Our guest blogger this week is Megan Eaves who grew up in Santa Fe and now lives a world away in Prague, Czech Republic.
It would be impossible to talk about my upbringing without mentioning my grandfather. Mostly, I remember how he was tall and lean and his height was only lengthened by his habit of constantly wearing a grey Stetson cowboy hat. He also wore ostrich skin cowboy boots, brown slacks and a button down shirt, and on special occasions, he donned a turquoise bolo tie, and he always had a cigarette in his hand, but from this basic and very iconic attire he never faltered.
Some of my earliest memories are from the summers my sister and I spent at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother, always the picture of grace and class, would sit, stately, surrounded by fine things and watch soap operas and we would go for adventures in my granddad’s gold and white 1984 Ford Bronco. He loved to take it off road and was convinced that the Ole Bron-co, as he called it in his East Texas drawl, was completely invincible. It would frequently get it stuck in one ditch or another during these excursions and we would have to call for the guy down the road, an explosives expert with a handy collection of John Deere tractors, to come and pull us out.
I wish I could say that my grandfather’s pride and joy was Ermalea, his wife, but really it was his Movie Ranch. Named for him, the J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch was the setting for most of the world’s great cowboy movies and it was the backdrop of my childhood.
I could see the “movie town”, as we always called it, from the bedroom window of my childhood home. It was just across the pasture and, when the movies were filming, the town would be lit up to all hours of the night. If I stood on my back porch, I could hear the shots of blank bullets echoing off the tipsy wooden Saloon and the Independence Hotel, as Robert Duvall and Kiefer Sutherland and Gene Hackman brought to life scenes that cowboy dreams are made of.
While other kids my age were going to see The Karate Kid and listening to the Boys II Men, I was hanging out in the dusty alleys at the movie town, sometimes getting a hammer and nailing down loose planks along the town’s boardwalks and other times acting out dramatic scenes from The Cowboys and Silverado with my sister in the saloon. I knew every nook and cranny and could find my way through the back holes and upper banisters of each cobweb-laden building.
I knew which rooms opened and which were only fronts, and I could spout the history of the town off by memory, just from listening to my grandfather introduce it to the odd visitor who would happen by. The speech always started the same way.
The town was built in 1969 for the Cheyenne Social Club, directed by Gene Kelly and starring Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda…
The town seemed timeless. On those long, dusty summer afternoons, my sister and I would make a game of listening for passing cars and keeping track of the comings and goings of our neighbors. We invented new names for the buildings and each had claim to one of the horse-drawn buggies scattered around the town.
When other girls my age were fawning over Jon Bon Jovi and Michael J. Fox, I was developing an awkward crush on Kevin Costner’s uncombed hair, watching him everyday for nearly a year as he played Wyatt Earp at my movie town.
For decades, two or three times a year, the big white catering vans and equipment trucks would roll in and take over the town with their mic booms and their camera tracks and their star-studded casts, and each time I’d wonder who I’d spot this time. Would it be Kevin Kline? Emilio Estevez or Dennis Quaid? Maybe Bill Pullman or Kenny Rogers or even Willie Nelson? They all graced the movie town with their presence at one time or another and I would always be there, the shy and awkward little girl trailing behind J.W. and blushing when he’d introduce me like a grown-up and expect me to shake hands like a man.
In the later years, the movie business changed and people no longer wanted to watch westerns, so the town fell quiet. My grandfather eventually started opening it up to tourism and private events, which did well enough, but still were nothing like the glory days of two or three movie shoots a year.
In the time thereafter, demons tore through my family and caught us all in a whirlwind of internal strife that we’ve never really healed from, and before we knew it, Papa had passed away and those days were long gone.
I haven’t lived in Santa Fe for years, but when I do go home, I always pass by the movie town, its teetery buildings still somehow standing, though more weathered than I remember them and somehow smaller than my memories do justice. And if I look hard enough, I can still see my grandfather striding gallantly up to greet a newcomer as Gene Autry blares through the speakers. How are you today, sir? They’d address him. Any better, I couldn’t stand it.
About the author: Megan Eaves is a travel writer and gypsy extraordinaire. A native of Santa Fe, she is granddaughter of legendary New Mexico movie tycoon J.W. Eaves and spent much of her childhood around the Eaves Movie Ranch. Megan is the author of Insiders Guide to El Paso and This Is China: A Guidebook for Teachers, Backpackers and Other Lunatics. Now living in Prague, Megan still misses green chile everyday. Visit her on the web at or follow her on Twitter @megoizzy.
If you have any stories about growing up in Santa Fe, we’d love to hear them. Perhaps they can become a guest post on Santa Fe Travelers.