Every second Saturday of September, a town, aptly named Pie Town, springs to life in New Mexico to host their Pie Festival. The event celebrating the crusted creations started in 1980, and the city itself dates back to the 1920s. According to photographer Arthur Drooker in an NPR interview, the town got it’s name from the much-loved pies made at the general store.
I love the odd and interesting. So when the chance came up to join my friends on an 11-hour road trip to this city in the desert, my response was a loud, excited, “Yes!”
Our Destination, Pie Town
Since the festival is always held on Saturday, we got on the road early Friday morning. Because Pie Town is just a tiny blip on the radar (with a population of less than 200), trying to find it at night was a nearly impossible feat.
We checked and double-checked our maps numerous times, driving past the same diner and market on the side of the highway at least five times. It took us about 30 minutes before we realized that the lowly restaurant and market were the town.
It wasn’t until the next morning that we even noticed the Pie Town sign, next to the local law office and U.S. Post Office. Those four buildings were the only visible markers to signal one’s arrival to Pie Town.
Since there were no hotels nearby, we had the added challenge of setting up our tents in the dark. The fact that we had been taking swigs of Jack Daniel’s since we arrived probably didn’t help speed things along.
Finally, after we all drowned ourselves in enough whiskey to make sleeping in a tent with three other dudes on the side of a highway tolerable, we slept.
The Town Truly Exists For Just One Day A Year
For 364 days a year, there is no reason to be here. You’ve got a few buildings on one side including the Pie-O-Neer Bakery (ah, puns), and an extensive clearing of desert trees on the other known as Jackson Park.
But on the day of the Pie Festival, cars line up along Highway 60 and that clearing packs in dozens of vendors selling a large variety of pies, as well as fry bread, burritos, and other treats.
One particularly enthusiastic vendor hosted several raffles throughout the day with a wide array of extravagant prizes including a pony. And, when it came time to announce the pony’s new owner, I was one measly number away from winning. Yes, winning an actual pony. I don’t know how I would have brought him home, but come on. It’s a freakin’ pony. Who cares about the transportation details?
The event coordinators also had a ton of fun games and functions for everyone to enjoy, like a live band, a pie-baking contest, and the magnum opus of the day, the pie-eating contest.
One odd event that caught my amusement was a horny toad race. Horny toads are actually spiny looking lizards, but a bucket full of them is placed in the middle of a chalk circle. Each toad has a number corresponding to their owner and whichever toad crosses the chalk first, wins.
This is an event that needs to be seen to be believed.
Must. Eat. Every. Pie.
Pie. All the pies. Every single pie within reach of you should manage to find it’s way into your belly at some point.
In the downtime in between events, there’s always an army of mothers and grandmothers baking a slew of different pies. The countless number of sweet scents and aromas dancing around the entire festival is enough to plunge you into a never-ending state of deep-dish euphoria.
They promise almost every single pie you can think of, on top of a plethora of pies you’ve never heard of before.
One pie in particular that stood out to me was the “psycho cherry pie." It was a double-crust pie filled with sweet, warm cherries, a thick cherry glaze and shredded chili peppers, topped with a cool lump of vanilla bean ice cream. The bizarre combination of hot, sweet and cold brought long-dead taste buds in my mouth back to life.
Including our meals, gas and souvenirs, the entire trip cost each of us only around $200, making it one of the cheapest, yet most interesting trips I’ve ever been on.
So until the next Pie Festival, I’ll be here, waiting for Cake Town to become a thing.