Shortcut for adventure or a long way around? My destination was the ghost town of Guadalupe, northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The map showed it to be on an unpaved road north of Interstate 40. To reach it I could drive through the urban mass of the big city and stay on paved roads north and then head west, or take a shortcut across the Laguna Indian Reservation and save myself 75 miles of high-speed pavement. The option exercised for Indian Country was the more adventurous choice.
Guadalupe would be little more than some empty stone buildings, possibly the old spring house and foundations of a village that once had a post office. Also known as Ojo Del Padre or Spring of the Father for the spring of good water, it was one of many small New Mexico communities once known to make and enforce their own rules and laws. The inhabitants were often related and left outsiders alone and expected the same.
The map was correct for the first few miles as the two-lane paved road went through the small Laguna Indian village of Paguate. A sign warned of the severe penalties for taking photographs or filming unless permission was granted. I opted to keep my cameras in the tank bag and save time by skipping film recording and bureaucratic requests. A mile or two later a sign noted I was leaving the Laguna Indian Reservation, but a second sign almost immediately behind it said I was entering the Cebotteta Land Grant with more warnings to stay on the road.
I had noticed a road sign that indicated two towns past Paguate, those of Bibo and Seboyeta, neither shown on my paper map but both on the only road. Passing through Bibo was little more than a blink, but in Seboyeta I followed the pavement past numerous houses and several buildings, one with a collection of cars parked at a central meeting hall.
One town listed on the sign was on the map, two were not, so I asked myself: “were the ghostly two real or was the map lying?” Thirteen miles would tell me.
The pavement ended but the road seemed to continue north over a gravel and sand track for another mile, which seemed to agree with my map. When the sand and gravel became a bolder strewn uphill track with seemingly little traffic I turned around. While I could muscle my loaded Kawasaki KLR650 up the track, it would be a struggle and the thought of having to come back down the same ugly stuff ranked lower on my adventure scale than asking for directions from dubious local sources in the village.
I stopped at the central meeting building and first asked two men walking through the parking lot about the road to Guadalupe. Both said they were strangers to the area but promised to find me a local resident who knew the road. They sent me a friendly Indian man from Paguate, who admitted he was unsure of the road past Seboyeta, but pointed out a gravel road in the distance and said, “You can take that road to Marquez, after that it might be closed, but you can ask at the L-Bar Ranch.”
Studying my map I could find no Marquez. I was stopped in Seboyeta, another town not on the map, but was on the main road on which I had been traveling. I wondered if the road sign 13 miles back had been wrong or had I passed into some kind of ghost zone where cartographers could not map villages or if was I merely lost? I decided to take a take the local Indian guide’s advice and start towards Marquez.
My travels around the world had taught me to never trust one source when asking directions, that it was better to take the best out of two or three. A few miles out of Seboyeta I stopped when I saw a cowboy and his lady friend loading a trailer with a couple of saddled horses. I asked about Marquez and then the road further. They said they thought the
road went to Marquez and then through to Guadalupe, but also admitted they had never been that far north. Three for three meant the odds were good, but not 100%, in favor of reaching the ghost town.
I calculated I had enough gas in case I had to turn around 20-30 miles ahead and go back to Paguate, where I had seen a gas station. I stopped earlier in the day and topped off the gas tank as well as bought two large bottles of power drink knowing I was headed into a dry and remote area. In my panniers I also had my usual emergency meal of canned spaghetti, tent and sleeping bag in case I had to spend the night in some remote location.
The gravel road was in good condition, obviously well maintained, and passed for what my map showed as a country road. There were free roaming cattle, one of which decided to try and pace me at 30 mph for 100 yards until it veered off and let me win. A dozen vultures lifted off a dead cow decomposing next to the road as I approached reminding me life could be tough in the remote areas I was traveling through.
At a cattle guard I stopped to read several signs. The first was bullet riddled, announcing I had left one county and was entering another. This was a good sign because it meant I was indeed on a county road, possibly the one shown on my map. Another sign warned that the road I was on would be crossing private lands. A third sign, also holed by bullets, warned drivers to stay on the “main road.” It was obvious guns were aplenty in the area with so many sign targets hit, a reminder of what I knew of laws, rules and self-enforcement from the history around Guadalupe.
A few miles further into the new county I came upon a Bernalillo County road crew working on a small bridge at the entrance to the village of Marquez. I stopped and jokingly asked them if the McDonalds restaurant was in what I could see of Marquez, which was little more than a dozen buildings and a small church. The workers laughed, and said, “Sure, can’t you see the Golden Arches and the flashing COLD BEER sign just up there?” To this response we all laughed.
I asked about the road past Marquez and they told me it was closed due to political differences between the land owner and the county. When I questioned how they got to their work site in Marquez, they said they had been instructed to take the long way around from their base in Bernalillo, north of Albuquerque. They added that I could try to drive through to Guadalupe and pointed to where their “off limits” road came into Marquez.
It was a risky decision: to try and cross what everyone had told me was not possible, believing my now questionable map that showed a road all the way through, or turn around and retrace my tracks that had taken me well into the base of the Cebolleta Mountain Range for nearly two hours. From my lying map I concluded I was only 10-20 miles from my ghost town destination, or 150 miles back the long way around. I told the entertained workers, “I’ve come this far, I’ll take a chance on what is ahead.”
I did not get far, less than a mile, before I came to a small sign that said “Private Road Do Not Enter.” Behind it was an empty sign post where I concluded once had been a county road sign. There was no chain or fence across the road, just the small sign. Looking at it and the empty road ahead I remembered seeing the bullet holes in the earlier signs. It was time to exercise the bitter option and turn around, admit that my map lied to me and avoid possibly ducking lead ahead.
On the road back to Seboyeta I passed a large rock that had an arrow and the letters “L-Bar” painted on it in red pointing down a well maintained road. Remembering the suggestion of my local advisor in Seboyeta to ask at the L-Bar Ranch, I turned off the main gravel road and head towards the L-Bar Ranch. A few minutes later an open gate greeted me and I thought that was a good sign until I saw the real sign on the right proclaiming “Private Property.”
My effort to reach the L-Bar Ranch was halted by yet another warning. Private meant private was the instinct I followed.
I grew up in the cattle country of Montana and learned the hard way that when a rancher puts up a private property sign he does not do so for a target for shooting guns or lack of other things to do on his ranch. I decided not to test the degree of tolerance the L-Bar rancher might have for a wandering motorcyclist asking for directions to the McDonalds ahead.
The road had ended for me that day. I did not have enough time to make the big circle around and find the ghost town via mostly pavement through Albuquerque. The three or four hours I had spent in Seboyeta, passing through Bibo and ending up Marquez had introduced me to some friendly and interesting people. I had also seen some of New Mexico not on the normal tourist route, and villages certainly not on my AAA map. In fact if I believed my lying map, I could not have been to any of those places because they were not shown. Maybe my afternoon had been a ghostly adventure, the places I had been nothing more than an apparition like Guadalupe on the road in front of me.