An Oasis Becomes a Mirage

The story is a strange one, although set in and around a seemingly ordinary place. 

Its details come from interviews with family members of the people involved, and from Towns of the Sandia Mountains. 

In 1932, husband and wife Raymond and Vera Curtis moved to Tijeras Canyon—the mountainous, boulder-choked canyon just east of Albuquerque—leased an empty rock building alongside Route 66, made some improvements, and turned the little building into a Conoco filling station they named The Oasis. 

Raymond Curtis had just finished serving an approximately fifteen-year-long prison sentence in Kansas for bank fraud— perhaps as the scapegoat for two senior bank officials—and he and Vera were anxious to start over someplace new. 

That “someplace” was The Oasis, and for thirty-five years, from 1932 to 1967, the story of The Oasis was the simple story of a family-owned gas station: a place to buy gas or to pick up a sandwich—a nice, uneventful, little place. 

In 1967, however, bad, final things began happening, and they didn’t stop until almost every single thing in the world of The Oasis had been changed forever. 

In 1967, on a black night choked with rain, Raymond and Vera’s adult daughter Jan was crossing Route 66, from the village of Tijeras to her home behind The Oasis, when an 18-wheel semi-truck roared into her from out of the darkness, slamming Jan into an over six-month-long coma and an over five-year hospitalization. 

Five years. 

During that time, the news came to the Curtis family that a freeway was going to be built through Tijeras Canyon—Interstate 40—and built directly through The Oasis. 

“New highway comes to our door,” Raymond Curtis wrote in a late-1960s Christmas card.  “So guess we are finished.” 

Raymond and Vera abandoned The Oasis, and the vacated building may have been used briefly as a whorehouse before being bulldozed into an arroyo, paved over, and its site turned into just another stretch of a six-lane interstate. 

Around that same time, Jan’s mother, Vera, died tragically.  Vera had consulted the world famous Mayo Clinic about how to lose weight and they had told her to, “Eat a small piece of candy before every meal, and smoke cigarettes.”  One night while Vera was smoking in bed in her house behind The Oasis she fell asleep.  Her lit cigarette caught the house on fire, and Vera was burnt to death where she slept. 

Around 1972, after five years of hospitalization, Jan finally came home.  Her father still had a small house back behind where The Oasis had been, but that was about all.  Jan’s brain had been permanently damaged, and her memory would never be the same again.  Her mother had been burnt alive.  Her father had been left alone.  The business that had been her family’s life was gone.  The canyon that had been her home had been flooded with traffic.  And to make matters worse, rumors proliferated that stolen silver coins from Colorado and expensive diamonds owned by her mother were somewhere in the ashes of the old house, and treasure hunters from all around came to ransack what was left. 

The Oasis is gone now—just a slow curve west of the freeway’s exit to the village of Tijeras, but Jan is still alive, still troubled by memory problems, and living in Albuquerque. 

When she thinks about The Oasis, or of how everything went so wrong—so bizarrely, horribly wrong—she inevitably grows melancholy. 

“It was so beautiful up there, and then…you know…?” 

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