by Michael Farrell Smith
If you’re someone who cares about the history of the mountains and plains east of Albuquerque, you may already know about Carl Webb. You might know that he was born in Mississippi circa 1900, came west coughing blood from tuberculosis to try to heal in central New Mexico’s 300-plus days of sunshine a year, stayed at the Well Country Camp—the Sandias’ first tuberculosis camp, at the end of what’s now Penny Lane, between Tijeras and Cedar Crest—and acquired some land in 1921, around Mile Marker 2 on the west side of North-14. You might know that he somehow healed, that he built on his land cabin after cabin and promoted what he had built as the Cedar Crest Resort, a tuberculosis retreat and campground that, after it got a post office, became the village of Cedar Crest, a community that is still growing to this day.
And, if you know all that, you might also know what an eccentric person Webb could be, riding a cow down to the post office in Tijeras with his pet rooster behind him—a rooster he had made a pet door for in his first little Cedar Crest home, when Webb was at his sickest—dressing up the resort’s animals with his wife, Emma Webb, a schoolteacher, to take amusing photos, and renting out his services as a palm reader. Webb was eccentric, yes, but also ambitious and resourceful: the current owners of what was once the Cedar Crest Resort have noted countless clever innovations of Webb’s all over their property, including drainpipes made of old cans bolted together. And, apparently, in the early decades of the Cedar Crest Resort, you couldn’t drive anywhere in the area or read a magazine without encountering a billboard or an ad that Webb had paid for.
However, even if you know all that, you might not know Carl Webb left a second legacy in the area, this one in Tijeras Canyon—in Carnuel—beside old Route 66.
Tijeras Canyon, of course, is that bouldery V between the jumbled granite slopes of the Sandia and Manzanita Mountains—Tijeras Creek winds west through it, carrying the waters of mountain springs down to the Rio Grande. For many centuries, Native Americans lived along this creek, planting corn in wide bands, and the ruins of their extensive communities are still being studied by archeologists. Tijeras Canyon was also a place through which countless would-be goldminers passed on their way to the California gold fields circa 1849 and through which armed soldiers marched hundreds of Navajo people in 1868 on their way home after their long and cruel imprisonment near Fort Sumner, what’s known as the Second Long Walk.
Tijeras, Spanish for “scissors,” was so named because it is located where the roads and/or canyons cross each other, much like the blades of scissors. Carnuel, also a Tijeras Canyon village, takes its name from a Tewa word for badger. Carnuel was founded by the Spanish way back in 1763 and first appeared on a map by now-legendary cartographer Bernardo Miera y Pacheco in 1779. After its residents petitioned the Crown to abandon the place, following many raids by Apaches and other nomadic Native Americans, it was re-founded in 1819. There is no community quite like Carnuel, a village once featured in a book about cliffside ecosystems, as the village sprawls all over and around the mountains’ cliffs, foothills, and boulders. Even today, with Interstate-40 bisecting it, Carnuel is a unique, picturesque place, but its charm was arguably even more immediate before that, before the popularity of Route 66 destroyed Route 66 by overwhelming it with traffic.
Route 66, you probably know: that famous early highway running from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, “the Mother Road,” “America’s Main Street,” the route west for so many Dust Bowl refugees and early automotive tourists, celebrated in songs, movies, TV shows, and books, a route that replaced a much-more-complicated drive west on smaller roads, and that brought tourist money into almost every community it passed through.
As far as I know, there are only two books that mention Carl Webb’s time in Carnuel—a photo-history book I researched and wrote back in 2006, Towns of the Sandia Mountains (it’s alright, though I’d definitely make some changes if I wrote it today) and Route 66 Across New Mexico: A Wanderer’s Guide, a 1991 book by Jill Schneider, a must-read for any history-minded New Mexican. The latter book provides an invaluable portrait of Carl Webb’s place in Carnuel, on the north side of Route 66, where Tijeras Canyon meets the picturesque Echo Canyon, an area of Carnuel featured on at least one colorized 1950s postcard.
In Echo Canyon, after having sold the Cedar Crest Resort to author Neil M. Clark and adventuring out-of-state a while, Carl Webb re-branded himself as “Spider” Webb, and ran a curio shop there with Emma, in a longish white building, catering to the drivers of Route 66, after its dramatic re-routing through Tijeras Canyon—which is another story worth exploring another time.
In Route 66 Across New Mexico, The Peddler, a perhaps-fictionalized composite of many real people, relays the following to the book’s author:
Echo Canyon, home of old Spider Webb. I remember that man. He had the most unusual tattoo, but it fit him just right. He had a spider tattooed on his left forearm, a red spider in a black web. It looked exactly like the neon sign hanging in front of his curio stand. He drew hundreds of tourists to his place with that flashing sign, it was a little unusual, a little macabre, but not threatening. He had the prettiest jewelry in that shop. He got most of it from Mexico.
I was once lucky enough to meet Webb’s adult daughter, and though she didn’t recall her dad having this tattoo, as we walked among the sites of his life, glimpsing its remaining connections and patterns, I was a happy fly, trembling in the fragile silken strands of the web still in place.
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