If you’re driving through the arid landscape of West Texas along Highway 285, heading toward New Mexico, the hot, dry air of the desert might put you into a driving-trance, one of those peculiar times when you last remember passing mile marker 20, but now somehow you’re passing mile marker 50 and have no real memories of the last half hour. Rejoin the world of the living along this stretch of road about halfway between Pecos, Texas and Carlsbad, New Mexico and you will find yourself passing by the ghost town of Orla, Texas.
For the last 50 years, the West Texas wind has been doing its best to blow the remnants of Orla away, but in a true show of Texan grit and determination, the small cluster of buildings at the intersection of 285 and Farm to Market Road 652 refuses to budge. Worn down from decades of abandonment, the eerie remnants of a grocery store, gas station, cafe, and house have been left to slowly return to the land.
Founded in 1890, Orla originally served as a section house for the newly built Pecos Valley Railroad, incorporated by the American Industrialist James John (J.J.) Hagerman to link Pecos, Texas with Eddy (now known as Carlsbad), New Mexico along the Pecos River. Hagerman wanted to connect his railway line with the Texas and Pacific Railway to better local access to larger markets.
The population of Orla remained tiny until World War II, when the town saw its first real growth spurt and the number of businesses increased to two to support a population of nearly 60 people. During the 1960’s oil, gas, and sulphur activity in the area helped to boost the population to an all time high of around 250 people. On the north side of FM652 was Hall Old’s store and grocery, next to the Orla Cafe. The Orla Cafe kept the oil, gas, and sulphur field workers fed daily, and across the street on the south side of the intersection was George Ashby’s Phillips 66 gas station. George’s wife Pearl Ashby ran a liquor store next to the gas station.
Today, the old grocery store, cafe, and gas station sit unused, the wood and metal rotting and rusting their way back into the dry West Texas earth.