Route 285, which runs near our home south of Santa Fe, is a big part of my life. I bike south on it through the high-desert beauty of the Galisteo Basin. I drive north to Colorado ski areas and the Arkansas River Valley. It is the major thoroughfare through New Mexico’s capital, and we shop in stores along its route.
Last week, my wife and I looked forward to traveling home on it from its southernmost point, a small Texas town called Sanderson, 20 miles from the Mexican border. We’d be heading northwest towards Fort Stockton and Pecos, two undistinguished West Texas towns, and across the New Mexico line to Carlsbad, then Roswell. We expected a beautiful drive through sparse cattle country. Instead, we found ourselves in a Western version of Mad Max meets Dante’s Inferno meets L.A. freeway at rush hour. The culprit: our oil and gas industry run amok.
Ironically, we were returning from a 4,300-mile road trip through a long slice of Mexico, depicted in recent years as a perilous hellhole. During our month long trip, in a country once known for its bad roads, no where we drove approached the miserable condition and dangerous truck traffic we encountered along the 140 miles between Fort Stockton and Carlsbad.
We faced four-inch deep potholes the size of manhole covers, a surface that rolled like a wind-driven sea, the painted center line long ago worn away, and a steady 80-mph river of water tankers, semi trucks, and oversize pickups hauling huge compressors. The highway, made for lighter traffic, could hardly withstand the heavy load.