The Cuyama Valley is pancake flat here, miles and miles of green crops alternating with brown dirt all the way to the embracing mountain ranges. Going east, one passes the towns of Old and New Cuyama before Route 166 settles in
for the long dry run toward the junction with Route 33 and the Carrizo Plains beyond.
Farmer’s roads to their fields and farms depart the highway at right angles, some gravel, most dirt. One of these, however, is constructed of cobblestone, perfectly cut stones meticulously and intricately laid to create a road over a mile long and wide enough for two cars abreast. This road leads to something even more improbable, a beautiful Mexican village wrapped around a tree-lined plaza, huge fountain, a beautiful gazebo, and a bullring––all completely empty.
Nothing could be more incongruous within this dry, barren landscape.
A friend told me of it; I never could quite locate it until a recent trip out that way. Even then, I didn’t know I was in the right place until the Jeep rattled alarmingly on the cobblestone road. Except for horses in pens along the way, I saw no other living thing.
I parked the Jeep next to one of the more ornate restrooms I’ve ever seen. Ghost like, abandoned, some weeds and puddles near the entrance, but inside, shiny tile floor, gleaming metal and glass work, running water. Everything functioned perfectly, as if the last user had just left and more would soon appear.
Outside, I faced a stone wall and a fancy stairway. I climbed to the top and looked down into an arena with seating for thousands. To my left, a wide alleyway for horses, bulls, or other four-legged participants; to my right the arena itself, above it the seating rising like a tiara of masonry and fancy stonework. From my perch on the wall, I could see the entire arena. It was empty.
I climbed down the stairs and walked along the great wall of the arena. Beyond it, a tree-shaded plaza came into view. The centerpiece was a large fountain. Around it, stone paths wandered among designer shrubs and long rectangular fish pools. I could see buildings through the trees along the plaza, two-story stone houses with balconies. Yet I was completely alone. I might have called it a ghost village, if it was not too large, too impressive, too well-kept for such a description. It was more “Brigadoon” without the townspeople.
My time was short; forced to drive away, I had to leave this miraculous place scarcely explored. I knew something of the back story from my friend––of the Mexican dishwasher turned successful restaurateur who wanted to build a replica of his home village on 500 acres of land in the dry Cuyama Valley, of his desire to bring in visitors, to host rodeos and shows, until permit woes drove him back to Mexico in despair.
I knew something of the decades of intricate, difficult work to hand build everything in the village, train laborers in the fine craftwork, shape every cobblestone by hand. Later, after some research, I learned more of the man and his project; the details only increased my wonder.
While researching, by sheer, magical coincidence I came across an article in the Santa Maria Sun, a cover feature story published in 2006 in which reporter Craig Shafer tells the entire unbelievable story and of the documentary film currently in the works. You owe it to yourself to read this story.
Late addition: The film on Vimeo