Exploring the Land of Enchantment on Horseback

For Ken and Delma Simons, experiencing the great outdoors has become a lifestyle. As the couple settles into retirement they are able to dedicate their energy to exploring the scenery and rich history that the southwest provides on horseback. For them, it is a fresh season of life that allows the time to travel to new places and experience new adventures.

 “We have enjoyed the great outdoors together for 30 years," they said. "It's not just about the destination; it’s about the planning and preparation, wandering the miles together and collecting memories with the friends we make along the way.” The Cactus Club, made up of great friends the couple has made across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, is a rowdy mix of horse-loving baby boomers. The group coordinates several trail rides throughout the year where they ride the trails together, exploring the landscape and culture of each destination and gathering every night for a meal and campfire songs.

As a child, Ken rode every chance he had and always wanted to own a horse. He begged his dad to buy him one but was told he would have to buy his own horse when he was able to afford the horse and pay for the feed. Ken never lost his dream of owning horses, however. He proudly bought his first horse in 1994 and began trail riding shortly after.

Delma was reluctant to ride along on Ken's trail rides; a childhood accident left her fearful of ever riding horses again. With Ken’s encouragement and her sure-footed palomino horse Huero, she regained her confidence and has been trail riding ever since.

Ken and Delma currently ride matching buckskin Missouri Fox Trotters named Paladin and Bella. They travel to many beautiful trail riding destinations, pulling their 39-foot living quarters trailer with Paladin and Bella on board. Over the years they have ridden in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona; Monument Valley, Utah; Mount Rushmore, South Dakota; the National Sea Shore; Padre Island and Big Bend in Texas and many other trail riding destinations across Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona. 

While those destinations are all great places to ride, New Mexico, with all its public lands, has some of the best trail systems and horse friendly campgrounds in the nation. White Mountain Wilderness, Gila Wilderness and Pecos Wilderness are all nationally known trail riding destinations. “We are blessed to have these and many other recreation areas located in our great state," Ken admitted. "Go out and enjoy them.”

White Mountain Wilderness is located north of Ruidoso and can be accessed from the Argentine/Bonito Trailhead west of Bonito Lake. The horse campground is located at the trailhead and offers pipe corrals and vault bathrooms. The Runnels Stables are nearby if someone wishes to rent horses. For spectacular views of Carrizozo, Valley of the Fires and White Sands, Ken suggested riding the Crest Trail.

The Gila Wilderness, located in the Silver City area, has miles of trails and a horse camp called Woody's Corrals. The camp is located near the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center and has pipe corrals, vault bathrooms and water for the horses. Many of the trailheads begin at Woody's Corrals Campground. Visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings is also an added attraction. Ken and Delma rode one trail there that crossed the Gila River 29 times.

One of the most spectacular places where Ken and Delma ride is the Pecos Wilderness located 27 miles north of the village of Pecos. Jack's Creek Horse Campground is located at the point Highway 63 dead ends and the trailheads into the wilderness begin. The only way to travel past Jack's Creek Campground is on foot or horseback. The trails lead to high mountain lakes and up mountain peaks over 12,000 feet high. This destination is best for experienced riders and horses.

Another of Ken and Delma's favorite places to ride is at the Fort Stanton Recreation Area between Lincoln and Capitan off Highway 380. Over 60 miles of trails on 25,000 BLM-controlled acres are in the recreation area. The actual fort has been restored and is located a few miles south of the horse camp on Highway 220. For a rich New Mexico history experience, visit the museum and tour the grounds of the historic fort.

 Most hike the Land of Enchantment on foot, some whiz the trails on bike and others may journey horseback. Whatever your preference, the scenic Southwest provides a diverse landscape that allows you to experience the trail at your own pace. Most of the trails described above are open to hikers and sometimes mountain bikes; just follow the etiquette sign at each trailhead.


By the Way

Out-of-the-Way Lea: Places Not to Miss in the County

Dozens of out-of-the-way geographic, cultural, and historic places in Lea County await a vigilant observer or curious sightseer wanting to know the county like the back of his or her hand or just looking for an interesting experience on the weekend.

A century ago, ranchers and settlers came here in search of free or inexpensive land, resulting in the creation of so many communities or schools or churches during the period. The sites of those communities offer a moment to jump back in time.

As an example, the little community of Plainview was located 15 miles northeast of Lovington, a couple of miles or so south of what is now McDonald. It began in 1907, and residents had high hopes of the community becoming a major town in the region. The next year, Lovington was formed with a store and post office.

At the high point in its history, Plainview had a newspaper, several stores, a school, dance hall, hotel, skating rink and cotton gin. Photos show cars and wagons filling the street. The post office existed from 1907 until 1930; by then, hardly anything was left of all the town stores and homes.

You can get close to the site of the town south of McDonald on the caliche Enterprise Road on the east side of State Road 206.

Plainview is now abandoned, but a second location to see is very much alive. For residents wanting to drive no farther south than Jal, the tallest and fattest mesquite tree in probably all of Lea County is the place to go.

This one mesquite in Lea County stands out above all the others across the several hundred square miles within the county lines. Located a mile north of Humble City on Highway 18, which runs between Hobbs and Lovington, the tree is on the east side of the road.

It’s some 25 feet in height with branches of maybe 10 feet in length circling it from about head high to its top. Despite its thorny coat, cattle keep branches from growing lower than where they can reach up to eat. If you happen to be driving along 18 at sunrise and look to the east, you are likely to see some of the tree’s grandeur flush with a curtain of red sky as its backdrop. At that time of day, it looks as if it is ready to take a bow for being so grand in the morning.

The mesquite has a mixed reputation in much of the Southwest, with the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California being the mesquite’s U.S. headquarters. Ranchers hate mesquites, but cooks love them. Rural homeowners loathe them in their yards, but they love them in their fireplaces where they generate the hottest fires.

Mesquite smoke carries one of the great aromas of the outdoors, although like the taste of particular wines, the scent takes some getting used to. To a beginning builder of fires, mesquite smoke may smell too much of the soil, its earthy aroma initially a put-off. To others, the smoke from a mesquite fire can be intoxicating, prized for its overly earthy odor.

The tree should be a destination for everyone living in Lea, and I am thinking about requesting the County Road Department to blacktop a gawker's pullover area just off the east side of Highway 18. Perhaps we could even have a Scenic Pullout sign for the location.

Let’s call her Big Mother Mesquite and let the county commissioners designate her a natural historic site, because she has been here for a long time, perhaps as long as the county now celebrating its centennial.

There are dozens of interesting places to see in Lea, but the abandoned town of Plainview north of Lovington and the mother of all mesquites north of Humble City are two good places to begin.


Teacher Feature: Bernita Smith-Payne

Focus on Carlsbad (FOC): First of all, please give us a little bit of your professional bio. How long have you been a teacher and where have you taught? Where did you go to school? 

Bernita Smith-Payne: I have a master’s degree in education administration from New Mexico State University. I have been in the Carlsbad Municipal Schools system for 21 years. Within that time period, I served as principal at Emmitt Smith Elementary and Pate Elementary for a total of four years. Additionally, I was the night school principal for one year. The remainder of my tenure with the Carlsbad Municipal Schools has been spent as a teacher and/or gifted facilitator at the middle school level.

FOC: Why did you decide to become a teacher?  

Smith-Payne: Both my parents were educators, so as fate would have it, I didn’t have much of a choice. In my younger years, I didn’t think I wanted to be an educator, so I entered the world of business. When I came back to Carlsbad to take care of my father, I realized that getting into the school system would be a good thing for me. I’m really glad that I’ve had the opportunity to teach. Now that I’m a veteran teacher, I have some of the children or grandchildren of students I had many years ago. That’s exciting! It also makes me feel great when former students tell me that I had a positive impact on their lives as they went through the process of becoming adults and parents.

FOC: Tell us a little bit about your family. 

Smith-Payne: I’m an only child. I have two adult children and two adult grandchildren. My family moved to Carlsbad in 1946 when my father, Dr. Emmitt M. Smith, was hired to be a coach and a biology teacher at Carver School, which at that time was segregated. The school was located where Furr’s Cafeteria used to be. My mother had the credentials to teach—she had a B.A. in library science from Spelman College. Unfortunately at that time, husbands and wives were not allowed to teach in the school system simultaneously. As an alternative, she opened a day care center for the working mothers in the neighborhood. Many adults today still talk about how she taught them some basics at a very early age and that when they entered the first grade, they were well prepared. After Carver School we relocated to New San Jose, and my dad was given credit for helping to integrate the schools a full year before the Brown vs. Board [of Education] of Topeka case. He wasn’t the only one involved, but as you know, when there are major changes, one person is chosen as a spokesperson. That’s what happened to him. By the mid '70s, Carver School had been torn down, and a new school had been built. It was named Southridge. When the late '80s arrived, Dad had retired, and Southridge’s name was changed to Dr. Emmitt M. Smith Elementary! It was an exciting time for my family. When I was growing up, my father was my principal for the first six years of school. Later, he was principal to my children for two years. As the legacy continued, I taught both of my grandchildren in middle school!

FOC: What are your hobbies and interests?  

Smith-Payne: My hobbies are reading, writing, trying to figure how a plot is going to develop, AND…interacting with students to help them become more productive. I was part of a pilot speed reading class while I attended Carlsbad High School (which is now P.R. Leyva), and I read quite rapidly. I challenge my students and myself about how fast books can be read, and personally I try to determine how the plot is going to end. I also enjoy public speaking from time to time. I enjoy the students…but sometimes they can be a real challenge!

FOC: What classes do you currently teach?  

Smith-Payne: This year I’m teaching seventh grade New Mexico history. I’ve taught language arts, New Mexico history and U.S. history. My enjoyment of social studies and language arts is equally balanced. I really like both disciplines.

FOC: What changes have you seen to the field of education over the past ten years? 

Smith-Payne: There has been a great push for students to read and write better by a certain grade. There has also been a focus on preparing students to be able to compete for jobs in the 21st century. I’ve also noticed a demand for more reporting systems and more contact with parents about their children’s progress or the lack thereof. Special education has evolved into a very diverse, dynamic segment of education. 

FOC: What changes do you anticipate will happen in the future?

Smith-Payne: I foresee more technology in the classrooms beginning at first grade and continuing throughout high school. I also predict that there will be more schools opened to accommodate students who can move through school at varied paces, in lieu of “standard” classes.

FOC: What’s the best part about teaching?  

Smith-Payne: When I hear students explain a concept that I’ve taught then extend it by using critical thinking, I GET OVERJOYED! Their statements let me know that I’ve actually taught them something they can use later in school and perhaps in life. 


Where the Heart Is

The Forester family donates personal hygiene items to the Refuge, putting together 40 sacks of supplies to gift clients of the shelter. Imagine being escorted into your home by a police officer and given only ten minutes to pack a bag before you need to leave, possibly never to return. What would you put in your bag? Do you know where your birth certificate, social security card and other important documents are? Would you have time to grab that precious family heirloom or your child’s baby photos before being rushed out the door? Sadly, this is a situation many men and women in Chaves County and all over the world find themselves in every day when they make the courageous decision to leave behind their abusers.

When you walk into the offices of Roswell Refuge, as a security measure to protect the staff and clients, you must wait to be buzzed in. Upon entering, you walk down the Hall of Memories, where you come face to face with the pictures of domestic violence victims in Chaves County who were killed at the hands of their abusers. Each picture features a smiling face with a short bio about the life that was taken too soon. Turn the corner and you will see posters lining the hallway that have been put out by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one for each year since 1996, listing the names of every victim in the United States who lost his or her life to this disgusting crime. Glancing at the considerable number of names that fill each poster, Executive Director Cindy Wilson pointed out that these posters include only the names of victims whose families were ready to share those names and stories. She was quick to admit that her work is emotionally hard, so these names keep her going. “When we [Refuge staff] get up to here and frustrated, I tell everyone, ‘Just go look,’ because this is why we’re doing it. We don’t want to add any more names.”

In the United States a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds. “This is a crime,” explained Wilson, who has been working at the Refuge since 2013, “that knows no boundaries and no barriers whatsoever. Not gender, not sex, not economics, not strata.” Shockingly, one in three women has been beaten or assaulted during her lifetime, including women in Chaves County. A particularly horrific case happened here in 1978 when a young social worker, Cecilia Ulibarri, was shot and killed by her estranged husband as she was leaving work one evening. Deciding that enough was enough, a coworker collaborated with prominent members of the Roswell community to take action. Members of this selfless group, who prefer to remain anonymous, pulled together to buy a covered van and set up a special phone number that they advertised through agencies such as Child, Youth and Family Department (CYFD). When a victim called, somebody would take the van to pick him or her up in a public location, drive around and around to be sure they weren’t being followed, then deliver the person to the Presbyterian Church, where he or she stayed in the basement. “That was the first shelter,” Wilson recalled, and “it was open to men, women and children.”

The growing need of help for victims of domestic violence led to the Roswell Refuge becoming official in 1981, thanks in large part to Karen Griffo and Karen Rogers-Melton, who used their backgrounds in finance and banking to complete all the official paperwork. As she held a scrapbook of material on the Refuge’s history, Wilson admitted that she didn’t realize at first just how many people were involved in getting the shelter up and running. “They’re my unsung heroes…and heroines. They didn’t want to be known, but without exception, when I asked them ‘Why?’ they said, ‘Because something had to be done.’ Just because it was the right thing to do.”

The Refuge serves all of Chaves County, and its doors are open to anyone who is a victim. More than half of the victims served are on the run, and the Refuge has welcomed people all the way from the East Coast as well as a few people who found themselves without a home during winter storm Goliath in 2015. Clients of the Refuge and their families can stay at the shelter for up to three months, possibly four depending on the circumstances. However, Wilson noted that she doesn’t believe the victimization ever goes away. “Three months certainly isn’t enough time to change someone’s life, [and] it’s their life. They have to change it.” During their stay, clients eat communal meals and are expected to help with cooking and chores.

The Refuge hosted a tea party to honor its clients for Mother’s Day.Connected to the offices on N. Garden is the Roswell Refuge Thrift Store. Anyone staying at the shelter gets first dibs on items donated by the community and can shop free of charge for whatever they might need. The shop sends donations to its sister agencies, provides clothing and household items to families in need and is currently putting together a page on eBay where it will sell donated items that could be considered collectibles to raise extra money for the Refuge. Wilson described the shelter as “a big house that has [had] a constant, huge family in it for over 30 years and is starting to show some wear and tear.” Thrift Store profits and fundraisers held by the Refuge help with sprucing up the shelter and purchasing items the shelter’s restricted and unreliable budget does not allow for, like ingredients to make birthday cakes. Wilson said they like to go all out on holidays and make it a special time for their clients, especially the kids. She recalled one Halloween when a client didn’t want her child out trick-or-treating, so staff and parents stood behind the doors in the Refuge. “They loved it so much, they all turned in their candy to do it again.” She praised the staff she works with, saying, “It’s a real group effort here, and one thing I want to say is that this is one of the finest [groups] I’ve ever worked with. I have never worked with such a fine, committed staff. They do the extra.”

The Refuge also offers services to help victims and their families get back on their feet and allows them to continue to utilize these services once their stay has ended. “Help is the key word,” Wilson emphasized. “We don’t do it for them.” Oftentimes, a woman who has never held a job before will come into the shelter, and the staff will assist her with building a resume, writing a cover letter and filling out a job application. A California transplant, Wilson has a degree in management from Pepperdine University and uses her background in computers and the aerospace field to train clients. She has created classes for Windows, Excel, PowerPoint and other applications, then loaded them onto the computer at the shelter so someone looking to enter the workforce can learn to use those programs and better qualify themselves for employment. “I’m getting ready to add QuickBooks to the client PC so they can learn how to do general bookkeeping.”

What’s the hardest part of helping someone find a job? “The client has all the decisions, all the power,” she affirmed, “and for many, it’s the first time they’ve ever been asked, ‘What do you want to do? What do you like?’” A lot of clients will get frustrated at not knowing the “correct” answer, so she has learned instead to ask them, “Ideally, if you can be anything you want to be, what would it be?” She also works with a handful of local businesses to place clients in positions for which they are qualified. “A lot of businesses in Roswell know that I’m good for computer training. I’ll teach them what they need, and if they [Refuge clients] work with me, then they can do it. They can.”

One of the hardest challenges she faces when working with victims is “reassuring them they have the right to make their own choices.” The Refuge puts most of its clients through a 15-week Survivor Empowerment Group course; after the course is completed, they can continue coming to the class and being around others if they choose. One of the first topics the class covers is “What is domestic violence?” Sometimes people don’t even recognize they are in abusive relationships because abuse is not limited to just physical abuse. Another all too common problem Wilson sees is when a client leaves the shelter and returns to his or her abuser, usually because it is all the person has ever known plus there is a lack of affordable transitional housing in Chaves County.

Refuge board member Kelly Smith gives two thumbs up for all the toys collected by Santa’s helpers.Most abusers are ordered by the court to attend classes through the Refuge, though some seek help on their own. Wilson reported that they have had positive results with those who stick with it. It is common for abusers themselves to have been victims of molestation or abuse by the time they were five years old. When violence is all they have ever known, some offenders don’t even realize that what they are doing is wrong until they take the classes. The Refuge is not only aiding the victims but working to address the whole issue, even going into the schools to talk about bullying. When domestic violence continues over multiple generations, Wilson suggested that “if we can get to the younger generation [the children to whom she refers as “the silent victims”], then maybe we can head it off.” She proudly wears her Refuge identification badge as an open invitation for conversation. She is always happy to talk to those who approach her, whether the person is a victim who is seeking help or a member of the community who wants to know how one can help end domestic violence in Chaves County. The mission of the Roswell Refuge is clear: “to provide a safe environment and advocacy for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and to educate the community about the effects of domestic and sexual assault violence on adults, children and the community at large.”


Teacher Feature: Megan Goza-Rabourn

Art Teacher - Ruidoso Middle School

Education: Master’s degree in art education, University of New Mexico, 2001; Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing, University of New Mexico, 1996

FOCUS: How did you wind up at the Ruidoso Municipal School District? 

GOZA-RABOURN: In the spring of 2001 I graduated with my master’s degree in art education at the University of New Mexico. My husband Trevor and I had enjoyed living in Albuquerque but were ready for a move to a smaller town. There were very few openings for art teachers in the state at the time, but Ruidoso was looking for a middle school art teacher to replace a retiree. We drove down together and were delighted to find this gem of a town. I interviewed the next day, was offered the job, and have been here ever since.

FOCUS: Tell us a little bit about your professional background and your role in education. 

GOZA-RABOURN: I have been teaching middle school art for sixteen years and still love it! My job is never boring, and I have made it my mission to introduce my students to the joys of creating art through as many different mediums as I can. I personally have studied drawing, photography, painting, sculpture, woodworking and crafts as well as mixed media and printmaking. I love all these processes and am constantly looking for new ways to combine them.

FOCUS: Tell us about you. What are your hobbies and interests? 

GOZA-RABOURN: I have a very active family, and we spend a lot of time outdoors in our beautiful forest as well as traveling around the Southwest. We hike, canoe, fish and camp when we get the chance and enjoy these romps with kids and dogs and anyone else who may want to tag along. I also play the ukulele and make jewelry and love to read.

FOCUS: Please tell us about any awards you have received for your work in education.  GOZA-RABOURN: I have served on the Leadership team at Ruidoso Middle School for many years as well as chairman of the Student Health and Wellness committee. I was a founding member of the Ruidoso Middle School Positive Behavior team and have been named Teacher of the Month for Ruidoso Middle School. 

FOCUS: What’s special about the Ruidoso educational system? 

GOZA-RABOURN: The Ruidoso Municipal School District (RMSD) is special because of its remarkably diverse student population comprised of three wonderfully strong cultures. Our educational community has embraced this diversity and provides ways to celebrate and strengthen these unique identities. By supporting the arts and electives in general, RMSD gives students a pathway to explore their identities and the community a way to celebrate them. The amazing staff of RMSD work incredibly hard to nurture individuals and to create a culture of learning and support for students of all backgrounds, identities and abilities.

FOCUS: What do you want people to know about your school, its educators and the work they do that perhaps no one knows about or understands?

GOZA-RABOURN: Teachers work incredibly hard every day to nurture, support and educate our youth. Teaching demands so much energy, flexibility and attention that it is an incredibly dynamic field. It is often exhausting and frustrating but also so very energizing and motivating. Ruidoso Middle School in particular is populated with amazing teachers that guide and teach students with dedication, passion and a (necessary) sense of humor.

FOCUS: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

GOZA-RABOURN: It is incredibly rewarding to see my students gain the technical skills and the confidence to express themselves with art. Once they have been introduced to media and have had an opportunity to practice, students realize they have the power to solve visual problems and to make something beautiful and/or interesting that has never existed in the world. That is so very empowering for them and so rewarding for me!

FOCUS: Do you have a motto or saying that you live by?

GOZA-RABOURN: Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is born an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” May we all play, experiment and learn for the rest of our days!


Opportunity For Citizens to Aid in Conservation

Aptly named, the eastern barking frog sounds like a domestic dog when bellowing for a mate. Unlike any other amphibian in New Mexico, eastern barking frogs do not have a tadpole stage. Instead, they metamorphose within the egg, so there is no aquatic stage in the life cycle. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is seeking citizen science volunteers to monitor the species. (Photo by James Stuart)In some areas of New Mexico, the anxious sound of a dog might just be … a frog.

The two share a common trait: they both bark.

The word is even included in its common name, the eastern barking frog. Found in the Chihuahuan desert in southern New Mexico, the barking frog lives in arid conditions and has a limited range in the state. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has a history of monitoring the status of the eastern barking frog, Craugastor augusti, which can be found in Chaves, Dona Ana, Eddy and Otero counties. The appearance of the frog is distinctive, with a broad head and chunky body but small limbs and enlarged toes believed to aid in climbing. The adult barking frog is greenish or brown with dark blotches, whereas juveniles are dark with a light cream band crosswise over the back.

The species is much different from most other amphibians in the state, surviving in arid conditions, generally in creosote flats with soils amenable for burrowing to provide shelter from the sun and predators. The barking frog also differs in how it reproduces. Every other species of frog in New Mexico lays eggs that hatch into a tadpole, which then changes into a small version of an adult. The barking frog, however, lays eggs that hatch straight into juvenile form, skipping the tadpole stage.

Perhaps most unusual of all is its call. During breeding season, the male eastern barking frog emits an explosive single note every 2-3 seconds, which, when heard from a distance, sounds like a dog barking. At a closer range the call is more of a “whurr.” Because its habitat is dry and it has limited range within the state, the species was deemed a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” under the 2006 Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. In 2015, researchers from the University of New Mexico, with a grant from the department’s Share with Wildlife program, assessed the status of the species in the state. These people, trained in the call of the barking frog and where to find it, went out to historic sites to determine if the frog was still breeding in particular locations. The researchers found several important populations in the regions of Roswell and Carlsbad, near the Organ Mountains close to Las Cruces and north of Dell City, Texas on the southeastern New Mexico border. Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge near Roswell continues to have a healthy population, but researchers found the project to be challenging because of the nature of the barking frog.

The eastern barking frog can be found in the southeastern portion of New Mexico. A study conducted by University of New Mexico researchers surveyed several important populations, including the Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge near Roswell, as well as the mountains near Las Cruces (not included on this map). This frog species is notoriously difficult to survey because they are quite secretive and their barking call only happens when the right rainfall conditions occur, generally beginning in May.The species is secretive and is only detectable when it is calling to find a mate. That only happens when the right rainfall conditions occur, often just for a few days. The timing of the barking frog’s activity has Game and Fish looking for public assistance. Within their findings, the researchers recommended using local citizen science volunteers to monitor important areas for the barking frog. Given the tight window of opportunity each year, local volunteers would have the best chance to hear the call of the frogs at the most opportune times.

Department personnel are working with the researchers to set up forms and maps to be given to interested volunteers along with instructions on how to properly monitor for the barking frog, including identification of the call, and how to submit their data. The objective is to build upon the work already done by way of citizen science, providing New Mexicans with an opportunity to help the department meet its goal of conserving wildlife for future generations. Those interested in participating should contact Leland Pierce at 505-476-8094 or

Readers can also go online to for more information about wildlife and conservation efforts in New Mexico.


Lea County Museum Fun Run

The first ever July 4 Lea County Museum (LCM) Fun Run in Lovington’s Chaparral Park was held in 2016. It was a spectacular event for young and old with 97 runners and that many volunteers, families, and friends who came to support the competitors. 

The 2017 LCM Fun Run is shaping up to be even better than last year. Organizers are anticipating at least twice as many runners. Anyone under age 18 runs for free.

These photographs tell the story of what a good time was had by all.




Escape to the SKP Ranch, If You’re an Escapee

A group called Native Spirit wowed the crowd at Escapade57 with impressive hoop dancing. In between Carlsbad and Artesia sit two camping sites. One is the Carlsbad KOA, located right off U.S. 285 near Brantly Lake. It is well-known and open to the public as an option for anyone wishing to camp by tent, cabin or RV. The other, which is a bit more difficult to find and is reserved for members of a national group called the Escapees, is called the SKP Ranch (a shortened version of Escapee). People often mistake the two, although the only similarity between them is that they are both camping sites.


Several years ago, Dick Montgomery and his wife, Joyce, decided to turn over the keys for their family restaurant in Kansas to their daughter and settle into life as retirees. He joked that after meeting with their accountant, they quickly realized they would not be retiring to a fancy condo in Florida, so they began weighing more feasible options. It wasn’t long before they found the perfect scenario: membership in the Escapees RV Club.

Escapees is a national organization for full-time RVers headquartered in Livingston, Texas. It was founded by Joe and Kay Peterson in 1978 as the answer to a growing need for “community” among early RVers. Club membership grew from the original 82 families to more than 10,000 and continues to grow. Two more generations of Petersons have since joined the ranks and have assisted the club in expanding their vision. They are credited with spearheading the fight to maintain legal rights for RVers on multiple occasions, which included protecting voting rights as well as working diligently with the RV and camping industries to develop the Good Neighbor Policy. In addition, they developed a mail-forwarding service which is used by thousands of RVers today.

The Escapees RV Club is divided into nearly 60 chapters nationwide. In the Land of Enchantment, the local chapter is aptly called the Chili Chapter, and their headquarters are at the SKP Ranch in Lakewood, just up the road a ways from the KOA.

These ladies took their morning coffee on a field trip to see a great horned owl hunkered down in its nest.The SKP Ranch is owned by a co-op and boasts 120 RV spaces. Each space is leased from the co-op, and when a lease is purchased, the transaction is for the purchase of the space, not the actual plot of land. Co-op owners also pay an annual maintenance fee, which covers issues such as sewage and overall park maintenance. “If you don’t want someone else on your lease when you’re not there, you pay a higher maintenance fee than you do if you allow the park to lease it out when you’re gone,” Montgomery noted. Members who allow their lots to be used by other Escapees are required to be gone at least 120 days a year. “The majority of us use it as a home base to travel the West.”

“This type of park is more like a dry land cruise ship,” Montgomery joked. “There are happy hours, monthly anniversary and birthday parties, different card or board games down at the Ranch House almost every night… We have Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. We had a St. Patrick’s Day dinner (in March). There’s also a pool table, crafts room, puzzle room--lots of amenities.”

Because the SKP is owned by a co-op, Montgomery said it allows for flexibility in amenities and other issues specific to the ranch. “The thing that’s cool about these places is, as ages change and older people leave and younger people come, activities can change as well,” he observed. “Nothing is set in stone, and it tends to match the personalities of those currently owning leases.”

So why are the SKP Ranch and the Escapees RV Club important to the surrounding communities? It boils down to economics. “We’ve got 120 sites here [with people who] are spending money on shopping and dining; you would expect that,” Montgomery acknowledged. “But there are on average about 50 couples a month that pass through and stay at the ranch. We give those folks a packet that was given to us by the local Chambers, and we are directing people to spend money in those cities as well. We also talk to them about things like Sitting Bull Falls and things that might not get advertised as much as, say, the Caverns do.”

A group of ladies at SKP Ranch enjoy the outdoors during one of their weekly coffee hours. If you take a closer look at the SKP Ranch, you’ll likely find people from many walks of life. While the vast majority of residents are retirees, their backgrounds range from military to business, from the medical field to truck drivers, and from pilots to oilfield workers. “It makes it nice for running a place like this,” Montgomery admitted. “We have a guy that was the mayor of a small town, so it is nice to have his expertise on how things run, things like that… My porch was even built by one of the folks here.” The diversity is important because in essence, the SKP Ranch is a small, self-sustaining community with smaller sub-groups much like in any community. There are men’s groups that go out for coffee and donuts once a week and women’s groups that meet for craft time or breakfast or whatever strikes their fancy; some groups meet weekly for dinner and others gather to play card games.

On a broader scale, Escapees nationwide also divide into groups, including everyone from nudists to wildlife aficionados. Montgomery and his wife belong to the Boomers, though they are not particularly active at the present time due to the amount of work he has been putting in at the ranch. In recent years, a group of younger RVers called Xscapers was formed to accommodate full-time working families that also desire full-time RVing. “That group tends to be more concerned with connectivity, because a lot of them work via the internet and many of them homeschool their children. It’s a way for them to connect with other people who want to see the country,” he explained.

Traveling the country in an RV is one thing, but how does actually living in an RV compare to life in a typical home with a fixed address? According to Montgomery, there’s no comparison, and he means it in the best possible way. “If I don’t like my neighbors or something about where I’m living, I can just hook up and drive off!” he laughed. Size doesn’t seem to be a hindrance either, as their fifth-wheel camper boasts more than 1,400 square feet of living space. “These aren’t our parents’ RVs,” he boasted. “You’ve got electric recliners, slide-outs for more room, appliances, solar panels and water tanks… What we’ve got here is basically a New York apartment on wheels!”

For anyone interested in trading a life of stationary living for one of RVing on the open road, he offers a bit of parting advice: “You and your partner need to be best friends, because you’re going to spend a lot of time together in a small space. It really isn’t for everybody. There are plenty of people who do this and still have a home; some stay in summer or winter and then go back to wherever their home is. But if you and your partner aren’t best friends, you’ll get sick of each other pretty quick! It works for us because Joyce really is my best friend. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”


Personality Profile: Juliana Schaffer Halvorson

“Everything I do that I am successful in, I am only successful because of the team that works with me. I’ve been so lucky….The success we have is because of the team; it’s not just me.”

In response to being asked why she sacrifices so much of her time and talents to serve her community, Juliana Schaffer Halvorson was quick to note that it is natural for her to do so, and attributed all her work to God, her friends and family. Sitting down at Stellar Coffee to discuss her overwhelming commitments in town, she was the epitome of humble.

Halvorson grew up in an Air Force family. Living all over the world gave her the opportunity to experience different communities and gain a unique perspective on involvement. “That’s probably why I get along with people so well,” she acknowledged, noting that she was a bit of a tumbleweed growing up. She was raised with a heart to serve others and learned about community involvement through her parents’ example. Both of her parents were involved in Scouting and passed their passion for working with young people on to their daughter.

She eventually settled in Roswell in 1980. Her husband, John, grew up in town and was a member of Boy Scout Troop 2, even achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank one can achieve in Scouting. When the young couple found out that Troop 2 needed a leader or faced losing the charter they have held since 1916, she and her husband stepped up to fill the roles of Assistant Troop Master and Troop Master, respectively. Later, after having two daughters of their own, their interest shifted to the Girl Scouts. Halvorson is still proud of all that she learned as a Scout. A self-proclaimed tomboy, she passed along her love of the outdoors and crafts to her girls.

Her experience with the Boy and Girl Scouts has undoubtedly helped hone her artistic talents. She currently serves as vice president of marketing at Pioneer Bank and often lends her graphic design abilities to local non-profits. “I’m so grateful. I’d say I have the best job at the bank. They’re also very community oriented. I mean, it’s a community bank. Not just me, but a lot of the people and the officers there are all involved in organizations throughout the community….The way I look at it, I love my job, I love what I do, and not a lot of people can say that. But if God gives you a gift, you’ve got to use it for good. I try.”

Halvorson began her graphic design career when she started working for KBIM-TV in the 1980s. She recalled the computer there being the size of a small room, and she taught herself how to create computer graphics with the machine using a number system. As her career developed, she continued learning more on whatever machine she had access to through her work environment. After teaching herself Photoshop, she took a graphic design class and even went on to teach a few classes. “I love teaching,” she pronounced, explaining that she and her family have quite a thirst for knowledge. “We always want to learn more.”

This lifelong dedication to learning keeps her busy long after her workday ends and even earned her the President’s Volunteer Award. She is involved in countless groups in town, from the Walker Aviation Museum to MainStreet Roswell, recalling, “Oh, gosh, I don’t even know what else I’ve been involved in….everything! But I try to help when people need help.”

She enjoys photography and arts and crafts and applies her hobbies to her volunteerism. “When I’m involved in these projects, even at work, it gives me an excuse to come up with something new. That’s why I love my job. It’s not monotonous; it’s something new all the time.” Those who attended the UFO Festival may have seen her handiwork. She constructed a mister in the form of a large UFO that kept festival goers cool during those hot summer days.

Halvorson spends the majority of her free time working with MainStreet Roswell. It is safe to say that she has used her skills for many events and had a hand in much of the positive change you see around town. When asked about her goals for continuing to improve Roswell, she paused to gaze out the window onto Main Street before saying, “I would like to see a more vibrant downtown.” She added that MainStreet’s stakeholders are also on board with this goal and have been working together to beautify the area, fill vacant spots which would include relocating the Walker Aviation Museum, and keep visitors coming back to Roswell. 


Biography of John T. Soden, Photographer and Videographer

Growing up in New York City, John Soden received his first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, when he was 13 years old from his father just in time to photograph the 1964 New York World’s Fair. His dad impressed upon his young son that because the World’s Fair would only be in New York two years, he should document this event. 

Thus began Soden’s love for photography. His first professional assignment was to photograph his sister's wedding when he was 16 years old. All his sister's friends were impressed, wanting to know who her photographer was.  

After obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree from Southern Illinois University, Soden joined the U.S. Naval Reserves and was given the assignment Operation Sail; his duty was to photograph the "tall ships" as they pulled into New York Harbor during our country’s Bicentennial, July 4, 1976. 

His career has spanned both coasts. In New York, he worked as a fashion and catalog photographer, working with models from the top modeling agencies. After a few years in New York, he returned to southern California where he was a photographer for ABC TV and the Pat Boone Show.

In 1993 while enroute to Carlsbad, Soden and his wife, Sue Harkness Soden, visited a California friend, Father Tom Herbst, on the Mescalero Apache Reservation and fell in love with New Mexico. Three years later they moved to Ruidoso, but on that earlier trip to the reservation, they had observed a private ceremony. Soden was so moved by this experience that he requested and received written permission from the late Mescalero President Wendell Chino and the Tribal Council to photograph on the reservation. Over the years he has photographed numerous Coming of Age ceremonies for girls and their families, a spiritual event which he does not take lightly.   

In 1998, the Sodens moved back to Connecticut for two years to take care of family obligations. While there, he joined the Greenwich Art Society, occasionally offered photography tips on the Good Morning America television show and had photo assignments for two Greenwich newspapers. 

In September 2000, after a summer of traveling throughout the United States, they returned to Ruidoso. He joined the Ruidoso Regional Council for the Arts and the Photo Society of Lincoln County, and he has had photo exhibitions at Ruidoso Village Hall and Cornerstone Bakery.   

On Christmas night in 2000, Soden photographed the businesses of midtown Ruidoso during a snowstorm. Using black and white film, he then sepia-toned the prints. The owner of Pizza Hut purchased a set of these that are still on display at Pizza Hut on Mechem Drive and at Josie’s Framery.   

In 2004, a travel writer named Starley Talbott Anderson wrote a collection of short stories about her travel adventures and about some of the interesting people she has met along the way. In her book Lasso the World, a chapter called “The Man Who Shot the Mescaleros” is about John Soden and his experiences with the Mescalero Apaches.   

From 2006-2009, Soden's photographs have been juried into the Fall American Photography Competition and Exhibition at the Hubbard Museum of the American West. In the spring of 2006, he had another one-man show at Ruidoso Village Hall featuring some of the color photographs he took during a cross-country excursion. In 2007, the Ruidoso News published a story about him.  

A February 2007 art exhibit at the library at New Mexico State University in Alamogordo featured some of his black and white photographs of Otero County. Also on display were his original black and white photographs of Fort Stanton in an effort to preserve this historical landmark. During the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, he presented a portfolio of both black and white and color photographs of the Ellis Store in Lincoln to Tourism Hall of Fame recipient Jinny Vigil. His photographs have also appeared in various publications including the Ruidoso News and New Mexico Magazine. Internationally, his photographs have been published in the travel magazines DeVere and Travel + Leisure.   

In 2008, Soden's photographs of the Mexican Canyon Railroad Trestle in Cloudcroft were on display during the New Mexico Rails to Trails annual convention. The exhibit highlighted the need for repairs on this historic wooden railroad trestle that has been decaying rapidly over the past few years. Since then he has been photographing the rebuilding of the trestle on a weekly basis for the U.S. Forest Service. Log on to YouTube at and search for"Mexican Canyon railroad trestle" to see a video of the project.

Currently working as a freelance photographer, he has photographed events in Lincoln County for REDTT (Rural Economic Development Through Tourism) and both the Ruidoso and Capitan Chambers of Commerce. For several years he taught a photography class at Eastern New Mexico University-Ruidoso (ENMU-R) called Improve Your Photographs. Some of his photos are on display at ENMU-R, the Title Company and Josie’s Framery. Four of his black and white originals of snowy midtown Ruidoso are on display at First Federal Bank on Sudderth Drive. His black and white photo Starry Night in Lincoln was the first photograph chosen for permanent display by the Hubbard Museum and was on display in Congressman Steve Pearce’s Washington, D.C. office.   

Soden keeps busy as a freelance photographer, shooting weddings, special events and commercial projects. Many of his photographs of Ruidoso and Lincoln County have been published in the Ruidoso News and Alamogordo Daily News. Visit his website to see more of his photos.