All the places we wish we'd stopped
Please excuse my enthusiasm for the train because there truly is no better way to see America the beautiful.
A month is enough to only do just one small part of this vast country that extends from sea to shining sea.
We did the southwest, a sliver of it. But did we do it properly? There were lots of places we wished we had stopped.
For instance, Galesburg Illinois, where one of the state’s first anti-slavery societies was founded, and which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Home to Knox College, a substantial part of Galesburg city is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Then, there was Gallup, New Mexico, off Route 66. From the train station we could see the large warehouse offering “direct” sale and purchase of Zuni fetishes, the traditional, miniature animal and bird carvings in semi-precious stone.
And Deming, New Mexico, just 35 miles from the border with Mexico. It’s in the area covered by the 1853-54 Gadsden Purchase, the US-Mexico treaty in which the United States agreed to pay $10 million for a 29,670 square mile portion of Mexico, which would later become part of Arizona and New Mexico. Deming’s history was one of aspiration. With the Gadsden Purchase allowing for a southern railroad route to connect California with the rest of the United States, Deming was expected to grow and become another Chicago. When it was founded in 1881, it was nicknamed ‘New Chicago’.
Alpine, Texas, sitting on a plateau in the Chihuahua Desert, with the Davis Mountains to the north and the Chisos Mountains to the south. The city, registered as Murphyville in 1883, is not far from Big Bend National Park. It has a 111-year-old Holland Hotel, which was built during a mercury mining boom.
And finally, Sanderson, Texas, also founded around that same time as Murphyville/ Alpine (1882). In its day it was a major point for the Southern Pacific Railroad, for refueling and crew changes on its main transcontinental route. Once the town was rich with mohair and wool production but as the decades wore on and the pattern of economic activity changed, Sanderson’s prospects declined, as did its population. Now, it is a conurbation of a few hundred people.
In fact, what struck me as we moved majestically on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Illinois to Texas, was that we were travelling the once-aspirational highways of America. Some are now byways.
Plus ca change.