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The Ozark Trails, New Mexico — Pecos Valley Route

In the late teens, the Ozark Trails Association promoted two new alignments. One alignment, the so-called Northern Route (“The Scenic Route to the Mexican Border”), headed south from Lawton, Oklahoma to El Paso, picking up the Old Spanish Trail to reach the Pacific Ocean.

A Shortcut

Controversy erupted at the 1919 OTA convention in Roswell, New Mexico, as different factions vied for the alignment to El Paso.

E. C. Jackson of nearby Lake Arthur, New Mexico, pushed to extend the route directly south of Roswell, through the Pecos Valley, creating a shortcut to connect with the Old Spanish Trail at Van Horn, Texas.

Not getting a go-ahead for his proposal, Jackson quickly organized a new division of the Ozark Trails, with the sole purpose of promoting a Pecos Valley alignment.

Preparing to prevail at the next convention, the new division set an ambitious goal of enlisting 1,000 members and raising $5,000 to erect OT pyramids in each community along the proposed route.

The Pecos Valley division “put up such a strong case” at the 1920 convention that the national OTA adopted the route without a dissenting vote. The fact that Jackson promised $1,000 to the association surely helped his cause.

Currently one can still drive segments of the Pecos Valley Ozark Trails from Roswell to Artesia along NM 2. But you'd better do it quickly, as the always-industrious NMDOT will soon add shoulders to the old highway.

Between Roswell and the Eddy County line, NM 2 is still a narrow, two-lane road, passing through the rural hamlets of Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur. Along the road are abandoned gas stations, a truss bridge and the only surviving Ozark Trails marker in New Mexico.

Tiny Lake Arthur also holds the distinction as the home of the Shrine of the Miracle Tortilla.

As the story goes, in 1977, Lake Arthur resident Maria Rubio saw a thumb-sized impression of Jesus’ face on a burrito she was preparing for her husband. Like Chimayo to the north, the site evolved into a shrine for the devout and the curious, attracting 35,000 visitors by 1979. The famous tortilla is still displayed in a shed in Maria’s backyard.

A Mystery in Lakewood

An even more remote section of the Pecos Valley route is found south of Artesia, on NM 381. Near its conclusion at Lake Brantley is Lakewood (pop. 3), a collection of abandoned buildings and a post office surrounded by miles of mesquite.

In 1947, Western history author Philip J. Rasch stumbled upon this ghost town, and found a tall highway marker in this unlikely setting. Inquiring with the postmistress, Rasch found out that the obelisk marked a faintly remembered highway called the Ozark Trails.

For nearly 30 years, Rasch tried to discover the origin of the Ozark Trails, writing dozens of letters to historical societies, chambers of commerce and state and county highway departments. But with no luck. Rasch died without ever knowing the story of the Ozark Trails.

Just like Rasch nearly 60 years ago, we asked the current postmistress whether the marker still existed.

She shrugged and said she had never heard of it. But who knows, with all that giraffe-high mesquite, it still may out there...somewhere.

Copyright © 2006