By Mark S. McDonald
ARTESIA, N.M. — A floor that squeaks and creaks has character. Soul. Listen as you walk on an aging floor, its structure bending to your weight. These groans speak to sturdy materials and strong, skilled hands of craftsmen who cared.
A squeaky floor is a welcome from yesteryear, a greeting card spoken in a trusted voice. Such a voice belongs to the Heritage Inn, Artesia, N.M.
For the Texican in search of El Paso and points west, or for dairy and oil/gas industry, or for skiing, flyfishing or hunting in the mountains, you have found the place. Located nearly due west of Lubbock, the Heritage was built in 1905 for a dry goods retailer, operated as a J.C. Penney from 1939-49, and now run as a kitschy 11-room B&B.
Oozing history, each room has 12-foot ceilings, private bath, flat-screen TV, fridge, sumptuous breakfast … all for $130-ish, tax inclusive. Rooms come with hot-and-cold running hospitality, courtesy of innkeepers Ryan and Neva Carleton, a youngish couple fresh out of Georgia still looking for the nearest pine tree.
“Glad to be here, managing one of the cleanest hotels in the whole area,” says Ryan Carleton. “This place gets high comments from guests. Managing here is quite a pleasure.
“It is not a house of complaints. It is a house of praises.”
If a comfortable bed overlooking Main Street is not enough, you’re two blocks from the Artesia Historical Museum and Art Center. Seventy-five yards away lies the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center, where tonight is showing “Orchestra Wives,” the 1942 film starring big-band leader Glenn Miller.
The marquee out front encourages visitors to bring a drink and a chair. “We’ll furnish the popcorn.”
A block away, ask for the local pilsner at the Wellhead Restaurant and Brewpub. Just don’t ask for a beer at La Fonda, across the street from your room. It might be the only place in the Southwest where you can order a plate of enchiladas, with fresh Hatch green chili – but no beer.
If you insist on scheduling them, the local Artesia High football team will gladly hand you a defeat, then make you like it. This is especially true if you visit the Bulldog Bowl. Financed in part by local benefactor Mack Chase, the Bowl stands as a multi-million dollar shrine to public/private partnership. In a town of 10,300 that largely favors bright orange and white, the football program remains the social-cultural epicenter of this town. To avoid the parking jam on football Friday nights, you might walk.
The streets are adorned with larger-than-life sculptures by the gifted Michael Hamby of Lander, Wyo. Each setting depicts the no-work, no-eat background that was America and, to large extent today, remains very much the oil patch ethos.
If you visit the Heritage – and I recommend it over the cookie-cutter hotel chains – here are my suggestions:
- Plan on breakfast. No, you don’t have to sit with strangers, at a time dictated by the innkeeper on his/her schedule, not yours. Rather, you may eat at leisure … and eat you should. The daily menu includes fresh fruits, milk, coffee, OJ, raisin bran, steel-cut oats, sweet rolls and a Panini toaster. Select your choice of breads and cheeses, pick turkey or ham, and roll your own.
- Make use of the Liar’s Porch, which the Carleton’s euphemistically call “the patio.” Strictly BYOB, it offers a splendid view of vacant warehouses and library parking lots below, highlighted by local pigeons roosting in the rooftops of the neighboring Western wear store. Their coo-ing helps frame the sight of the local refinery, working 24/7 to put fuel in vehicles so ungrateful people across the nation can drive to work or play and vote for politicians who slam “big oil.”
- Once you make your reservation, best call in advance to announce your arrival time. The staff will be on hand to greet you. Otherwise, you will be left standing at street level until someone at the front desk buzzes the door lock.
Historians tell us this town’s was once the #1 producer of high-quality alfalfa used in feeding livestock, Artesia’s modest population swelling with farmers and ranchers coming in for the Alfalfa Day Festival and parade. This would be just after a farmer could poke a hole in the ground, and tap into an artesian water table so vibrant and near the surface, water would gush 10 feet in the air. Hence the town name.
Artesia may never be the crossroads of America, but there are always kool places to visit, if you know where to look. This is one of those places. Authentic squeaky floors are no extra cost.
(Note: When you call, tell them you love squeaky floors, too.)
Author Mark S. McDonald escaped starvation while variously working in newsrooms of five Texas dailies. Currently, he is working on his golf swing and his sixth book.