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Southern Pacific

New Mexico

Between Arizona and Texas, the I-10 freeway crosses above the part of New Mexico known as the Bootheel, for the way it steps down toward Old Mexico. Until the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, all this was part of Mexico, and the Hispanic influence still dominates the Anglo-American. The few towns here, like Lordsburg and Deming, were founded and remain primarily based on the railroad and offer little for the passing traveler. However, at least one place is definitely worth a stop: the historic village of Mesilla, set around a dusty plaza just south of the region’s one big city, Las Cruces.


Mileage-wise, the haul across Texas is the longest part of this coast-to-coast route, but as far as things to see, the state doesn’t offer a high quotient per gallon. In the far-western stretches near El Paso, to maximize scenic interest, follow the slower but significantly more attractive route along US-180 past the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains, and veer across a corner of New Mexico to see the remarkable Carlsbad Caverns.

From Carlsbad it’s a straight shot across the painfully flat Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, which stretches on both sides of the New Mexico-Texas border. This section of the route is one of the least action-packed in the country—there’s almost nothing for miles on end, apart from oil derricks, cattle ranches, and cotton plantations. Only a few of the sporadic towns here have any historic claim or aesthetic interest; it’s basically a long day’s drive across the open plains. If you’re in a hurry, you won’t miss much by following the route of old US-80, alongside the I-20 freeway between El Paso and the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, through roughneck oil towns like Odessa and Midland.

In eastern Texas, the landscape gradually evolves into that of the Deep South, the dense pine woods doing their best to disguise the historic dependence on the oil industry—with profits far more apparent in the towers of Dallas than here at the often poverty-stricken source. Again, the interstates offer a faster way across, and you can turn off where you want to visit the few sites of interest, like tiny Kilgore, home of the “World’s Richest Acre.”

Maps of the Southern Pacific Route through New Mexico and Texas

Map of Southern Pacific through New Mexico.
Map of Southern Pacific through New Mexico.
Map of Southern Pacific through Texas.
Map of Southern Pacific through Texas.

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