Road Trip: Sierra Blanca Texas

10:13:00 AM

by Michael Satterfield

Chances are if you have heard of Sierra Blanca, it is in reference to the infamous federal checkpoint that has been stopping drivers on the I-10 since 1974. It's in the middle of nowhere between El Paso and Van Horn, the Feds take advantage of the fact that in Texas anything more than 4 ounces is a felony. This little roadside trap snags about 2,500 people a year, so on a recent trip to Marfa I decided to see what was left of the town that lends its name to the highway checkpoint.

Willie Nelson made Sierra Blanca famous when he was busted for pot in November 2010 and stars like Snoop Dogg, Fiona Apple, Armie Hammer, Nelly and countless of regular folks have all fell victim to the drug dogs nose. Since I am am not a pothead I did not have anything to worry about and was quickly waved through. I exited the interstate and headed into the small town of Sierra Blanca, seat of Hudspeth County, and largely abandoned. The town is so small it does not even have a stop light, almost everything is closed, boarded up, or falling in on itself.

The entire county of Hudspeth has a population of of around 3,300, meaning there is about 0.7 person per square mile, so when I say there is no one around, it is not an exaggeration. It is a sparse and lonely place where the wild desert is only interrupted by an abandoned structure here and there. The city of Sierra Blanca was founded in 1881 at the junction of the Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads, completing the Southern Transcontinental Railroad, in the era of train travel,  it was an important stop.The city was named for the nearby Sierra Blanca Mountains which get their name from the white poppies that grow on them annually.

The only Adobe Courthouse in Texas

The city's other interesting claim to fame is that it is also the worlds largest sewage dump. From 1992 to 2002, the Hudspeth County accepted over 200 tons per day of treated dried sewage from New York City. The whole deal is an interesting story by itself with alleged ties to organized crime and bribery. But basicly for ten years New York city literally shipped its sewage all the way to West Texas. The site, a failed resort called the Mile High Ranch is literally the largest sewage dump on earth. When the sludge dump closed hundreds of jobs also evaporated the cities short period of revitalization declined and the city once again was largely abandoned, today just about 500 people call Sierra Blanca home.

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