Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pie Town, New Mexico: A Photo Story

 One of the first things you need to know about New Mexico is that it IS in the United States. You'd not believe how often people don't realize that fact. Second, New Mexico is very rural, even the cities. None of the cities could really be called urban in the modern sense of the word. So when you travel outside of the major cities (Santa Fe or Albuquerque), everything is vast... the sun, the sky, the endless dust but also the stories that come from the land and people who manage to eke out a living here.

During the "Go West, Young Man" era, people pushed their way through western states. Some via gold rush sites, others by rail and the economy that went with the expanding railroad, but others gathered around the building of transcontinental interstates. Some survived, others did not. Highway 60 is one of those that did not survive even though it nearly was the now infamous Route 66. 
People didn't know it then, so thousands came through south-central New Mexico and set up their little towns along the road. One of these towns is Pie Town.

Pie Town, New Mexico.

It  wasn't always called Pie Town, that name came later but not too much later. But what a better name for a near ghost town? It's perfect. One of the people who had dreams of that a transconitnental road would mean set up shop and began making dried apple pies. Soon the town was known for it's great apple pies and eventually became known as Pie Town. Travelers came and went. Roads came and went. Rain and groundwater came and went, so did many people. Once, Pie Town was home to about two thousand people. Now, you'd be lucky to see 208 people there. In fact, the county Pie Town is in is home to just three thousand people. Catron County is nearly 7,000 square miles.  
Remember me saying it was rural? I wasn't exaggerating.
Back when Pie Town was booming and the road was growing, a photographer from some official farm-type of administration of the government was sent to document things going on in this part of the country. The photographer was Russell Lee. I've seen his photographs countless times and they always capture people in that special way. 
Here are some of his photos. All from June 1940.

People still live, work, get married, have children, and die here.
The winters are windy. The summers are hot. The availability of water is unpredictable. 
People are poor. They live off the land, if they can. Neighbors are close in friendship but distant in miles. 
So how can a city run itself when there are 200 poor people? 
They throw a festival.


Every year for one Saturday in September, the population of Pie Town grows to nearly 500. Vendors come from Socorro, Albuquerque, Grants, and even Gallup. All the women get together and make 400+ pies in the week before the event. Each pie sells for $15-$25. The campground is open for visitors. The two pie shops in town hold music events and special pies. The money raised from 1 day of PIE gives the city the funds to keep everything working, including holding dances, suppers, and other community events throughout the year.  But the highlights of the festival are two pie eating contests and a horned toad race. 

 There is a 10 and under pie eating contest and an 11 and older contest. You pay an entrance fee and you get to stuff your face in a pie. This is clearly a brilliant plan. 
People come from all over New Mexico for this. It isn't just your run of the mill state fair style of food eating contests. People train for this, they compete, and the spectators yell and cheer for their dad, their friend, their sister as if someone's life depended on their win. 

Later, you get to watch horned toads race. Kids, usually, catch these horned toads that are all over the place in Pie Town (which makes no sense because there is no water standing around). The kids get marked with a number and the same number gets sharpied on the bottom of the corresponding toad. All the toads get thrown into a bucket and when everyone is ready, the spectators stand outside of a chalked circle, the bucket gets turned upside down in the center of the circle.
Then, the horned toads stand there. Looking at the spectators like "What?" And everyone YELLS at the toads. Everyone stands around for 30 minutes or more waiting for the horned toads to move and eventually cross the chalk line. 
It's the craziest thing I've ever seen.

Having lived in New Mexico for almost 3 years, 2012 was my second Pie Fest. 
I learned about the town from my first visit. 
Since I saw Russel Lee's photos last year, I was determined to capture some nice photos following those from Mr. Lee.

Here are some photos I took this September.

Serious Pie Eating.

Excited Child

Adult Pie Eating Contest.

I loved this lady's face.
Horned Toad  Race.

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