Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen

True silence found in eastern NM


I have recently visited parts of New Mexico that have evaded me in the nine years I have lived here.

For the most part, I have concluded most of New Mexico is gloriously diverse in climate and geography and sometimes gloriously, sometimes disturbingly empty.

Only the Rio Grande Corridor, the green strip running down the middle of our huge state’s western half, seems to contain enough humanity to host economic diversity.

Most recently, I have driven through the desert from the pistachio orchards southwest of Tularosa to Las Cruces, where the desert meets the Rio Grande and concentrated humanity.

I can only say I’ve found an area of New Mexico that appears even less hospitable than many of eastern New Mexico’s cattle ranches.

Cows don’t care about human amenities as long as there is either grass or feed available. And in eastern New Mexico there’s lots of grass, so cattle ranches don’t need grooming. The land is wild and often rugged.

In the Southwest, but still east of New Mexico’s Bootheel area that I have not yet visited, the desert is sparsely dotted with bushes and bordered by the mostly bare rock of the Organ Mountains.

Instead of cattle, the desert appears dotted with small compounds having something to do with what seems to be the main activity there, which is launching vertical objects with fins into the air so they can come down and blow up without hurting anyone.

The White Sands Missile Range hosts weapons testing for the U.S. Army and tests of other projectiles that go up and down harmlessly for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

If anything hush-hush is going on for the government here, you wouldn’t know it from the signs that cheerfully tell you you’re in the missile range, the missile turned monument near the southern border, and the water-tank mural that depicts missiles and the Space Shuttle.

Contrast that with Area 51 in the even more barren Nevada desert, which is not announced and is guarded by high fences and nasty MPs with mean dogs.

There is enough going on in the White Sands area, it seems, to give the city of Las Cruces a pretty healthy-looking economy. That, New Mexico State University and the green chili industry.

As in eastern New Mexico, however, the expanses of open space dominate and, to me, the best thing about such spaces, including those in Quay County, is that once in a while you can pause there and learn what silence really sounds like.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:




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