ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Reasoning that you never know what you’re going to find unless you go looking, Bridget Harrington and Michael Moore have devoted every weekend for the past year traveling the backroads of New Mexico, seeking out the lonely spaces, the beautiful stretches and the forgotten places in the state.
They have driven about 60,000 miles, journeying from Ancho to Yeso, from Alma to Zia Pueblo, from one end of the state to the other.
Up north in Rio Arriba County, they found a museum of travel and gas station paraphernalia in Embudo and discovered a huge tower constructed from old computer and TV parts, sheet metal scraps, stones and other stuff in El Rito.
They came upon a herd of colorful burro sculptures spaced along a street in Carrizozo down in Lincoln County and stopped at a former Catholic church being converted into an inn and event center at Rodey in Doña Ana County. And they have been to lots of ghosts towns.
“There are 415 ghost towns in New Mexico,” Moore said. “But two of them are under Navajo Lake (San Juan County), so we crossed them off the list – unless we take up scuba diving.”
Harrington and Moore share their travel adventures, via photos and written accounts, on their Dust on the Lens blog (photoblog.com/enchantedbyways) and people can also follow them on Instagram (enchantedbyways) or Facebook (N.M. Byways).
“We hope that we inspire people to get out and explore,” Harrington said. “This is the most culturally rich state I’ve ever been in.”
Harrington, 49, a Connecticut native, moved to the New Mexico in May 2017, but she said work and vacation had made her a frequent visitor over the years and she has long been infatuated with the state. Ten years ago, she had a Zia symbol tattooed on her left wrist.
Moore, 55, grew up in Washington, D.C., the son of a National Geographic photographer, but he spent part of his youth in Los Alamos and returned to New Mexico three years ago after 34 years in San Diego.
The two met through a Facebook group for people who love New Mexico and discovered their mutual passion for history and photography. They hit it off right from the start, which is good because they often spend as much as 16 hours together in a car on their weekend wanderings.
During the week, Moore works in sales and Harrington in marketing, so their traveling is restricted to weekends. They meticulously mark out routes they have traveled on a New Mexico map, but they admit they sometimes set out on a Saturday morning with no destination in mind.
“We just get in the car and go somewhere,” Moore said. “Some of our best trips are not planned. But the idea is not to be on the same road twice.”
“We can be in a car for six hours and not see anybody,” Harrington said.
“And we can get out of the car in some places and there is complete silence,” Moore said.
Sometimes the experience can be unsettling, such as the time they explored an abandoned house in Cuervo, 18 miles northeast of Santa Rosa.
“We were in this old house east of the church,” Moore said. “It was the middle of the day, in broad daylight, cars were going by on I-40. But we heard noises, felt like we were being watched.”
But more often the experiences are rewarding. Moore thinks U.S. 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras is the most beautiful drive in New Mexico and that the Valles Caldera in the Jemez Mountains is the most beautiful place on Earth.
Harrington loves the landscape and the native history of Bandelier National Monument and the colorful murals, painted by school children, on buildings in Mosquero in Harding County.
The most seductive part of their ventures is the possibility of the unexpected, the chance of surprise.
“We came across a house between Clovis and Portales, out on the plains with nothing else around,” Harrington said. “It was a back-east house, a gingerbread house.”
They stopped to explore, and as Harrington approached the house, she heard something.
“Suddenly, about 12 deer ran out of the house,” she said. Taken off guard, and perhaps shaken, they only managed to click off one photo of a single, straggler deer.
“Every week is a new adventure,” Harrington said. “You don’t know what you’re going to find or who you’re going to meet.”