Our waitress flew around the room like Superwoman. She took orders, bused tables, made drinks and delivered food. She would stop near the door to assure potential diners that she’d seat them in due time, but that it was a busy night.
It was a busy night at Hotel Eklund’s restaurant, the only eatery open on this particular Saturday evening in Clayton, New Mexico. The town looks to have been hit hard by the past several years of the pandemic, with handwritten notes in the windows of several permanently closed downtown businesses blaming state government COVID-19 mandates for their demise. Even the town’s adorable coffee shop is still a drive-through only several years into this pandemic.
A Dust Bowl Road Trip: The Reasons Why
Whatever the truth is, when we arrived in town mid-morning on a Saturday, things were quiet. As we got out at Herzstein Memorial Museum, a lone dog barked from somewhere down the street. The museum is a must when visiting the region and I am impressed with the fact that almost all the artifacts within the walls are original, not replicas.
Dust Bowl Road Trip: The Museum Issue
We grabbed lunch at The Local Hive food truck. The truck operates from the parking lot of the family’s closed restaurant. Be sure to smother your order in red chile. In fact, just get everything edible smothered in red chile in New Mexico. You can thank me later.
There is only one table at The Local Hive, and it was full, so we took our smothered sopapillas to the picnic tables that overlooked the golf course. So, so good.
Pot shops are coming to Clayton, New Mexico, population 3,079 (2020). Indeed, at least one is open, and more are coming as recreational marijuana was legalized one year ago on April 1. There is little doubt that it will be a shot in the economic arm of Clayton, but there is a debate to be had over how helpful marijuana is when it comes to revitalizing a downtown.
Walking around downtown Clayton, I discovered several empty brick buildings that would make excellent breweries; there are none now. Perhaps the Clayton Cantina Brewery or the Lonely Bird Brewing Company. Please give me free beers when I visit should you use one of these names. By the way, the cantina should have swinging doors.
As we moseyed around downtown it was easy to imagine cattle being driven through the town’s dusty streets. After all, the Goodnight-Loving Trail—inspiration for the book Lonesome Dove—passed through this area.
While downtown Clayton was eerily quiet on a Saturday, there is quite a bit to do in the area. I’ve already mentioned the museum and golf course, and following lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring Clayton State Park & Dinosaur Trackways.
Clayton, New Mexico is the Wild West, and the museum is filled with artifacts that support that narrative, but there’s a much older story here, a prehistoric story. As I’ve previously mentioned in Dust Bowl Road Trip posts, Ryan loves dinosaur tracks and there are lots at the park. In fact, it is sort of a must-visit for those interested in that ancient part of the history of the west.
Clayton is just 10 miles from the Texas border, meaning that the park’s lake has been frequented by Texans who’d fish and camp there. However, during the pandemic, the governor of New Mexico forbade out-of-staters from visiting her state (in certain places, state parks, for instance, this rule had to be strictly enforced). I heard, while in town, that this too has hurt the economy of the area.
The historic Hotel Eklund is all dark wood and brick with plants in the lobby. It has that Wild West luxury sort of feel, except there’s an elevator, which was awesome because Ryan had to take the big dog crate to the third floor.
We’d brought a bottle of wine, which we drank while sitting on the hotel’s outdoor patio. I could almost hear the clip-clop of horse hooves, but mostly it was bird calls and the occasional semi-truck passing through on HWY 87 (aka 1st Street).
There are 24 rooms at Hotel Eklund (circa 1800s) along with two dining rooms and a standup bar. Pre-prohibition, bar tops seldom featured stools. Much to my delight, the doors to the bar and dining area are swinging, as they should be in Clayton, New Mexico. Including breakfast and the pet fee, we paid a total of $150.
Back at dinner, we enjoyed drinks as we waited for supper. The restaurant used to serve seven days a week, but in April they had recently reopened after a long pandemic closure. Open on Friday and Saturday nights only, they may have added nights by now, so it is best to call ahead.
Our burgers were solid and the Ek Rolls, an eggroll-style fried chile Rellenos are almost worth the five-hour drive from my house in Northern Colorado.
On an evening stroll with Fritzi, we stopped at the Luna Theater for a bag of popcorn. It’s a darling historic theater still showing movies. This is incredible because many towns and cities have shuttered their historic theaters over the years. Be sure to stop in when you visit and donate to keep this special place going. I can’t find an updated website with movie times, but I know it’s open on the weekends.
Morning at Hotel Eklund meant a breakfast buffet in the dining room. Sunlight streamed in as I dined on excellent green chile quiche and Ryan ate several pieces of homemade coffee cake. He really, really liked that coffee cake! They also served up good coffee. It’s always a treat to taste great coffee on a road trip.
What we saw in Clayton, New Mexico was a beautiful, but quiet and somewhat deserted downtown. However, we visited a fine museum, ate a fine meal, and stayed in a fine hotel. We saw dinosaur footsteps and a roadrunner! We weren’t looking for noise and had no need for hustle and bustle on our Dust Bowl Road Trip.
I do hope, however, that one day, Clayton has a beautiful and thriving downtown. Now, who wants to start that brewery?
Next up, Folsum, no not the prison, and a somewhat new ancient volcano.
What you may have missed so far:
A Dust Bowl Road Trip: The Reasons Why
Dust Bowl Road Trip: Canyon Journeys in Baca County, Colorado
Dust Bowl Road Trip: A Flat Tire, New Tires & Popping Wheelies
Dust Bowl Road Trip: A License to Drink in Texas & A Dust Storm
What a quaint little town! I hope they are able to use money from the pot shops to incentivize some businesses to open. And now I must drive there to get an Ek Roll, although it’s more than 8 hours from here.
Take Walden and stay at Clayton State Park! I think you’d love it. And you can visit so many beautiful places along the way from your area.
I’ve enjoyed these posts . I drive from Colorado Springs to TX 2-3 times a year and pass through all these towns .
Thank you very much! I love reading that.
It’s been interesting to write this and I think I’ve gotten back to my roots as a true explorer and writer.
I love northeastern NM. I used to drive from Cripple Creek to Amarillo a lot and loved that stretch of road from Raton to Clayton. So pretty and open and desolate. Beautiful!
Thanks for reading, Kirk. And yes, that area has a sort of desolate beauty doesn’t it? I can definitely visualize a cowboy driving cattle through this area.
That coffee shop by the RR tracks was our favorite place to stop when we traveled from Colorado to Texas. Many fond memories. Bob
We didn’t go because it was closed on Sunday. I am saddened to see it’s drive thru only still as it gets such wonderful reviews!
Thanks for stopping in HeidiTown, Bob!
A good friend posted this article to her FB page and it was a “must read” for me. My Husband grew up in Clayton and graduated from Clayton High School in 1979. He moved to Albuquerque in 1984 which is where I met him in 1991. Most of his family were still there and we had many wonderful visits over the years until they all moved to South Carolina. But there were still many more visits because my husband had friends there and we loved being in Clayton for the Fourth of July Festivities. The Street Dance the night before, then the Parade, BBQ Lunch, The Rodeo and the awesome Fireworks show! But life events, the Pandemic….. and the best friend my husband had since grade school passing away ended our visits. Which is why I love your article so much. It brought back a lot of good memories! Thank you. 🙂
Great memories, Sheila. Thank you so much for sharing this. And thank you for stopping by HeidiTown.
I am so glad to read that this was a “must read” for you!
My Father was born and raised in Clayton. My parents spent there wedding night at the Elkund Hotel in the1940’s. I lived there till I was five. My family has a long history with Clayton and I will always love the town. Very good memories. Now all my family is in the Clayton cemetery.
What a wonderful history, Marianne! Thanks so much for sharing and for stopping by HeidiTown. You are welcome to stop by anytime!
By the way, I’d love to take a time capsule back to the 1940s to see what the Hotel Eklund was like then. It’s a fascinating property today.
Did your father make branding irons? If so, they were good friends of my family. Thanks for commenting.
I grew up in the Desert Southwest. Lived in the Permian Basin, spent summers in eastern New Mexico spending chunks of time at the fishing holes that my Grandad camped us at. I can appreciate the beauty of that part of the country because to me it’s “normal”. Open spaces -unblemished by foreign light, sound & structures – teach you to see, hear, and feel the life around you. The calm steady pace of that part of the country will either settle your soul or drive you crazy (wind sickness it used to be called). I can hardly wait to retire from the payroll in current South Florida and return home…anywhere there’s elbow room, community in the coffeeshop and actual spaces between towns.
I’ve marked the Hotel Ecklund as a place to visit before I decide where to hang my hat. The area sounds like a perfect place to hang out & wander a bit.
Thank you for temporarily bringing home to me.
Michelle, I think you will like Hotel Eklund. It is a real gem. Thank you for stopping by HeidiTown and visiting from Florida! You will definitely find “elbow room” in the dust bowl part of the country, and you are right, there is a serenity there like exists nowhere else.