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Jon Mark Beilue column - Posted September 22, 2017 8:48 a.m.
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Artwork by Andy Cundiff

Red River always seems to call my name

The place itself is not much longer than a mile. I should know as I run the length four times every summer morning I’m there. As far as the width, oh, maybe a couple of extended throws of a rock would cover it.

There’s only 450 year-round residents. There’s no high school, no fast food, no real movie theater, and one grocery store. And yet they come every year, and have kept coming for more than 90 years.

“I have a 12-hour drive in front of me and 106 degrees waiting on me when I get to Austin,” said a man in line with me one cool morning to get coffee. “I don’t know why I’m leaving.”

At some point, the real world beckons. But it’s soothing to put it off for an extended weekend or even a week. The fortunate have cabins and can make it a second home for a summer.

A small sign at the door of the Candy Crate Fudge and Candies store just about says it all: “Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m., but if it’s past 9 p.m. and the OPEN sign is still on, come on in.”

That says Red River, New Mexico, which is like greeting an old friend every time I roll into the place. The more things change, the more that little mountain town stays the same. And that’s just the way we like it.

The trek, a lot of us have memorized by now. Head 275 miles northwest out of Amarillo. Before that is the 80 miles of nothingness between Clayton, New Mexico, and Springer broken up only by the Gladstone Mercantile store that splits the difference.

Since the restroom is only for customers, I’ll buy a soft drink to get some relief. Then it’s on for lunch at the Dairy Delite in Springer. Climb into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and then to the Carson National Forest.

It won’t be long until there’s Eagle Nest Lake, and then 9,600-feet Bobcat Pass. There’s seven winding turns before the former little mining town appears from 1,000 feet above in all its simple, welcoming glory with 70-degree highs and 40-degree lows.

As the director of the Red River Chamber of Commerce once told me, “It’s almost like you’re coming home.”

That’s the appeal. For many, no matter the age, Red River has been an annual destination for as long as memories last. I’ve gone every summer for at least the past 15 to a family reunion, when someone got the bright idea we needed to go elsewhere after sweltering in southwest Oklahoma.

But I’ve been going for so long before, that it’s hard to remember when I wasn’t. I’m hardly alone. A guest preacher at the Red River Community Center said he’s been coming to these parts annually for 40 years, and he lives in Central Texas.

Of those long weekenders who come to Red River, 64 percent have averaged eight trips. An estimated 300,000 come to Red River in the summer to beat the heat, soak in the mountain beauty and realize all over again that while society moves at a breakneck pace, there are places like this one that don’t move at all.

If the charm of home is its unchanging nature, then so is Red River. The only chain is a Best Western that’s one block off Main Street.

The restaurants have names like Shotgun Willie’s and Sundance, Texas Red’s and Dairy Bar. The lodges go by Riverside and Alpine, Copper King and Golden Eagle. Shop at the Pioneer Emporium or the Red River Trading Co., where it’s Christmas 365 days a year.

The names are virtually unchanging, and often the people who work there are too, at the 20 lodges, 16 restaurants and assorted shops.

In winter, there’s skiing, of course. But I’ve been to Red River just once in winter. The summer and fall appeal are varied. There’s fishing, hiking, biking, Jeep tours, horseback riding, go-karts, and tubing down the grassy ski run. There’s bluegrass music concerts and wine tasting.

But the lure of Red River is in the pace – the “42” dominoes game in the middle of the day, reading a good book on the porch already into that second cup of coffee, strolling the sidewalk, leashed dog in hand.

I’ve always likened it to Mayberry in the Mountains. It’s a place, like it says on a sign near one of the stools at Mountain Treasures: “What Happens on the Porch, Stays on the Porch.”

Every year, thousands of us can hear the siren song calling us back, calling us back to nostalgia and familiarity. A rustic sign on the edge of Red River heading home reads: “…Until Next Time.”
In a way, I just give an understanding nod.

by Jon Mark Beilue

Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com or (806) 345-3318.
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