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Driving the back road to Carlsbad, New Mexico…

Posted by on October 14, 2014

OCTOBER 14, 2014: “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”


The Barn Door Restaurant is located way, way off the beaten path in southern New Mexico.

WE DROVE EAST ON STATE ROUTE 82. For our drive from White Sands to our next stop at the famous Carlsbad Caverns, we took the scenic byway, rather than the Interstate. Whenever possible and time permits, we’re staying off the “big roads” and taking the “back roads.” We learned early-on that if you want to really see the country and meet some interesting folks, this is how you do it. Today’s drive was a perfect example.

Leaving Alamogordo, we headed east into the Lincoln National Forest. Our drive took us through some beautiful New Mexico back country, past cattle ranches with rustic old barns and cowboys literally “riding the range.”  We saw freight trains in the distance weaving through the hills and valleys, trestles allowing passage over streams and rivers and tiny little towns and country churches with adjacent cemeteries, as we climbed to almost 8,000 feet above sea level. The road was narrow and obviously not ever intended for big-rig travel, but I’m glad we drove it. It’s in these areas that we’ve been really “discovering America.” Today was no exception.

THE BARN DOOR CAFE. Halfway between the little towns of Mayhill and Cloudcroft, we spotted the Barn Door Cafe. Since it was time for lunch and one doesn’t have lots of dining options in these parts, we pulled off the road and ventured inside. What a trip…it was like stepping back in time or visiting the set of an old Western movie.  It wouldn’t have surprised me if we bumped into John Wayne or Marshall Dillon.


Nettie won this barrel race when she was just 14 years old.

Vernon and Nettie Fleming own the place. Their families each homestead property nearby in the early 1800’s. They met as kids, walked to the same little one-room schoolhouse and eventually married. That was one heck of a long time ago, and they’re still going strong. In her younger years, Nettie was an avid horseback rider. And also a beauty queen. She was crowned “Miss New Mexico” one year “way back when.” Vernon was a handsome cowboy, a real “catch.” He was a rodeo champ until he was seriously injured and couldn’t compete any more. He then took up photography and went on to take some rodeo action pictures which became pretty famous around these parts, and were widely published in Western newspapers and magazines.


Nettie was “Miss New Mexico” one year, back in the day.

After we sat ourselves at a table and Nettie approached, I asked her, “What are we drinkin’ today?” Without breaking stride and with a sparkle in her eye, she rapid-fire responded, “I’ve got retro-Coca Cola in a glass bottle, diet Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Nesbitt’s Orange, Root Beer, 7-Up, Ice Tea, Water and Coffee.  And I’ll bring you ice in a glass for any of ’em. What’ll it be, cowboy?” Fast answer. Cute. I’m sure she’s rehearsed that line a hundred times!

I ORDERED A DIET PEPSI AND THE GREEN CHILI BURGER. Florence chose a Mexican combo-plate and her usual Coca Cola. But this time the Coke was presented, just as Nettie promised, in one of those old hard-to-find original green glass bottles. Ice cold, ready to pour on the rocks. It just tastes better from an original glass bottle, right? After delivering our drinks, and armed with our lunch orders, Nettie shuffled back to the kitchen to get cookin’. Vernon had “gone to town for some supplies,” she told us. We had the place to ourselves, so while Nettie was fixing our lunch we wandered around the cafe, studying all the photos and memorabilia. Everything came from Nettie and Vernon’s home, including the large pine wood dining table, where all their kids ate three meals a day growing up in this place located between Mayhill and Cloudcroft in the back country of New Mexico. Fascinating. A little depressing I thought, but really interesting. The longer we travel the more I realize how different is my background from so many other folks, and how fortunate I was to have had parents who provided all the opportunities I had as a child.

Local kids are preparing for Nettie's "Colossal Burger Challenge" by ordering "The Thing." It's already on the menu.

Local kids are preparing for Nettie’s “Colossal Burger Challenge” by ordering “The Thing.” It’s already on the menu.

WHEN OUR FOOD ARRIVED, I chatted some more with Nettie and despite her mild objection she agreed to let me take herpicture. Once I got her going, she told me all about the photos on the wall, and then her plans for a new menu item. It’s going to be called the “Colossal Burger,” she said. Three pounds of ground sirloin, a quarter pound of American cheese, six slices of bacon, onions, mustard, mayo, lettuce and tomatoes, to be served on a toasted 9 inch bun. She’s going to charge $35 bucks. If you can eat the whole thing in half an hour, along with the fries which will come with it…no charge. You won’t be allowed to leave the table. No cheating. Successful diners will receive a commemorative T shirt and have their photos placed on the “wall of fame.” Plus braggin’ rights, for sure. This will all begin as soon as the T shirts arrive from the silk-screening outfit. “Sometime later this week,” Nettie predicted. She told me that a few of the local lads are already “practicing,” for the “Colossal” by eating a burger already on her menu called “The Thing.” Take a look at the photo…that’s a pretty good sized burger itself.

WHAT FUN. Americana. Interesting folks. Simple, honest, hard-working Americans. Wish we could be here again after the T shirts have arrived. I’d love to watch one of the local kids compete for the free lunch and a shirt. Someone’s bound to win the challenge, right? Whether it happens or not, I’ll remember the Barn Door Cafe, Nettie and all of her stories. What fun. It’s what our Great American Adventure is all about.

That's a pretty long work-day for Vernon and Nettie.

That’s a pretty long work-day for Vernon and Nettie.

We pulled off the road for lunch at the Barn Door Cafe.

We pulled off the road for lunch at the Barn Door Cafe.


You don’t find Coca Cola in a glass bottle very often any more.

What would you expect to be on TV here? "Walker - Texas Ranger" of course.

What would you expect to be on TV here? “Walker – Texas Ranger” of course.


Nettie cooked us a great lunch at her Barn Door Cafe.

Vernon was quite the catch for Nettie, "back in the day."

Vernon was quite the catch for Nettie, “back in the day.”

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