the motels all had their no vacancy signs lit, but a feeling of mild paranoia overtook me, and I started to feel like a fugitive. I finally got a room at the Belle Aire, a fugitive-friendly motel (its sign would have been at home in any Raymond Chandler novel), and slept soundly.

The next day I found myself in the old town jail, now part of the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts. “A little Alcatraz in the desert,” said my would-be jailer, Kip Culver, the local arts impresario and a Globe native. He is the leader of a band of merry urban renewalists who have been working to restore and landmark the town’s notable structures and to breathe energy into its cultural life. He took me through the center—a gallery, music studios, crafts studios, and a community theater that had recently staged the locally written production Justa Cafe. The whole experience was like entering Waiting for Guffman, starring the merry urban renewalists.

Kip took me to a hill above Globe. All over town you could see incongruous stands of tall cypress trees reaching up to the sky. Apparently the many Italians who had come over in the early 1900’s to build the nearby Roosevelt Dam had brought the trees along.

“It makes the landscape look practically Mediterranean!” I said.

“But there’s no beautiful blue sea,” said Kip, the pragmatist.

The last thing he showed me was the Noftsger Hill Inn Bed & Breakfast, in a converted schoolhouse. Innkeepers Rosalie and Dom Ayala have left the old blackboards up in the former classrooms, which as guest quarters were unusually large but kind of delightful and even cozy, too, decorated in a mix of Victorian and Old West. Rosalie said the only vacancy, the Cowboy Room, might be a bit small for me. A pair of chaps hung on the wall and an old-fashioned metal-frame bed filled most of the space, a former janitor’s closet. It was tempting, but so was the Arizona Inn in Tucson, a 14-acre, prewar, high-thread-count kind of place with a pool and a first-class restaurant.

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