Road Trip Report: AZ & NM

(A Drive-In Trip Without So Many Movies)

May 7, 2013 – I just returned a couple of days ago from a whirlwind trip through Arizona and New Mexico’s active drive-in theaters. The most remarkable thing about the trip is that despite my best efforts, I didn’t get to watch a single movie at any of them. Let me explain.

Near the end of every spring, car rental companies want to move some of their inventory from Spring Break destinations to the rest of the US. So they provide killer one-way rates to anyone who might want to drive a car from Point A to Point B. This year, I noticed that Hertz had a great price from Phoenix AZ to Denver CO, home of Carload world headquarters. I only had a three-day weekend for the trip, but I calculated that I could shoot photos at all four drive-ins and make it back by Sunday night. The photos I’ve been using for these theaters’ Carload listings pages were Creative Commons-licensed, and some weren’t even of those theaters. I wanted some of my own photos. I booked a cheap one-way flight and hoped for the best.

Despite flight delays, I arrived at the Glendale 9 pretty much on time. This place is Drive-In Heaven, and I have expounded on that topic in a separate blog post. My experience couldn’t have been nicer, except that I didn’t have time to stay to watch a movie. To keep to my schedule, I needed to be in Globe AZ very early Friday morning, so I had to retire to a room on the far east side of the Phoenix area.

The next stop was the Apache Drive-In in Globe. The assistant manager at the Glendale 9 had suggested that the Apache was maybe closed for good, or it might continue for one more season. Before I left for the trip, my repeated attempts to contact someone responsible for the Apache had resulted in a big nothing. What I found in Globe matched all of that information: the drive-in was intact but very closed, whether just “for winter” or forever, I couldn’t tell. There was a bit of scrub growth in the parking area, but the poles were intact and many had speakers mounted on them. I suspect we’ll know in a month or less whether the Apache will show movies again this season. (Update: The Apache later announced that it would open for one more season, and in August, it was a late entrant into Honda’s Project Drive-In promotion.)

I had to get to the Apache early because it’s a long drive from there to my next stop, Carlsbad NM. (As it turns out, Carlsbad is a long drive from pretty much anywhere.) The Fiesta Drive-In there has stayed open weekends all year, and I had been looking forward to catching a movie there on Friday night. But earlier in the week, I saw a note on the Fiesta’s Facebook page that it would be closed that night to support Relay for Life.

Had the Fiesta been closed for any other Friday? Sure, it had closed on the previous Saturday for prom, but I thought I had dodged that bullet. Oh well. It’s great for drive-in owners to be generous with their time and resources, so I shouldn’t complain. Really, I shouldn’t. I was able to get this unusual photo of a near-empty but beautiful neon marquee, and the next day I got some nice daylight photos against a providentially overcast sky.

Between the evening photos and the midday photos, I had the opportunity to experience Carlsbad Caverns National Park. That has nothing to do with drive-in theaters, but everybody has heard of Carlsbad Caverns and too few have visited. It’s not easy to get to, but I’m already wishing I had more time to spend there.

Back of Fort Union Drive-In marquee, with ticket booth in the distanceThe last stop on my tour was the Fort Union Drive-In of Las Vegas NM. In the weeks leading up to the trip, the Fort Union folks were somewhat active on their Facebook page, giving me hope that they might open for the season by May 4, the night I’d be in town. Nope. The marquee spelled out that it would reopen on May 17. That was on the south side, pointing at the rest of Las Vegas. On the north side it said “OM”. That’s all. I don’t know why. From what I could tell, the Fort Union looked like it was in much better shape to reopen than the Apache looked.

So there I was in Las Vegas (the quieter one) on a Saturday night. What was there to do? Go see a movie! I dropped in to the old-time, single-screen Kiva Theater downtown just in time to watch Iron Man 3, which makes a fine drive-in movie.

Hand-painted Exit sign at the Mesa Drive-In

Hand-painted Exit sign at the Mesa Drive-In

And that was the only movie I was able to see in the three nights of my road trip. On the way home, I stopped off at the Mesa Drive-In in Pueblo CO to get some fresh photos, and that was all. I learned that there’s a whole lot of New Mexico between Carlsbad and Colorado (and between Carlsbad and Arizona), and that all four drive-ins of Arizona and New Mexico are still in good shape. Maybe next time I’ll wait until a little later in the season to visit.

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