The sun had sunk – a red glow melting away into the horizon, bringing an end to another fading evening; another passing day. I had just left Utah, and soon found myself crossing the Colorado state line into New Mexico. Vast plains and dark desert greeted me, while an ominous night sky began to drop rain from overhead. A very unsettling welcome sign almost fully covered, mostly in obscure, anarchic graffiti made me feel as though I was entering the exit of humanity. It’s something that you just don’t see often while traveling the country, as most welcome signs are normally clear and free of any trace of vandalism. Being so many miles from much civilization, these particular signs must receive very minimal attention. It seemed like every sign I continued to pass was increasingly difficult to decipher through the layers of careless graffiti scrawled upon federal aluminum freeway canvas. What no travel brochure will tell you about entering some parts of New Mexico is that the freeway will provide you, and your car with the most uncomfortable full-body massage of your life. I proceeded to drive these pothole-infested roads straight into a seemingly ungoverned and reckless place – but oddly enough, the scenery left me feeling relaxed. Driving these roads, however continued to knock my relaxed state every other few seconds; it was like rolling a Hot Wheels car over the backs of 500 Suriname toads that had just given birth. Nearing Albuquerque, I figured it was time to get some rest. It was now 4 o’clock in the morning, and I somehow managed to hold my eyes open for another hour while I searched Route 66 for a good place to lay low, and wait for sunrise…in three hours. I situated myself beneath a large neon Route 66 sign and prepared to sleep. Bright light fell from the massive logo above, touching the street below and painting the surrounding area with a deep, neon blue glow. I quickly drifted off, with the sky already fading into an aqua hue, welcoming daylight.
Waking only a few short hours later from an incredibly quick rest – if you even want to call it that – I was back on the road in search of the perfect subject; something that I could be proud of adding to my portfolio. Not long into my drive, I stumbled upon exactly what I was looking for when I found myself staring directly into a beautiful broken down ghost town. Just one road over from the infamous Route 66 in New Mexico sits the eerie remainder of a once peaceful town. Formerly home to an active, though never large community – Cuervo, New Mexico now sits practically empty surrounded by desert plains. Cuervo is perhaps one of the most interesting ghost towns in the United States; a fascinating collection of crumbling homes, sat amidst large groups of cacti and relics of 1950s transportation. Weeds grow wildly out of control as many floors inside homes return slowly to dirt. Cuervo rests quietly, aside from the fluttering of old newspapers, whizzing of semi trucks on I-40, and rustling of desert weeds tapping against rusted metal car bumpers.
I was carried into Cuervo on the wings of pure luck – having been lost in my search for fuel, and something to drink. I became turned around attempting to navigate roads, suddenly finding myself directly roadside to this fascinating place. Noticing what I had just found, I quickly stopped, exited my car and began to examine the numerous abandoned structures surrounding me. A bright afternoon sun beat down onto the hot red dirt – the heat was intense as sun rays began to burn my neck. I still had yet to visit a gas station, and I was thirsty; holy fuck, was I thirsty. Here’s where common sense would kick in for most, telling them to find the nearest gas station or body of water immediately. Most sensible people would decide against traversing a dry desert town in 103-degree weather, with a mouth drier than the desert itself. Most people would not want to wander through that type of heat with threat of dehydration at hand; unfortunately I’m incredibly stubborn when I see something that I feel needs to be photographed. So what do I tell myself in these situations?
“What would Shia LaBeouf do?”
Sweat continuously fell from my face as I walked alongside cacti and crumbling adobe homes, kicking up dirt and stones with each step. I could swear I heard at least a few drops sizzle as they hit the hot ground – though it’s possible that could have just been my mind fizzling out. It was like tiny people were working a sweatshop inside my head, powering a bullet train by hand.
As homes and other structures continue to slowly deteriorate, collapsing into the dirt, I’m left wondering – ‘what is the story behind Cuervo?’
Cuervo is an unincorporated community in Guadalupe County, New Mexico. The Spanish word “Cuervo,” which translates from Spanish to English as “crow,” gives this town an even darker image given its current crumbling situation.
If we peek back in time -as far as the 1500s – we discover that this space, before being occupied by a town, was originally used as a water stop for travelers, as well as merchants carrying either slaves or sometimes goods. Juan de Córdoba of Seville became the first merchant we can identify to send an African slave to the New World in 1502. Juan de Córdoba is now dead. Merchants would continue to travel here from the south, passing through a nearby town now called Santa Rosa – established in 1865. It was not until many years later that inhabitation began for Cuervo. This means that long before the town even came to be, it had already seen so much life; it had so many stories to tell.
Cuervo, New Mexico was a simple railroad town, beginning its life in 1901 – this was when the CRI&P railroad passed through Guadalupe County. This railroad contained the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroads. Only nine years later, the town was opened to cattle ranching in 1910.
At one point, Cuervo actually held two of almost every type of building – schools, churches, and clinics. Even hotels stood coupled as the construction of Route 66 swept through, carrying many a weary traveler through the desert plains. Many towns came to life strongly through Route 66 itself – being one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. Route 66 – also known as the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road – was and is still known to be one of the most famous highways for family’s road tripping across the country. Today, only the adventurous groups, and those interested in its history can be found making that journey. With the construction of I-40, a large chunk of Cuervo was ripped apart as they tore directly through the center of town, rushing citizens out, leaving buildings and vehicles abandoned for decades. This halted any chance the small town might have had at continuing a prosperous life in the way its people probably would have hoped. Both adobe and wooden residences remain, now littered with nothing but lost memories.
As noted earlier, Cuervo was never hugely populated; peaking at 300, with the 1946 census telling that the town held a mere 128 people. While the remaining population consists mainly of acacia, sage, and staghorn cholla cactus, a few people do remain within the town of Cuervo. It’s not certain why, but it’s almost like they’re living out the “apocalypse,” as they refuse to leave their homes behind. Up until September 10, 2011 the town had maintained a post office, but pieces continue to fall away. Each archaic adobe homestead continues to crumble beneath the desert sun. As I crept slowly, quietly down the road, it seemed like the end of time sat right in front of me. No gas, no food, no lodging…but plenty of vacancies.