It’s only about 80 miles from Albuquerque to El Rito, New Mexico, but it took six rides and a lot of walking to find this tiny, unincorporated little town. The country is rugged up in the foothills of the El Rito Mountains where the town is, but going through the thriving, modernized little city of Sana Fe was pleasant.
El Rito is quaint and laid back, to say the least. There was a sign that let me know when I reached the town that read El Rito, unincorporated and I think the sign claimed a population of three or four hundred people, none of which were out and about. The streets were crushed rock except for the one I was on which was paved; of course, that was 1972, today I’m sure the streets and the population are bigger and better.
Just as I walked into town there was a little cantina right beside the road, so I went in to ask for directions. The bartender was a girl of about 12 and she said, “Beer or whiskey”? I swallowed my surprise and declined any service except directions to the address of Chris’s friend’s homestead, which she provided with an assertive but friendly attitude as she looked me straight in the eye like she was an adult.
Even though I saw that this little town and the whole area was the very epitome of the word rustic, I wasn’t prepared for the condition of the man’s homestead. It was more primitive than where I was born in the back woods of South Georgia. There was no electricity for lights, no plumbing for running water and the house was an unpainted, tired old sagging thing that looked depressing. In the middle of the front yard was their toilet, with no walls of any kind around it; just a porcelain commode sitting there on a wooden platform over a hole in the ground with a few scrubby bushes between the toilet and the dead end road. I don’t know where they got their water from. When it got dark they lit kerosene lamps, and from where I sat I couldn’t see the other side of the room; I’d forgotten how dim the light from these things was.
The inside of the house wasn’t too bad because the guy’s wife and his mother had fixed it up inside to where it felt warm, comfortable and hospitable. To complete this picture of city people returning to the land was a tiny baby. The guy’s mother had come to help his wife with the newborn. Today, it’s hard for me to believe that I was able to see this place in any kind of positive light, but I managed it somehow. At that time that was supposed to be cool and make a great social statement. However, Writing about it today I can remember my honest feelings then were that it was pitiful. Hard to believe a mother went along with that scene. However, we all know the lengths mothers will go to for their children.
We just sat around talking till the mother got the baby bedded down for the night and then we all went to bed. I slept on the floor and the next morning I thanked them for their hospitality, they were very nice to me, and then I headed back down through the foothills to Sana Fe and on to Albuquerque where I stuck out my thumb on Interstate 40 headed west for Amarillo, Texas.