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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Fly Back In Time to the Old West
Estancia, New Mexico

By Bill Dolson

It’s hard to imagine that sleepy little Estancia, New Mexico, population 1700, was once a rival to the City of Albuquerque. At the turn of the 19th century, the Mayor of Estancia made a bet with the Mayor of Albuquerque that Estancia would grow to be the greater city. Estancia lost the bet but has managed a win of another kind. Today, it is a healthy example of an endangered species, a viable rural small town, featuring a lifestyle vanishing as fast as the cowboys who still live and work here. It is a time machine you can fly into via an airstrip only a quarter mile off main street. Six family-run restaurants and three gift shops are located within easy walking distance of the tie-downs. You can cool off in the new public pool or just relax under the trees at the historic spring-fed lake. Rub elbows with cowboys at the local saloon and experience a lifestyle that is almost gone.

A Walking Tour of Estancia
Once you get it tied down, prepare to enter a time warp. The town lies just to the west, along a dirt road that angles out of the cattle guard to the southwest. Take the short quarter mile walk and you find yourself on Fifth Street, the main street of Estancia, New Mexico. The year is 1955. To your left is your choice of gas stations (and bathrooms). As you look around you may start to feel out of place without a cowboy hat.

2001 Aviation Events CalendarTo your right is the Old Mill, a restaurant featuring authentic New Mexican fare, served by Bob and Perlene Lutrick, who are the very picture of western demeanor and hospitality. If you arrive at lunchtime, don’t be surprised to see cowboys wearing spurs and chaps. They are not movie extras. The fajitas are a standout and the Mexican combo or steak and enchiladas will have you rechecking your weight and balance. Local favorites are the Navaho taco and green chile enchiladas. As with every restaurant in town, most dishes are well under $10. Hours are 8AM-8PM Mon-Sat.

Fifth Street is usually pretty quiet. Photos from the 20s show the broad boulevard lined with farmer’s and rancher’s model Ts. The population of Torrance County was ten times greater before the droughts of the 20s and 50s. Luckily, Estancia never became a ghost town. The valley still has significant farming and ranching activity. You probably noticed all the irrigation circles from the air. Things pick up mid day, as the ranchers make their trip into town and get together for lunch, as much for socializing as for the sustenance. It’s the reason such a small town can support so many restaurants, drawing customers from all over one of the largest counties in a big state.

Head south two blocks to Allen Street for the Estancia Valley Cafe and Jacqueline’s Treasure Chest, a card and gift shop, together on the west side of the street. Both are operated by the friendly couple of Jacqueline Nieto and Ronnie Hickman. The café specializes in New Mexican and American food and is your classic small town eatery, featuring breakfast any time and a good range of American dishes as well as a full New Mexican menu. People come from Albuquerque and Santa Fe for the green chile cheeseburger, and town favorites are the steak and enchiladas and the burritos. Hours are 8AM-8PM Tue-Sat, 9AM-3PM Sun.

Remember to behave while you’re in town. Estancia was the site of the last hanging in the state in 1922. The current police chief is the very friendly and eternally youthful Don Liles, still breaking horses at age 72 when he’s not on duty. Formerly Torrance County sheriff, Don was the first and so far only African American sheriff in the state.

Another block south is the town saloon, the Blue Ribbon, featuring a great facade, beautiful old wooden bar, and an outstanding jukebox. The oldest building in town, having just celebrated its 100th birthday, it has been a bar since prohibition. Before that, some say it housed a brothel. The amiable couple of Dan and Anna Ortiz run the Blue Ribbon. You can get a cowboy breakfast like biscuits and gravy, a breakfast burrito, or a bowl of chili. Gringos can get French toast or eggs. The local favorite is the $5 Special, a drink, fries, and the “best green chile cheeseburger in the county, perhaps the state.” There is a long list of extras including southwestern specialties. Hours are 6AM-10PM Mon-Fri, 11AM-10PM Sat, 12PM-10PM Sun, bar open later.

Estancia made the national news once right after the last presidential election. New Mexico state law decrees that local elections that result in a tie are to be settled by a card draw. A few mayoral elections ago the result was a dead tie and the candidates drew cards draw to determine the winner.

Across Williams street from the Blue Ribbon is Margarita’s Gallery, featuring the work of local artists and craftspeople from the area. Margarita’s is an eclectic blend of fine arts and gifts and also serves as florist for the town. The range of artwork includes John Saunder’s paintings of wild west horses, potter Alma Wimsatt’s classical work, and the abstract work of Mattison Fitzgerald. The gallery has a large selection of gifts and sterling silver jewelry and is operated by Margarita Hibbs, wife of mayor Marty Hibbs. Hours are 10AM-6PM Tue-Sat, 1-5PM Sun, 1-6PM Mon.

If you’re interested in architecture, take a detour down Williams street one block to the west. There, on the northeast corner you’ll find the Estancia Community Center, an imposing adobe structure built as a WPA project in 1934-5. Enter through the double doors and head straight to the main hall. Hand-hewn beams were cut in the forests of the nearby Manzano Mountains and combined into massive trusses, which rest on imposing pillars of ponderosa pine. The perimeter walls are four-foot thick adobe. Diagonally across from the Community Center is the charming United Methodist Church.

Head back to Fifth Street and look at the old red brick building across the street from Margarita’s. Doc Holliday was once the barkeep in a saloon in the back. Sturges Roadrunner Market is across the street if you want to put together a picnic for the town park. The large bronze on the front lawn is a Remington. You can also pick up a sandwich at the Star Submarine Sandwich Shop, a half block south. Owned and operated by Jim and Linda Farrington, the shop also has homemade soup and salads. Hours are 11AM-3PM Mon-Fri.

Another block to the south at Highland Street is Aluz Enterprises, owned by the energetic Alberta Warner, a native New Mexican going back eight generations. The austere facade conceals a fascinating Southwestern gift shop, featuring Native American handiwork. Alberta is an accountant with many Indian clients who pay her in trade goods, and the result is an extensive inventory of sterling silver jewelry, sand and canvas paintings, rock carvings, and pottery. She is most proud of her unique kachinas, carved from a single block of wood and mostly unadorned. Alberta explained that the familiar ornate tourist kachinas are made differently by the native artisans in order to preserve the significance of the authentic religious kachinas. Hours are 10AM-6PM Mon-Sat.

Three blocks west on Highland Street is the tranquil Estancia Town Park centered around a small spring-fed lake. Estancia was an oasis known to the natives before the Spanish arrived. It is the Spanish word for estate, ranch, or resting place. Things were not always so peaceable here. In 1882, a wealthy Bostonian, J.G. Whitney, purchased the land rights to much of the valley, or so he thought. He drove thousands of head of cattle here from Texas. Upon finding residents with conflicting Spanish land grants, he declared he would drive them out. The Estancia Springs ranch ran 25,000 head of sheep in the valley and was run by the Oteros, whose ranch house adjoined the lake. Unable to agree on ownership, a gunfight ensued and Otero and his foreman were killed. Whitney was shot several times. He recovered and was tried and acquitted by the US government. The government declared both claims invalid and homesteaded the valley in 1903.

The new public library and pool lie on the southwest corner of the park and are scheduled for a July opening. The pool is the only one in the arid county and is the perfect way to cool-off after some hot summer flying. Funds for the library were endowed by Willis Willams and his late sister, Corrine Williams French, whose parents homesteaded in Estancia. The Williams opted to endow their birthplace instead of a major university, feeling it would do the most good. The million-dollar facility is the cornerstone of a community revival in Estancia, under the direction of Mayor Hibbs, which has included the renovation of the park and Community Center, and establishment of a Youth Center.

2001 Aviation Events CalendarBack on Main Street, a block further south is Turk’s Roadhouse, featuring pizza and Italian specialties like calzone, stromboli, and fettuccine Alfred, as well as monstrous sandwiches on homemade bread. Housed in an old adobe building which was a church in the 20s and later a service station, Turk’s is a welcome alternative to New Mexican fare and is a one-man show hosted by high-energy owner Brian Dudney, who simultaneously chats with customers and cooks in the open-plan restaurant. Known for fresh salads and homemade dressings, customer favorites include the Flaming Chicken Sandwich, broiled chicken breast with chipotle sauce, and Lasagna. Portions are huge. Hours are 11AM-10PM Fri-Mon.

Across the street from Turk’s is Jim Frost’s Feed and Western Wear Store, featuring a great southwestern facade with some appealing murals. Maybe you should finally get that cowboy hat you’ve been thinking about. If Jim isn’t too busy, see if he’ll show you some of the amazing tricks his dog Willie can perform.

Just south of the feed store is The Short Stop Café, proprietors Shorty and Cathy Martinez and daughter Patty. The menu features a large choice of Mexican Dinners and American specials like chicken fried steak, shrimp, and burgers. There are also sandwiches including grilled cheese or chicken breast, patty melts, and even a veggie burger. Shorty was the cook at the famous Old Coop in Estancia before its demise, and retains a loyal following. Local favorites are the Chicken Fry and the Speedy, a Beef and Bean Burrito (red or green chile) with beans and rice — a good-sized meal and only $5.25. Hours are 11AM-7PM Tue-Wed, 11AM-8PM Tue-Thu, 11AM-2PM Sun.

Plan a visit to Estancia during one of the many community events scheduled during the year. This year is the Centennial of the town, so celebrations will be extra special.

Old-Timer’s day features an all-ages rodeo. The rodeo and fairgrounds are just south of the park. The events for younger kids are impressive, like seeing an 8 year old handle a horse better than you ever will. The grown-up cowboys also show their skill at roping and riding. People come back to Estancia for the event from all over the country.

The Torrance County fair exudes the innocence of decades past, with the fresh-faced kids of FFA and 4H showing their goats, rabbits, and chickens. Watch a thousand pound heifer patiently being shampooed, combed, and blow-dried in preparation for judging. Everyone attends the fashion show where young girls leading a prize sheep show off outfits made for the occasion by their family. The time warp of Estancia is definitely at it’s strongest during the county fair.

If you’re a fan of Unidentified Flying Objects then you might want to visit for the annual Pumpkin Chuckin Festival in the fall. It takes place in a field just west of town. Local businesses, fraternal organizations, and volunteer fire departments build contraptions ranging from medieval catapults to compressed air guns competing to see who can lob the orange gourds the farthest. There is a companion carnival for the all-day event.

Many of the events have parades that provide a wonderful vision of vintage Americana. You half expect to see Norman Rockwell sitting at his easel on the sidewalk. The local rider’s clubs trot in formation in full regalia and there is the usual complement of police cars, fire engines, old cars and farm equipment, topped off by the occasional precarious homemade float.

2001 Aviation Events CalendarFlying Into Estancia, New Mexico

Estancia Municipal, E92, has runway 8-26 of 4000 x 60 feet which is a dirt and gravel strip located immediately northeast of the town, 40 miles southeast of Albuquerque. In 2003, the runway was re-graded and is in good shape, but can be soft after a hard rain. The surface is fine for any tail dragger or a tricycle gear plane with reasonable prop clearance. Take normal precautions for dirt strips. Do your run up on the roll to avoid prop dings, use soft field techniques, try to avoid use of the brakes, and when taxiing always turn into the wind. If you have fixed gear, you might want to remove your wheel pants. The AFD advises of some obstructions at the runway 8 approach end and possible cattle on the runway, so make sure to take a look first. The ramp area just south of the runway 8 threshold was completely redone with new tie-downs.

The airport is unattended and does not have fuel. Avgas is available at nearby Moriarty (0E0) 17 miles to the north. Approaching the field from any direction you’ll notice the white salt flats to the southeast, an exotic landscape worth a closer look from the air. Keep an eye on your sectional or GPS, as 20 miles to the south is the restricted area for White Sands Missile Range.

The town currently doesn’t have overnight accommodations, but rental cars are available and you can fly or drive up to Moriarty, which has many motels. Call Tillery Chevrolet in Moriarty and ask for Julie in service, 505-832-4431. Estancia airport has a pilot-activated reflective lighting system on the CTAF of 122.9 if you arrive or depart after dusk.

If you want to log a landing on a dirt strip you may need to visit E92 sooner rather than later. Plans are underway to develop the airport with construction of taxiways and more ramp space. The town intends to offer hangar lots and rental hangars. Residents of Estancia take pride in their small town feeling and are eager to preserve that character into the future. It is the town’s desire to eventually hard surface the airport, and then one of the few remaining public use dirt strips in the state will be history.

For more information call Bill Dolson, airport manager, at 505-384-0630, or consult the airport website at Don’t forget to bring a bathing suit!

The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it