Friday, October 29, 2010
Day 122: The Boys of Loco Hills
Maljamar to somewhere in Eddy County. 20.5 miles/2314.9 total
Friday, October 29, 2010
9:35 a.m. I am setting out from the rest area a mile and a half west of Maljamar, headed west on US 82 through the community of Loco Hills, and about nine miles beyond to a spot on the road near the intersection of 82 and Eddy County Routes 210 and 211, a distance of 20.5 miles.
It’s another cloudless day, with a breeze from the south. It’s in the high 50s now, heading up to around 70.
Since I came down off the high plains yesterday, and through Maljamar, the terrain has changed markedly. The plains were flat. Down here it’s not exactly hilly, but sort of bumpy. The land undulates with little hills fifty or so feet in diameter and only a few feet high. There appears to be very little farming or ranching going on here. And the vegetation is different. It’s greener than the plains were, with their yellow grass. There's grass here too, but there are very few cactuses and there’s much more growing than just grass. Sage brush, for one thing, light green and aromatic. And of course mesquite bushes and trees, and also some kind of low-growing shrub-like ground cover with tiny oak leaves. I hope it’s not poison oak, because I just picked some leaves. (Damn, why didn’t I pay more attention in Boy Scouts?) After I check my tree book I see this is probably gambel oak, also known as Utah white oak, which grows as a shrub or a small tree. There's also something that has thin spiky leaves with needles at the ends. Some of the mesquite trees are beginning to turn a golden yellow.
The main feature of the landscape is the profusion of oil wells, those small shallow-well pumps that look to me like busy insects. They’re everywhere amid the little pale red hills, thousands of them, perhaps one on every two or three acres, in a variety of colors—olive drab, khaki, orange, black—and in several sizes. Most of the newer large ones by the road appear to be driven by electric motors, quietly dipping down and slowly pulling up. The overall effect, looking out toward the distant mountains, is of gentle green hills with adobe-colored circles and slashes here and there where the wells have been sunk.
Soon after I start I leave Lea County and enter Eddy County, and the shoulder on the road becomes wider, about enough to accommodate a vehicle. So the walking will be much more comfortable today. My ankles are sore this morning, and I think that’s because of all the walking in the ditch on uneven ground yesterday.
At 11.6 miles I enter the limits of the village of Loco Hills. This place looks a little larger than Maljamar. And I guess this means that the hills I’ve been walking through are the Loco Hills. Loco Hills has the usual scattering of buildings, including a post office and a fire station and some oil and gas-related businesses, most of which are in prefabricated buildings. At the center of the town is Kelly’s Cafe, and I decide to go in.
Before I even get in the door a man who has been standing outside says, “Let this man in and get him something to drink; he’s been walking a long time.” I say he must have seen me on the road and he nods his head vigorously, and says he saw me yesterday, too. These guys drive back and forth between Hobbs and Lovington and Artesia on oil business and see everything.
I go inside and order an iced tea and a piece of pecan pie. The pie is okay, nothing great. Diner food (or dive food, in this case), despite what the guy with the spiky bleached hair would have you believe, is usually mediocre. There are two men at another table, just as friendly as they can be, one an Anglo about my age and the other an Indian of some kind, I think, about 40. They start talking to me about the walk, then invite me to join them at their table. I tell them the whole story, of course. They introduce themselves, but I immediately forget the white guy’s name. The Indian is Joe. Joe runs for exercise, sometimes 30 miles at a time, so we talk about shoes for a bit. He tells me he saw me parked at the rest area outside Lovington Wednesday night and on the roadside last night. I tell him he’s pretty observant and he agrees, grinning.
They’re in the drilling business. I ask them how much oil each of those wells produces, and they say it varies. Some of the older small ones might only produce a barrel a day, but the newer ones might pull up two or three hundred barrels a day. Right now they’re doing something called horizontal drilling, where they go down a few thousand feet then drill out sideways. Business is booming around here right now, and everyone in the restaurant is doing something with oil or gas or the equipment necessary to get them out of the ground. There are a dozen white pickups in the parking lot.
At some point I mention Seminole, Texas, and the older guy says there are a lot of Mennonites there. In fact, he tells me, that huge house that looks like a chateau, some five miles west of Seminole, is owned by the head of the Seminole Mennonites. They’re rich, according to these guys. I mention that I saw quite a few of them at the Walmart in Seminole last spring, and that I thought the women were particularly ugly. “It’s all that inbreeding,” the older guy says. Confirming what George in Snyder said last spring, he tells me they come up from Mexico and they speak mostly German and Spanish. Up here they farm quite a bit. I get a feeling the Mennonites are not viewed at all charitably by the locals. Joe even opined that they might be dealing drugs out of Mexico, which seems like a stretch to me. (Joe also thought the price of cotton was four dollars a pound until I told him it was just over a dollar, so I take what he says about Mennonite dope dealers with a grain of salt.) But there seems to be a mixture of fear and envy of the Mennonites that’s probably a milder version of the chronic European attitude toward Jews.
I make a point of telling them how helpful and friendly everyone has been on my trip. After about twenty minutes they have to get going, so our little party breaks up. As I go to pay the cashier she tells me that Joe, who'd been ahead of me in line, has already paid for my pie. By the time I get outside he’s in his truck and gone. As I walk back out onto the road through the oil fields, with the pungent smell of gas in the air, I feel as if I’m among friends.