The drive through southeastern Arizona and along the U.S. border with Mexico in southern New Mexico brings with it numerous reminders of the Wild, Wild West. That’s especially true if you grew up watching Westerns on television. Depart Bisbee, Arizona, southeast bound on Arizona 80 to Douglas, Arizona. From Douglas, continue northward on Arizona 80 (formerly U.S. Route 80) into New Mexico, where the highway becomes New Mexico 80. Shortly after passing into New Mexico you will find yourself at the intersection for New Mexico State Road 9, which will ultimately lead you to El Paso.
What, you may ask, is so special about this route? The answer is simple: For the most part is parallels the old El Paso and Southwestern Railroad line (also known briefly as the Arizona and South Eastern Railroad), and in some stretches of New Mexico 9 the road is actually built atop the old railroad grade.
Not only will you see signs of the long-abandoned rail system, you’ll also find alongside what appears to be many of the Old West telegraph poles that accompanied the line — beautifully preserved in the hot, dry climate of the Chihuahuan Desert. Many poles not only retain their glass insulators, but some even have remnants of telegraph wire hanging from them.
Now for a bit of television history:
- Southeastern Arizona is High Chaparral country. The mythical cattle ranch of Big John Cannon was supposedly not far from here — about midway between Tucson and Tombstone — but the series also dealt with Cochise , Gernomino, and their Chiricahua Apache tribe. That would appear to place the High Chaparral Ranch much closer to the Dragoon Mountains than to either Tombstone of Tuscon.
- If you watched The Rifleman (by far the best of the old, thirty-minute, black-and-white Westerns of the late ’50s to early ’60s), then you might place the fictional North Fork, New Mexico somewhere near Santa Fe in the north of that state. That’s unless you’re paying attention to other references made during the series — references frequently made to southern New Mexico towns such as Las Cruces, Silver City, and Lordsburg. that would place North Fork much closer to the U.S.-Mexican Border in the extreme southern half of the state.
So, what does High Chaparral and Rifleman country look like? It looks a bit like this (click on an image to bring up an album of larger versions):