Quirky New Mexico
Tiny Town – Art That Dies to Live (no longer there)
New Mexico’s Big Bird
Boasting 350 days of sunshine per year and a history that dates back some 4,000 years, Las Cruces, New Mexico has become a popular southwestern destination, offering a number of events and attractions.
That being said, one of its most distinctive attractions is a giant roadrunner, crafted entirely of trash, that beckons a warm welcome to visitors at a rest stop on I-10 about ten miles west of Las Cruces. This whimsical statue, made entirely from junk retrieved from the city dump, was built in 1992 by artist Olin S. Calk.
Standing atop a hill overlooking I-10, the roadrunner, representing New Mexico’s state bird, can’t be missed as she stares endlessly across the fertile Mesilla Valley at the majestic Organ Mountains across the way. This giant bird, approximately 20 feet tall and 42 feet long, was actually built at the city dump, until it closed several years ago. The city fathers, wondering what to do with the larger than life sculpture, made an excellent decision when they decided to move it to the roadside stop in 2000.
This large bird, touted as the world’s largest roadrunner, has a belly created with old shoes, with other parts of its body sporting everything from office fans, to computer parts, to children’s toys.
The rest stop and big bird are on the south side of Interstate 10, about ten miles west of Las Cruces between mile markers 134-135.
Las Cruces is located in the Mesilla Valley in south-central New Mexico and is the second largest city in the state (yes, larger than Santa Fe).
Snakes Alive in Albuquerque
These days there is pretty much a museum for everything including this Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque’s Old Town. Tucked away among the galleries and boutiques, this museum might be small, but it’s certainly big enough to be called home to over a hundred rattlesnakes of more than 30 different species.
Included in this diverse collection are exhibits of snake science, snake culture, snake art, and snake mythology right along side the creepy crawly critters themselves. And if that isn’t enough, the snake gift shop offers all manner of rattlesnake gear, t-shirts, fangs, skin, books, and more.
Though this particular traveler finds it extremely high on the creepy scale, director Bob Myers says that there are actually very few people that balk at the entrance or refuse to go within striking distance of the snakes-behind-glass.
Myers conceived of the idea with two objectives – to help people overcome their fear of rattlesnakes and to educate them on the influence these snake have on our lives.
The snakes represented come from all parts of North and South America, each housed in a vivarium with natural “furnishings” native to its environment.
As visitors move down the corridor, peering at the snakes, many of the creatures greet their arrival with a steady buzz of rattles at work, coming from such species as the canebrake, northern blacktailed, desert sidewinder, tiger rattlesnake, and many, many more more. These crawly critters also come in a variety of colors, from green, to pale-yellow, to black, gray, and albino.
When you’ve had your fill of the “real” thing, you can also check out a collection of snake beer, snake flags, snake photos, snake games, snake jewelry, snake kits, snake pottery, ……. It’s endless, but not snakeless!
Myers, a former biology teacher, says he has enough snake stuff to fill a building ten times the current size of the museum and hopes to expand one day.
202 San Felipe NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87104-1426
Tiny Town – Art That Dies to Live
(Tiny Town no longer exists, but we wanted to keep its memory alive for those who’ve seen it). Not so long ago, just north of the ghost town turned artist colony of Madrid, sat an unusual array of bones, discarded toys, bottles, old cars, and other cast-off material that a local artist had created on an acre of the Lodestar Ranch.
As you entered this quirky exhibit, a sign proudly displayed “If it isn’t broke, dead, or rusted, well I just can’t use it.” As the sign implies, a short sojourn through this roadside display turned up all manner of strange displays in this ever-evolving miniature ghost town.
Created by Tammy Jean Lange, known familiarly in the area as Tatt2 Tammy, for her years as a tattoo artist, her specialty was creating art from “road kill.”
Atop an old trailer, painted to look like it’s made of brick, sat a chopper motorcycle made of bones and old bicycle parts. Hanging on metal poles and wooden stumps, more collections of bones, antlers, and skulls can be found by the curious traveler.
Lange actively searched for road kill as a source of bones, so much so that she encouraged area locals to alert of new finds, which she used for her most “special” art. When alerted to a new “find,” she was happy to retrieve the animal carcass which she then buried so it could decompose, later digging it up to clean and bleach the bones.
Earlier reports by travel writers describe this acre as having its own saloon, church, courthouse and jail; rivers made of broken glass, and roads made of tarpaper, complete with yellow lines. However, when Legends of America visited, there was little sign of the acre of haphazard material resembling a town. Perhaps this is because several years ago an art scout came upon Lange’s town and arranged to have much of it boxed and shipped to the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
Evidently, this was the jumping board for success, as the artist now sells many of her creations in local shops. We were told by a reader in 2015 that Tiny Town went away sometime after our visit in 2006. For many travelers through this part of New Mexico, Tiny Town sticks in our memories of quirky road fun that once was.