Andrew Stuart is the poster boy for the "next best place." Raised in Austin, Stuart lived on both coasts before falling in love with West Texas. He spent two years as a reporter for the now-defunct Desert-Mountain Times in Alpine and three years as the news director at Marfa Public Radio. In 2009, he moved to Dell City, a Chihuahuan Desert farming community with little but a mercantile, a gas station, and two cafés. It's a place once described by The New York Times as a "borderline ghost town." But factor in the Guadalupe Mountains—the area's primary tourist attraction, rising 20 miles to the east—and the feeling that you're out in the middle of nowhere, and it's easy to see Stuart, 44, has found his place. "I knew I wanted to live in the desert by myself, a go-west-and-reinvent-yourself kind of thing," he explains one morning over breakfast tacos at Spanish Angels Café. "The writer Marilynne Robinson said, ‘Out west, lonesome is a positive.'"
"The view of the Guadalupes is one of the most beautiful in Texas. There's 5,000 feet of relief from Dell City [elevation 3,700 feet] to Guadalupe Peak. The sunsets—there's no repetition. For people who've lived here most of their lives, that mountain is a big part of what they love. You go into old-timers' houses, they paint the mountain. I'm not a painter, but that hasn't kept me from trying."
Within 45 minutes of Dell City, visitors can explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park, home of the state's tallest peak, the sandy basin of an ancient salt lake, and canyon forests known for colorful fall foliage.
"Water was discovered by oil prospectors in 1948. The site sits atop an aquifer that recharges with runoff from the nearby Otero Mesa and Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico. So people saw their chance. A hundred people came here from elsewhere in Texas and New Mexico and got small farms and built a town. It's so new, you don't have any great 19th-century architecture. There are some nice adobe buildings, but it's a different history, sort of a belated frontier."
"You show up; they size you up. Then people start asking you to do things. For seven years I wrote for the Hudspeth County Herald newspaper until it was sold. I write the weekly Nature Notes program for Marfa Public Radio. I'm the public information officer at the Dell City School. I put out the school newspaper, do the school's website, oversee the yearbook, and teach guitar. For a couple years I was chairman of the county fair board. I sit on the boards of the Emergency Services District and the Texas Mountain Trail."
Ebb and flow
"The newspaper moved 100 miles away. My friend Bonnie Larreau died in December 2017, and the Sheep Herder Bar she ran closed. People have urged me to reopen the bar, but I don't know… But there are signs of new people and new ideas. Chile pepper growers from the Hatch and Mesilla valleys are leasing land, drawn to the more dependable water, and others are growing alfalfa. Laura Lynch [a descendent of an early farming family] has bought up many of the vacant buildings in town, renovated them, and rents them out on Airbnb. She's done a beautiful job."
"Locals see each other all the time. There is a certain claustrophobia to it. It's important to learn to wave and smile at everybody. If you don't acknowledge someone as you pass, very quickly people are going to decide you have a bad attitude. You've got to pick your battles in terms of getting into arguments about politics. And show up at the local sports events, the county fair. This is my home, but it's also my base for nomadic activities. One long weekend a month, I'm wandering around some part of the Desert Southwest."
Dell City Trivia
Year Founded: 1948
Nearest City: El Paso (90 miles west)
Marquee event: Dell Valley Hudspeth County Fair