Waterin’ Holes and Make-Out Points
Every coming of age film ever made features a local speed track, a romantic nook where young couples might park their cars, and a shoreline of some sort where teenagers could gather to celebrate the coming of summer or even just the arrival of the weekend. Carlsbad had all this in spades, and its Baby Boomers, in particular, love to wax nostalgic about where they’d hang out during their formative years.
“Growing up here in the 1960s was just like American Graffiti,” explained Carlsbad resident Larry Coalson, referring to the famous George Lucas coming-of-age film. “Even though we were on the frontier, it was very Middle America. I think we had three Dairy Queens at once!”
Things have changed a little bit for those who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in Carlsbad, but they haven’t changed completely. Some of 2017’s hangouts frequented by today’s teenagers and 20-somethings are surprisingly similar.
Ask some of Carlsbad’s native “old timers” (just don’t call them that), and one of the first places you’ll probably hear about is Fleapicker’s Ditch.
Fleapicker’s Ditch is located on S. Orchard Lane, near the end of the railway switching yard. A small grove of trees surrounds the ubiquitous ditch, which leads into an irrigation canal. A pile of old mattresses and assorted junk has been dumped nearby.
“Fleapicker’s Ditch was the place in the 1950s and 1960s to go and party,” recalled Coalson. “To the best of my knowledge, there was no real outbreak of fleas.”
Coalson had “just arrived” at a party at Fleapicker’s Ditch one night during his high school tenure when things got pretty eventful. “There were a couple fires going,” he admitted. “All of a sudden, here comes every cop in the county.”
He feared the wrath of his parents if caught during the party bust, so he swam across the nearby irrigation canal and crawled through a cotton field. “I wound up on N. Canal Street covered in mud!” he finished.
According to former mayor Bob Forrest, the police officers pretty much recognized every single car when they drove by. “You’d usually see five or six cars out there. They (the police officers) weren’t sure who was in there, but they certainly knew who the owner of the car was,” he contended, speculating that at least a few local marriages may have kicked off following interludes at Fleapicker’s Ditch.
“But I’ve asked quite a few people, and nobody can remember where the name came from,” he added.
Werewolf Hill west of Carlsbad also had a reputation for attracting a rough crowd, but “I didn’t get into a lot of trouble,” Davis maintained. “My dad was pretty strict.”
Other popular destinations with interesting names, according to a Focus Facebook survey, include the Ropes, the Tunnels, Diving Rock, Rocky Arroyo, Hippie Cave, Sitting Bull Falls, Blue Falls (Crystal Falls), the Flume area, Wildcat Bluff, Champion Bay and Rattlesnake Springs, just to name a few.
“Dirt road country…the roads lead to nowhere, but you see heaven on those dirt roads,” declared local resident Buddy Farrar.
Of course, not every teen hangout spot involved a trip outside of the city limits. Dairy Queen parking lots and cruising drew many more participants. Davis said the locale where the North Y Drive-In was previously located was a popular hangout for cowboys. “We called them Stomps,” he reflected. “Down the street where Western Commerce has a bank was a Dairy Queen that was a big hangout for everybody else. All Friday night and Saturday all day people would drive up and down Church and Canal Streets.” The Arrowhead Drive-In at the corner of Mesquite and Church Streets was also a popular destination.
Now located within Carlsbad’s city limits, some of the places were still unsettled back then. There were small caves on top of C-Hill, and the area across from the Flume was called Boy Scout Canyon, featuring untamed springs boiling up from below.
Forrest remembered hanging out on Kerr Hill, located east of town, and visiting with friends near the area that would become Sunset Elementary.
There was also a homemade drag strip north of town near Lake Avalon, according to Coalson, where a quarter-mile stretch was marked off for competitors. “Lots of people went to Lake Avalon,” remarked Davis. “There were flood gates out there, and people would hang around Avalon on weekends.” Davis mentioned that the lake froze one day, and he and his friends could walk across it.
The age of the internet hasn’t completely erased the relevance of hangout spots. Lake Avalon, in particular, still has a reputation for being a popular party destination. However, Davis noted that quite a bit has changed in Eddy County over the past lifespan.
“I remember a guy in Big Dog Canyon, an old man, talking about how when he was a young man there were Indians who lived up there,” Davis confided. “It would snow up there every November and the mountains would remain white through January.”
The more you stay the same, the more you change.