Living in Texas I figured there had to be a ton of these highly romanticized bergs dusted amongst the brambles and tumbleweeds, right? Cowboys, Indians, Randolph Scott and the Lone Ranger, man, the western half of this state has to be just crazy with ghost towns. And it is: "TexasEscapes" website lists over 600 sites across the state! The first one that I visited has a name you might find on the local school marm.
Orla, Texas is one horse livery away from being right out of Gunsmoke. It lies at the crossroads of US Highway 285 and "F.M." (Farm to Market) Road #652, roughly 55 miles to the north of a larger but still living fossil by the name of Pecos, Texas. The oil boom in the Permian Basin gave birth to Orla and other similar towns in the region, including a rail line at one point but whose tracks are long gone with the road bed itself barely discernible as a long winding snake mound off to the side of the road.
Getting to Orla required a six hour drive on I-20 west from Dallas/Ft. Worth and then, where most other people would keep going, actually turning off on one of those exits in the middle of nowhere those same people wonder what the exit was ever built for. That is just to get to Pecos which, at 10,000 people is arguably the largest city on the interstate after Midland before arriving at El Paso. Once the road to nowhere, US#285, has been accessed it is a simple matter of time, desire and courage to trek further north through town and in to the wilderness to find Orla.
When I saw the sign that said "Welcome to New Mexico" I realized that I had driven right through it. See, I was trying to do a lot in one weekend and in my own defense had not dedicated an entire day to a ghost town consisting of three hardscrabble buildings leaning at a crossroads in the flatlands. I'd driven from Dallas wanting to see Pecos, the Pecos River and Orla before stopping for the night in, wait for it, Roswell, New Mexico. As it was getting late in the afternoon, however, I needed to get back to Orla and sped south towards the town as quickly as possible.
I found it quickly enough, the three buildings sadly watching the world pass by just like Radiator Springs in the Pixar film "Cars." A gas station, a restaurant and a general store about sixty feet back from the main road; oh, and a couple of historical markers at the edge of the pavement nearly as an afterthought in case somebody needed to pee right then and were curious about the buildings. This is the visible legacy of a town "bursting at the seams" in its heyday, topping out at just under 60 people including the postmaster.
I was content with walking around the complex (sic) snapping photos and taking in the sheer vastness of the land and sky around it. There was a lot of debris on the floors that could be seen through the windows and I wasn't trying to see if anything lived underneath all that junk. The beauty of Orla lies in the statement it makes from the exterior, that someone was here and had tried to earn a living in the middle of endless opportunity but ultimately moved on to more promising challenges elsewhere.
As I drove in to the sunset towards Roswell I wondered if any of those pilgrims m made it past Pecos.