I passed through Sierra Blanca the first time, simply to fuel up as I continued onward to El Paso. I knew immediately I would need to return. My journey is to document Small Town, America and Sierra Blanca was calling my name.
I returned back to Sierra Blanca a few days after my fuel stop and the Garth Brooks song, “Nobody Gets Off In This Town” came to mind. I stopped to photograph the twice abandoned building that was a Train Depot and more recently a Train Museum. Almost on cue a train speeds by – the lyrics continue, “…trains don’t even slow down.”
Sierra Blanca, named for the nearby Sierra Blanca Mountains, boasts a population of 553 as of the 2010 census and despite it’s unassuming demeanor actually has quite a past. South of the town in a canyon about 15 miles away is where General J. J. Byrne was murdered by Apache Chieftain Victorio in 1880. The town has a historical marker documenting the murder, and subsequent dispatch of over 5,000 Soldiers to hunt down and seek revenge on behalf of the General. The markers are located where the only two paved roads in the entire town meet, Bus 10 and FM 1111.
In 1944, Army Air Force crews dropped 10 “practice” bombs on Sierra Blanca. The town has also become the dumping ground for New York “sludge”, beginning in 1992, resulting in unexplained rashes, illnesses and noxious smells. In 2001 the dumping stopped, after years of the local residents fighting to have it end.
Even what appears to be a Visitor’s Center is in disrepair, overgrown and faded.
More recently, celebrities have been the common thread of Sierra Blanca history; entertainers Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Fiona Apple all have had encounters with the nearby U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint resulting in arrests. Nelly’s tour bus was also stopped and one of his body guards was arrested. And on the other side of the law, Steven Seagal is known to help out at the checkpoint as a Reserve Deputy for the Sierra Blanca Police Department.
As fate would have it, as I continued up FM 1111 to make the long loop back to El Paso, the song actually came on from my playlist, “…They can’t drag Main because it kicks up dust. Their cars and their dreams are all starting to rust. The high school dances are always a bust. Nobody gets off in this town.”
Sierra Blanca fades into the distance and I cannot help but wonder if she is the town the song was written about.
Additional photos available: https://www.terriwittphotography.com/Sierra-Blanca-Texas/
Sources and links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Blanca,_Texas https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/welcome-sierra-blanca-texas-black-378842 https://historictexas.net/hudspeth-county/sierra-blanca-texas/ http://www.texasescapes.com/WestTexasTowns/SierraBlancaTexas/SierraBlancaTx.htm