Mexican Hat: Beantown, USA

Can you spot the Mexican hat? Photo by Erika Ayn Finch.

Mexican Hat, Utah. If you sneeze as you are driving through it, you will miss it. For that matter, if you sneeze while trying to locate it on a map, you will miss it. They say that Barstow is the armpit of California and, if that is true, then Mexican Hat must be the butt crack of Utah. Why I ever thought it would be fun to spend the night in such a place is beyond me. The year was 2000, and I was trying to break up the drive from Moab to the Grand Canyon. Mexican Hat, on the banks of the San Juan River, fell halfway in between. Besides, as I made the reservation I reasoned, how could I pass up a town with such a curious name?

We stumbled upon Mexican Hat’s namesake just north of the town limits: an oddly shaped, rather small, rock formation jutting up from the surrounding red cliffs. Apparently the founders of Mexican Hat thought the protrusion looked like an up-side-down sombrero, but they decided to be clever and call their settlement Mexican Hat instead (either that or they weren’t too keen on the idea of their town having a Spanish name, as evidenced by the high concentration of pure bred white folk residing in Mexican Hat).

Daniel and I made our way carefully to our motel — one of only three motels in the entire town. Lucky for us, ours was in the center of town, right across the highway from the hustle and bustle and pulsating nightlife of the Stop-N-Go. Wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, we walked into the motel lobby, which obviously also served as the owner’s living room. The carcasses of stuffed animals stared at us from wood-paneled walls, their glass eyes begging us to release them from taxidermy hell.

A craggy old woman came out from the back room and took all of our information. Evon was her name, which I remembered from making my reservation a few months earlier. When I had asked for a confirmation number for my room, she had snorted and claimed her name was confirmation enough.

Behind Evon was a large framed sign that proudly boasted: “Charlton Heston is My President.” A chill went up my spine as I thought of the unfortunate animals whose eyes I could still feel boring into my back. At the same time, I had to suppress my laughter. Who were these people? Charlton Heston? At this time, Clinton was serving his second term in office, and I could only imagine how much that pissed off Evon.

She handed us our room key as Daniel tentatively inquired about a place to eat in town, obviously contemplating a dinner of Snickers and Snapple from the Stop-N-Go. She informed us that she ran a little restaurant outside on the patio that opened “about the time it gets dark.” She warned us health-conscious Californians that they only served beef. Daniel was getting into the act now, and he felt the need to inquire whether or not it was “local beef.” She looked at us as if we had just asked about the religion of Brigham Young. “It’s all local,” she barked and with that bit of knowledge, we made our way to our room.

We found it on the second floor of the motel complete with a lovely view of a dirt field and a broken-down swing set. The first thing we noticed was that there was no door to our room, just a sliding glass window… that was unlocked. We opened the window apprehensively, wondering if housekeeping was still in the room. That’s when we noticed that the slider locked with a Master Lock. I remembered a commercial boasting that you could not even shoot a bullet through a Master Lock, and I decided that Evon’s president was surely proud.

Admittedly, the room was clean, even if it hadn’t been redecorated since 1973. (I was especially fond of the swinging lamp above the bed with its plastic cord and burnt-orange lampshade.) ‘Round about time the sun started to set, we made our way down the backstairs to the patio where a large barbecue was already cooking massive slabs of beef. (No vegetarians in Mexican Hat, I would bet on that.) Served on tin plates, we were fed a small salad, a huge helping of pinto beans, a roll and about a quarter of a cow each. All of this was served by a young man who looked as if he had just finished touring with Willie Nelson, complete with the oversized cowboy hat, Wranglers three sizes too tight and boots that were made out of some sort of endangered species. Daniel was enjoying the atmosphere entirely too much, and he felt the need to call Willie Nelson’s roadie over to our table to request another helping of the “wonderful beans.” This tickled the cowboy as if the beans were his own personal recipe (which they very well could have been). “Sure, Buddy! I’ll bring you some more beans,” he exclaimed, much to my dismay, being the woman who had to sleep with Daniel that night.

After running across the street to check out the scene at the Stop-N-Go and buy some ice cream, Daniel and I decided to call it a night, and we headed back to our room to watch one of five channels that came in on our mini T.V. Fearful of being fed another cow for breakfast, we snuck out of Mexican Hat early the next morning, leaving the key in a box outside Evon’s living room/lobby. Hopefully we didn’t wake up the neighbors with our laughter as we drove out of town because unbeknownst to us, this would not be our last experience with Mexican Hat… To be continued.