Written and photography by Rob McCorkle
Staycationers now have a unique option that will appeal to vintage travel trailer aficionados, railroad buffs, nature lovers, gourmands, and adventurous souls seeking an excotic destination less than than an hour’s drive from Las Cruces.
Looking to cross an overnight stay in a vintage travel trailer off your bucket list? Hunker down at Ardovino’s Roadside Inn for a well-deserved respite from the daily grind where you can disappear for a day or two in La Frontera’s version of the Bermuda Triangle. But you won’t vanish forever in this Borderland Triangle — an otherworldly patch of hilly chaparral at the confluence of Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas.
Lay your head in comfort inside the cozy Sweet 57, a classic 1957 Spartan Royal Manor travel trailer totally renovated by Robert Ardovino, who began booking guests last September through Airbnb. The Sweet 57 sits atop a ridge in Sunland Park overlooking 35 acres known as Ardovino’s Desert Crossing that since 1949 has been part of the Ardovino family who emigrated from Naples, Italy. “Uncle Frank” Ardovino put the desert outpost on the map when he established a banquet facility, restaurant, and a short-lived gambling parlor on the western branch of the El Camino Real just west of Mt. Cristo Rey not far from the Rio Grande. The original gourmet restaurant — Ardovino’s Roadside Inn — became a Southwestern landmark in the 1950s, touted by the likes of Life magazine in 1957 as one of the nation’s “Famous Roadside Inns,” along with La Posta in Mesilla and Stagecoach Inn in Salado, Texas.
Robert’s father, Joe, took over operations in 1973 after Frank’s death and leased out the restaurant for several years before shuttering it. Robert and sister Marina decided to resurrect the property in 1994, hosting its first wedding in 1997, and slowly opening banquet facilities and the restaurant. Today, guests from El Paso, Juárez, and New Mexico make the pilgrimage to Ardovino’s to enjoy fine European and Italian cuisine. Over the years, the restaurant has played host to movie stars, such as Tommy Lee Jones and Ethan Hawke, countless politicians, and, rumor has it, country music star Patsy Cline. An Instagram-worthy windmill and rock tower overlook the historic adobe restaurant fronted by the popular patio just a short sunset stroll from the Sweet 57. Ardovino’s is open for dinner (noteworthy steaks and pasta dishes) every night except Monday and offers an amazing brunch during the weekends. Cocktails, beer, and wine are available inside the retro Mecca Lounge sporting a cozy fireplace and wall-mounted displays of dice, poker chips, and other gaming paraphernalia. The 38-foot aluminum-clad upscale travel trailer — considered the Cadillac of travel trailers in its day — shares a ridge top offering amazing vistas with the rear third of another ’57 Spartan Manor that contains a bar and facilities for special occasions. Both sit beneath the roof of a small, permanent frame building. Guests sleep in a queen-size bed amid the comforts of home, with satellite TV, a bathroom with clawfoot tub, and adjacent living room/study with hundreds of magazines and books, a small fridge, and French-press coffeemaker.
Charming and comfortable, the vintage trailer with an inviting front porch and a back deck sporting an outdoor two-person soaking tub overlooking the desertscape offers a perfect getaway. “You’ve got to like experiences, something different,” Robert says. “It’s quiet and peaceful out here. You’re within walking distance of what undoubtedly is one of the finer restaurants in the region.” Rock retaining walls and rock gardens, flowering vines, and desert plants lend an oasis feel to the Sweet 57 setting. The most unusual aspect of staying here is the travel trailer’s proximity to the Union Pacific railroad tracks that sit at eye level just 150 feet away. The rumble and clatter of the passing passenger or freight train sporadically interrupts the desert quiet. The hosts have thoughtfully provided earplugs for light sleepers. Overnight guests who appreciate wildlife will enjoy sharing the grounds with scampering roadrunners, soaring eagles, and howling coyotes. Just down the steps and The interior of the Sweet 57 visitors will find a mini barnyard with a goat and chicken coop converted from a 1956 Detroiter travel trailer. Fresh eggs and produce from an on-premise garden lend a sustainable flare to the restaurant offerings. Be sure to stroll down to the rear of the restaurant to check out the artistically decorated wood-fired oven that produces mouth-watering pizzas, lamb chops, and smoke-tinged fare. Ardovino’s offers a nostalgic dining experience in a cavernous room with woodbeamed ceiling, where you can sit in a retro red velvet booth that recalls the post-war 1940s and 1950s or opt for a sleek, wood table. Some diners choose to dine al fresco on one of the brick-covered garden patios, taking in the views or some live music from the outdoor stage. Every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to noon Ardovino’s hosts a farmers’ market centered around a vintage Airstream Trailer.
More than a dozen local vendors offer locally grown produce, leather goods, jewelry, and other handmade crafts. Visitors to Ardovino’s Desert Crossing won’t lack for other diversions within a short drive. Practically on its doorstep is Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Uncle Frank was known to “play the ponies,” sometimes to excess, according to his great-nephew, which he surmises explains the family’s original acreage shrinking from 90 acres to today’s 35. Other nearby attractions include El Paso’s Southwest University Park (El Paso Chihuahuas ballpark), Franklin Mountains State Park (the nation’s largest urban state park), and a plethora of restaurants, antique stores, Mexican furniture, and curio shops along Doniphan Road/Highway 20. If Robert’s creative vision of developing Ardovino’s comes to fruition, future visitors can expect to find a Roadside Inn populated by more than a dozen of Robert’s vintage travel trailers, a boutique hotel, a 100-stall RV park, an amphitheater, expanded banquet hall, orchard, expansive gardens, and more. Robert says this summer he will be bringing two 1954 travel trailers online for overnight guests. No matter what evolves, travelers can rest assured that Ardovino’s Desert Crossing will continue to offer an unparalleled borderland experience steeped in Southwestern lore, courtesy of the visionary descendants of the Ardovino family.
Ardovino’s Desert Crossing
1 Ardovino Dr.
Sunland Park, New Mexico