Northern New Mexico: Echo Amphitheater, Cebolla, Tierra Amarilla


I wasn’t lying when I said the landscape kept getting better, the further north you go on US Hwy. 84.  Beyond Abiquiu, the road winds past some incredibly beautiful eroded hills, displaying a range of red, white, and purple rocks.

And then it got even better again.  Off to the side of the road, I spotted Echo Amphitheater.  It looks as if God picked up a huge melon-baller, and scooped out a rounded cavern from the sandstone hillside.  The National Forest Service had decided it was too early in the year to open the gates and allow visitors into the picnic area, inside the echo chamber…

… but that didn’t seem like a good enough reason for me to stay out.  I slipped under the gate (but still paid my parking fee in the self-pay drop box, thank you very much) and walked most of the way up the paved trail that leads into the amphitheater.  Parts of the walkway were still icy, which I suppose is why the gates remained closed in mid-March.

And no, I did not test out the amphitheater’s echo-creating properties.  Seeing as how I wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place, it didn’t seem like a good idea to make a lot of noise and draw attention to myself (even though I was the only one there).

Cebolla, New Mexico

Just as the colorful sandstone cliffs fade away in your rear-view, the peaks of the mighty Rocky Mountains begin to appear on the horizon, around Cebolla, New Mexico.  Unless you need gas or a snack, you’ll probably quickly pass through the tiny community of Cebolla.

The one thing I noticed as I drove along this part of US 84, was an increasing amount of snow at the side of the road.  Through this area, US 84 is at roughly 7,400 feet, which means the weather was cooler than it had been, earlier in the day.

I took this picture at a roadside parking area with an incredible view.  The landscape stretched out from one corner of my eye to the other.

Tierra Amarilla

These days, Tierra Amarilla is a quiet place.  It wasn’t always this way, though.  When New Mexico received its statehood, back in 1912, Tierra Amarilla (or simply TA) was the fifth largest city in the state.  The Great Depression, World War II, and the arrival of US 84 (which bypassed the downtown area) all took a toll on TA, and for the past half-century, Tierra Amarilla has looked increasingly like a ghost town.

Tierra Amarilla means Yellow Land, a name that comes from the limestone in the surrounding mountains.

Evidence of TA’s struggles can be seen on the outskirts of town…

… and continues as you drive into the tiny business district.  Strangely enough, there are a couple of strikingly new buildings amongst the old ones (clearly some sort of government-related buildings — TA remains the county seat, even though most of the population has relocated to the Chama area).  The rest of Tierra Amarilla’s old structures sit and wait for time and gravity to finish a painfully slow process.

A few of the most notable buildings downtown include Lito’s Ballroom.

A peek through the door reveals that the roof has already caved in–there’s likely no hope for saving this one.

The painted words above the front door of Esquibel’s Cash Store are slowly fading.

Across the street from the general store, are the remnants of an old motel.

Even out on US 84, businesses like this tire repair garage struggled to stay open, and eventually shut down.

Rather than drive up US 84, one of my original route plans included a drive up to Taos, then across to Tierra Amarilla via US 64.  However, US 64 is closed during the winter months due to drifting snow.  I believe it to be the only section of US highway in New Mexico that’s not kept open year-round.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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