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NM trading post remains to greet Carlsbad tourists

Connie Fugate remembers when there were a half-dozen or so trading posts or souvenir shops along the highway between Carlsbad and White's City.

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Connie Fugate remembers when there were a half-dozen or so trading posts or souvenir shops along the highway between Carlsbad and White's City.

They were there because one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country was just south of White's City — Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Now they are almost all gone. The only one left is the Apache Canyon Trading Post, owned and operated by Fugate and her husband, Gerald Fugate.

"Our son talked us into buying this," Connie said.

One of their sons makes decorative pieces styled like American Indian items such as bows and arrows. He has sold them at Apache Canyon since before it came into the family.

Outside, the weathered white stucco exterior and somewhat faded signs give the air of an earlier time, when these tourist stops lined most major U.S. highways.

Inside, there is a bright, shiny space filled with a much larger selection of items than many people expect. There are small, inexpensive souvenirs for travelers of all ages and interests. But the stock of authentic American Indian-made jewelry and pottery is more extensive than might be expected.

The Fugates deal directly with several American Indians jewelers, including Navajos and Zuni. One regular supplier is a Navajo woman in her 80s, Connie Fugate said.

One display case is filled with Kachinas — authentically dressed reproductions of spirit dancers that are native to the Hopi tribe of northern Arizona. The ones for sale here, however, are made by Navajo artists.

The Fugates say they sometimes buy from American Indian artists when they travel in Arizona.

Closer to home, they stock earrings made by a Carlsbad man, U.S. Forest Service employee Sam Fraqua, whose wife is a potter.

In mid-afternoon, a couple of tourists enter the trading post. Mod and Alexander Plank are from Los Angeles. The young couple has just spent two days seeing as much of Carlsbad Caverns as possible. In tall boots, a jacket and a knit hat, Mod admits the temperature here is a little cool for her tastes.

"It was 76 (degrees) when we left California," she said.

They spend several minutes looking around the store, but leave without buying.

The Fugates have been running the business about 10 years, and with both retired, they are able to take an easygoing approach to the operation.

"If we need to take a day off, we do," Connie said.

With just one of their four children living in Carlsbad and 11 grandchildren living elsewhere, the Fugates are highly motivated to travel.

Still, they always come back to the trading post and the lone replica of an Indian teepee that stands at the north end of the building. They know the rhythms of the tourist trade, and they'll be in the store when they need to be.