North of Humble City to U.S. 82 and NM 238. 17.6 miles/2274.8 total
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
9:25 a.m. I'm trying to get up a little earlier each day. Today I arose at 7:30, and after all the crap I have to do in the morning, two hours later here I am. But it's a half hour earlier than yesterday. Tomorrow, who knows?
Leaving from mile 63 on New Mexico Route 18, about halfway between Hobbs and Lovington, heading north northwest to Lovington, then west on U.S. 82 to just past the intersection of New Mexico Route 238. 17.6 miles total.
It’s clear again, and about 60 right now, expected to get up to about 70. It got a little cooler overnight, which was good for sleeping.
Out in the distance, in addition to the mesquite and other bushes, is an increasing number of little oil wells, which look like praying mantises on exercycles, pedaling slowly. There’s a refinery in the distance.
And there’s evidence that cotton is grown around here, along the side of the road--loose cotton recently picked. I haven’t seen any cotton fields besides the one just inside New Mexico yesterday morning, but they’re out there somewhere.
I found my first money in New Mexico just now. A penny, then a mile later a dime and six pennies. And another coyote on the roadside, so that’s two so far. I did see a couple of things that might have been raccoons, but it was too difficult to tell. Now I just have to visit a cemetery, then I’ll feel that I’m officially in this state.
At about an hour into the walk I come to the Navajo Refinery, which I think is owned by Chevron. I step off the pavement and begin walking on a two-track dirt road that runs right next to the railroad tracks, about 30 feet from the highway.
I stop to sample the fruit of a prickly pear. They’re quite abundant around here, and look as if they’re about as ripe as they get, but I don’t really know. I stab one of them with my knife to pull it off the plant, careful not to touch the little clusters of fine needles that dot the outside. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, the fruits of the prickly pear cactus grow on the edges of the flat spiny leaves of the plant. They range from about the size of a large grape to that of a good-sized plum, and vary in color, when ripe, between bright red and dusky purple. Carefully holding the fruit by both ends I use the knife to peel some skin away. The inside is about the consistency and color of cooked beets, and the juice runs purple down the knife and onto my hand. It stains, but comes off with a little water. I imagine this juice was once used as a dye. I sample it sparingly, because I’ve heard that it is constipating, probably from the pectin. But I don’t know how much that would take. I eat maybe a teaspoonful. It's not very sweet or flavorful, but I don't have anything to compare it to. I think with some sugar it would be pretty good. In the center of the fruit is a mass of seeds that are reminiscent of the inside of a fig, which is probably why the French call the prickly pear the figue de Barbarie, or Barbary fig, since they grow on the north coast of Africa. However, they must have been introduced there, because like all true cactus plants they are native to the Western Hemisphere.
A couple of employees of Navajo Refinery meet me on the dirt road in a red pickup truck. The passenger, a woman, asks me if I’m walking across the country. I say, “How did you know?” She says she thought so because she saw me yesterday in Hobbs. So I tell them the whole story, and they’re appropriately amused, and wish me well. I tell them that if they see me on the road to Artesia to honk and wave.
A string of about fifty gasoline tanker cars sits idle on a siding, waiting to be filled up. I marvel at the graffiti on the sides of the cars, some of it quite imaginative and well done. One intriguing legend says, “They all fear pirates, swindlers, and trixters.” I wonder what far flung places these cars have been tagged in—maybe Denver, Phoenix, Houston, Chicago, LA.
Beside the tracks, beneath the graffiti-splattered cars, is some evidence of fall in New Mexico. The robust weeds—future tumbleweeds—are turning from green to purple, brown, grey and red. When these plants dry up and become skeletons they’ll snap off and begin to roll around in the wind, across the roads, spreading their seeds.
On the outskirts of Lovington I come to a historic marker. It says that Lovington’s elevation is 3,900 feet. Founded in 1908 by Robert Florence Love (who we know preferred to be called Florence and perhaps to dress in women’s clothes), as a farming and ranching community. But the discovery of the Denton Pool after World War Two turned it into an oil town. The population was about 9,500 in 2000.
At 6.7 miles I enter the city limits of Lovington. I am now over one-third of the way through the walk, and it’s a good thing too, because I’m feeling every inch of it (that’s what she said). My legs ache from the knees to the hips, the cumulative effect of yesterday and today, and my back catches when I bend over to tie my shoes, making it difficult to stand up again. I think I’ll double knot these shoes so I can stay upright. But this pain is a necessary part of getting back into the swing of things, and some of the pain never goes away no matter how many miles I walk. So what the hell.
The outskirts of Lovington are long, and it takes me about two and a half miles to reach the center of the city. Downtown doesn’t have a lot to distinguish it—the usual one- and two-story cement block buildings with brick fronts, containing beauty salons, easy finance companies, and more often than not just empty. At the corner of Route 18 and Central Avenue I arrive at the courthouse square. The Lea County Courthouse is a reasonably attractive yellow brick building of two full stories with a smaller third floor set in fifteen feet or so on all sides. It has some nice concrete decorative touches over the doors and windows, representing Indian themes. Inside, apart from the handsome five-foot-high marble wainscoting, there’s not much to distinguish it. I walk around the building looking for a cornerstone, but don’t find one. I’d estimate it to be from the late 1930s.
Across the street to the east is the Lea County Museum, housed in a hotel that bears the date 1918 across the front. Inside I learn that it was bought by the ladies’ guild in 1969 and opened as a museum in 1971. The old guy who is acting as host says they’ve had visitors from over forty countries.
The rooms of the museum are filled with old equipment, appliances, furniture, western regalia. There’s a room dedicated to Max Evans, a local writer and screenwriter, whose book The Hi Lo Country was made into a movie in 1998 starring Woody Harrelson and Patricia Arquette. He had other novels that became movies, including The Rounders, which starred Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda. Photos of Max with the likes of Sam Peckinpaugh and Slim Pickens. Max is a New Mexico cowboy, still alive at 85, living in Albuquerque. But for at least some of his childhood he lived in none other than Humble City, ten miles south of here, which is probably why they have a little shrine to him here. There’s a picture of him in front of Humble City School (long gone now) at about the age of eight.
This museum was interesting in a way that probably appeals to the locals more than visitors, because they might recognize or be related to the people featured in the museum. And of course the Japanese and Europeans, who never seem to get enough of this cowboy stuff.
I head over to 1st Street to visit Papa’s Barn, an antique store. With a name like that I just have to stop. It makes me think of my grandsons. No good knives, though, so I head down for U.S. 82 and start walking west. The thermometer on a sign outside a restaurant says it's 67 degrees.
Now that I have slipped the surly bonds of Lovington I don’t think there’s much between here and Artesia, some 60 miles away. Just open country. This is the point in the afternoon when I usually get out the iPod and listen to tunes or a recorded book.
At 12.9 miles I come to the Lea County Zip Franklin Memorial Airport. Off in the flat distance I see a few small metal buildings and hangars, but there’s not a whole lot to this airport, save the fact that it was dedicated to someone by the zany name of Zip Franklin. It's a lonely piece of real estate over which old Zip presides. Looking around me at the endless expanses of cholla cactus and mesquite and dry yellow grass, I am reminded of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, a portion of which I'll paraphrase:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Zip Franklin, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
This highway 82 is a narrow two-lane road with no shoulder. It reminds me of the road I walked on back in Indiana, down from Michigan City to Lafayette. At least there’s a bit less traffic on this one and the ditch next to the road is dry and fairly flat. I have a feeling I’ll be down in it more often than not between here and Artesia.