Creative Together

Look out world! Carlsbad’s arts and culture community is mobilizing to a greater level through its Creative Carlsbad Arts Council.  

“We’re in the process of bringing all of our arts and cultural entities in the community together,” explained Board Secretary/Treasurer Julia Heaton. “We’re going to expand opportunities in every direction for the community.”  

Creative Carlsbad’s history ties in with several other organizations, including Carlsbad MainStreet and the Fine Arts Acquisition-Vetting Committee (FAAV)The FAAV, working on completion of Carlsbad Halagueno Arts Park, was examining the possibility of Carlsbad having a state designation as an Arts and Cultural District.  

What’s an Arts & Cultural District?  Former New Mexico State Representative John Heaton created legislation in 2007 establishing the districts in New Mexico. “[The designation] opens up a lot of doors and creates different perks for the city,” praised Patsy Jackson-Christopher, the City of Carlsbad’s Director of Arts and Culture“Once a community receives the designation, the state will then help promote the district and will send in professionals to help assess growth potential.”  

The effort leads to numerous benefits, in terms of tourism and economic developmentFormer MainStreet directors Amy Barnhart and Amanda MelvinJackson-Christopher and Heaton all helped with initiating the process and assembling the application. The City Council passed a resolution backing their effortHeaton and Melvin gave a presentation to the state board in Santa Fe.  

The application process went well, but the New Mexico Arts Commission said Carlsbad would need an official arts council before its application could be considered for an Arts and Cultural District. 

So in 2014, Jackson-Christopher invited different local cultural groups to attend a meeting in which the concept of an arts council was introduced. Several more local men and women , among them Ken Britt, Wren Prather-Stroud (who also serves on the state’s Arts Commission), Larry Mitchell and current MainStreet Director Karla Hamel, soon became involved with the effortCalling itself “Creative Carlsbad Arts Council,” the organization filed its nonprofit articles of incorporation in 2015. The organization is now fully developed with a board of directors, bylaws and website with an events calendar at 

Now that Carlsbad has its own arts council, it has met the requirements to obtain designation as an Arts and Cultural District. There is only one major hurdle remaining: the state has not funded the program in the past two years. Jackson-Christopher affirmed that a self-designation process is also possible, and the group will explore this for the interim until state funding is secured. 

The designation as an Arts and Cultural District was only one of the organization’s goals, howeverA membership drive in November, which Creative Carlsbad did not begin until it had successfully incorporated as a nonprofit and developed itselfwas highly successful. Also, the organization’s new brochure establishes benefits to its membership, including advertising on the website and inclusion in the member directory. The idea is to serve as a consortium for different arts and cultural groups and sponsors around town. 

“We want to encompass everyone,” Heaton maintained. “We will exchange data about what’s going on in the community and help them market events and themselves.”  

“One more clarification is that this is not a city board,” she contended. “This is a citizen’s group.” 

With Creative Carlsbad, the networking itself is a big part of the formula.  

So, say the Carlsbad Community Theatre has a performance on March 10, and the Carlsbad Community Chorale has a performance on March 20. Creative Carlsbad could help both groups get the word out about their upcoming events and facilitate support between the two groups. The arts council can also play matchmaker; a local musician looking for a gig in the summer may be introduced to the organizers of an antique car show who are looking for a musician 

Carlsbad’s new microbrewery, Milton’s Brewing, recently joined Creative Carlsbad and held an event in January for members. Milton’s can use the opportunity to discuss some of the concerts it has hosted and take advantage of the other cultural groups in the area.  

Basic membership is $30 a year, according to board member Julie Chester. Membership will eventually provide priority seating and discounted admission to events sponsored by other members. Chester was especially proud of the web page’s interactive calendar. “It’s a chance for all of these groups to thrive. 

On the other end, Platinum sponsorship donations from corporations will include more expansive packages. 

In addition to working with its partners, Creative Carlsbad will also develop its own signature event, Heaton added.  

As more members join, Creative Carlsbad’s mission to develop a community-wide network of arts and cultural organizations will continue to grow stronger. For more information about Creative Carlsbad, please visit 



Before Captain J.C. Lea: The Other Men Who Shaped Roswell

Though Captain Joseph C. Lea is known as the “Father of Roswell,” several men before him had a major part in cultivating the area. Before Lea was not only Van C. Smith, but also James Patterson, a cattleman often

Where today stands Pioneer Plaza in Roswell, nearly 150 years ago Patterson recognized the spot as an excellent place to build a small 15x15 foot adobe trading post. The reason the spot was “prime real estate,” as we would call it today, was its close proximity to the Hondo and Spring Rivers that used to flow abundantly through the area. Because of this, many cattle drives stopped to water their herds in this area.  

Patterson even had some close ties to John Chisum, the future “Cattle King of the Pecos,” before Chisum ever drove cattle into New Mexico. The two knew one another in Texas, and among Patterson’s trail hands during his cattle drives from Texas to New Mexico was none other than John Chisum’s younger brother, Pitzer. In addition to this, it was even Patterson who eventually sold Chisum some land north of Roswell called Bosque Grande (“Big Woods”) which was the cattleman’s first base of operations in New Mexico before moving to South Springs—also traded to Chisum by Patterson.  

After selling the trading post to Van C. Smith, Patterson disappeared from history’s view for nearly all of the 1870s. Patterson is next found in the annals of history in the middle of a gold mining venture and a murder in Georgetown, NM in 1880. On February 23, 1880, Patterson killed a man named John Powers, and was later tried for the killing that July. So the story goes, Powers owed Patterson money, and the killing naturally took place inside of a saloon. Patterson had invited Powers to drink with him, and when he didn’t after several invitations, he became enraged. A shouting match followed, and Patterson soon shot Powers. Famous lawyer, Col. Albert J. Fountain (who would one day mysteriously vanish crossing the White Sands in 1896), saved Patterson's neck from the hangman's noose. Despite the fact that Patterson had shot Powers more or less in cold blood, Fountain managed for Patterson to be convicted for only fourth degree murder, and thusly only had to spend one year in the county jail. 

Patterson is next found in Silver City in 1892 via his August 2nd obituary. It seems Patterson owned a mine called Gold Hill with another man, Idus L. Fielder, when Patterson was attacked at his home by a drunken and disgruntled worker named Esequel Mena. The two had quite a gunfight. Patterson fired twice, getting Mena first in the hand and then the heart. Mena fired three shots at Patterson, one of which ripped through his stomach. Patterson lived on for nearly an entire day before expiring, and left behind a wife and two children. He was buried in the Gold Hill Cemetery. (For more information on this pioneer of the area see Morgan Nelson’s “First Among the First: James Patterson 1833-1892” available at the HSSNM) 

To digress, long before Patterson’s demise, he sold his trading post to Van C. Smith sometime around 1869 or 1870. Though for many years Smith had a nebulous history much like Patterson, Frederick Nolan managed to dig up quite a bit of information on Smith for his article “Van C. Smith: ‘A Very Companionable Gentleman’” for the New Mexico Historical ReviewVan Ness Cumming Smith was born to Roswell Smith and his wife Harriett Cummings Smith in Vermont on July 12, 1837. Smith’s very first scheme was to leave home at a young age to pursue the California Gold Rush. Though he didn’t strike it rich in California, Smith eventually made a name for himself in Arizona as one of the first settlers of Prescott. Though in his mid-twenties, Smith was a well-respected man in Arizona Territory, and even served as a guide for Joseph Pratt Allyn (associate justice of the territory) when he first entered the area. 

By 1865, Smith was the first man in the recorded history of Arizona to be appointed Sheriff there, specifically in Yavapai County. In 1868 Smith was in Omaha, Nebraska, where he cemented for himself the reputation of a gentleman gambler. By 1869 he was in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he met Ash Upson (a future postmaster of what would become Roswell). At the rumored suggestion of Santa Fe Ring boss, Thomas Catron, Smith meandered down to a place then known as Rio Hondo, where he bought Patterson’s old trading post. Smith wasted no time in adding onto the post and constructing an adjacent post office/general store. Smith was even more successful than Patterson at his endeavor, and soon Smith’s place became a notorious gambler’s haven.  

Ash Upson described the place thusly in an 1892 article for the Roswell Record, “Van’s sporting proclivities could not be suppressed. He had a pack of beagle-hounds, and killed a yearling or two year-old every day to feed them. He made a trip to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Va., and other cities and brought back race-horses, game chickens and an un-conquerable bulldog ‘Old Crib.’ He laid out two parallel half-mile racetracks, now plainly visible, from his store to the Rio Hondo, and built a fantastic judge’s stand near the store. His place was visited by dozens of sporting-men from Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and even from the States. Horse-racing, cock-fighting, dog-fighting, badger-baiting furnished daily amusement, whilst card-playing continued, often, throughout the night. Van was a jovial fellow, big-hearted and generous. Whilst a dozen or two workmen were employed on his buildings, he would call them when a race, or other excitement, was about to take place, and, although they were working by the day, would insist that they quit work and see the fun. At this usually deserted, lonely, isolated place, a hundred men have assembled, on more than one occasion, and lingered, too, as long as possible; for the temptation was great. The best whiskey and cigars that money would buy, faro, monte, poker and other short card games allured many, and toothsome viands many others. Van had a good housekeeper and a most excellent cook. There was no luxury that money could buy that could not be found at his table.” 

When it came time to name the place in 1872, Smith chose to call it after his father Roswell Smith. Ironically, many concur that Roswell Smith never set foot in Roswell, though there is at least one report found by Frederick Nolan that states,”[Van Smith’s] father, ‘Old Man Smith’ lived in a choza on what the local people called El Loma de Viejo “Old Man’s Hill”…about two miles Northwest of Roswell.”     

Van Smith neglected one important matter that eventually led to his losing of the property when he forgot to secure a patent for his homestead entry on the land. And so Smith went off to Santa Fe where he continued his adventuresome life running a casino. On June 26, 1876, Smith engaged in a gun duel with Joseph Stinson in the streets, which he won. After this, Smith had several more adventures, such as serving as an Indian Scout on the trail of Victorio, though he spent most of the later portion of his life prospecting in Old Mexico. He died on August 29, 1914, at the Old Pioneer’s Home in Prescott, Arizona.  

So as one can see, though they never quite earned the moniker of “the Father of Roswell,” as Captain Joseph C. Lea eventually did, both James Patterson and Van Smith lived adventuresome lives in the Old West.  





Walker Air Force Base: A Hispanic Perspective

When driving today through what used to be the gates of the old Walker Air Force Base (AFB), you would never know you were even on an old air force base. Four lanes—two one way, two the other, both separated by a berm of sun-scorched grass and two rows of squat young elms—is all that remains of the official entrance. All of 18 years old when the base closed down in 1967, the local legend of humanitarian aid, Johnny Gonzales, recalled the guard shack and gates securing the official front entrance to Walker. “It was official. You had to have clearance to get through—not like today where all the fences are gone.” This last fall, Gonzales found himself in what used to be no-man’s land. He was helping deliver turkeys to those in need, and an address came up well beyond where it used to be safe to travel. “There are people out here?” He asked himself in surprise. The base used to be highly secure. He nudged his friend helping with the turkeys and said, “Hey, remember when we weren’t allowed back here? Who knew there were roads behind the base!” That day it took them ten minutes to even find the right road. Yet despite the inaccessibility of most of the land just south of Roswell because of the base, the land beyond those fences and guard shacks meant a plethora of jobs and opportunities for any lower income worker from Roswell.

In Roswell during the 1960s, the only options for a young Hispanic were to either work in the cotton fields or find menial labor at Walker AFB. According to Gonzales, Roswell was a “cowboy town.” Few restaurants, a couple of bars, your local grocery was about it. The town relied on the base for its economy. And thus the typical worker relied on the base for work.

“On the base,” he remembered, “there were laundries, mess halls. They needed dishwashers, cooks, maids, groundskeepers. They hired people from the community. They had a huge work crew. The people [at the base] really helped the economy, too. They all shopped here, right? And when the base closed, all those jobs went away.”

Gonzales and his family were safe for a time. The cotton fields continued to grow as long as farmers had water enough to grow the crop. Picking cotton, and later chili peppers, was a bountiful position. Migrant workers could pick crops much faster and more efficiently than the average American worker. But those who couldn’t or wouldn’t work in the fields were left with no choice but to leave Roswell for more fertile pastures.

The closure of Walker AFB cut a massive hole in Roswell’s Hispanic population. “A lot of [the Hispanic population] moved because we didn’t have any McDonalds, Burger King. Levi Strauss came in ten years later, but we had no business,” pointed out Gonzales. Even he left town for a while. One of his friends was in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) at the time, and the government transferred him to Columbus, Ohio. He helped his friend move to the Midwest but returned to the fields of Southeast New Mexico as soon as he could.

He talked about the property on the base. The USAF had built a large number of bungalows for the families of those stationed at Walker AFB. After the closure, ownership of the land and everything on it transferred to the city. These houses sat empty for 10 years as the housing market recovered after the mass exodus from the region. He recalled when he heard a rumor that the houses were going up for auction. Being the small time entrepreneur he then was, he jumped at the chance to buy up some land and turn a profit. Yet the base housing had not been well maintained since the closure, so the houses went for a pittance. Since the auction, housing on the base never truly recovered its economy.

On land west of Walker AFB grew cotton, which was the crop he and his family picked when the base closed. He recalls a time when, a few years after the base closure, the city challenged the water rights of the cotton farmers. Cotton was a large industry in Roswell at the time, and that land west of the base was fertile. Yet, where water goes, so goes fertility, and when irrigation ceased, the fields dried up and the cotton farmers shut down their operations. This left many more jobless in Roswell.

Those who persevere through trials will be rewarded in their hardship. Gonzales left the fields and took advantage of an opportunity afforded by Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. Ironically, without the base closure, he might have missed that opportunity. When the base closed and the land reverted to the city, the city in turn sold the dorms and offices on the base to Eastern New Mexico University. The campus in Roswell was suddenly much larger than the main campus in Portales. Gonzales received an associate’s degree in welding and found work in Roswell working with metal.

The Hispanic population began to grow again 10 years later when the economy picked up and companies like Coca-Cola and Levi Strauss moved to Roswell. What did Gonzales want the world to know? “We survived, and…Roswell survived.”    



By Lantern Light: Combines Film, Nature and History

Chances are, if you’ve been in Carlsbad any length of time, you have probably heard rumblings (at least) of a local film crew producing a movie about Jim White and the Carlsbad Caverns. That rumor is partially true. Many people have heard bits and pieces about the film—initiated nearly four years ago—but few actually understand the full scope of the project.

Dianne Joop, associate director of education for the National Karst and Cave Research Institute, understands the misconceptions many people have about the film and even about its subject, which is why she is determined to shed light on the issue. She is one of three local producers who have partnered with three producers from Kentucky to create a high-quality film that will likely put Carlsbad on the map when it comes to filmmaking.

 “Like with any documentary film, we will present the research—all sides of it—and let the audience walk away with their opinion,” she explained. “I want them (viewers) to know Jim White as the person walking around town—an explorer, a conservationist—because what impressed me most about Jim White is not that he went out and explored these caves. He pushed for this property to become a national park, and that is a much more difficult task (than discovering a cave). It’s because of his efforts that we have that park, which is much more compelling than ‘I found this cave.’”

Of note, Joop added, is that the film, titled By Lantern Light, is being shot in 4K in Academy Standards. What that means to the layman is that it is being filmed in the highest quality available and will be released to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “Of course that means it costs a whole lot more as well,” Joop added. “It takes a gig of storage for every two minutes of film, and that’s just the raw data, not even after it’s been finished.”

To date, the production team has completed filming their interviews and is currently in production, raising money for re-creations. They anticipate a release date later this year. Joop, an avid caver and native of Kentucky, explained the inspiration for the film and provided some insight into the production process. Check it out below!  


Dianne Joop:

Exploring caves, to me, is always an adventure, whether it’s for work or for play. One particular caving trip set off a series of events that sparked a new kind of adventure—one of making a historical documentary.

On one of our scorching hot August days, I was invited to join a team of National Park Service Cave Resource employees to assist in assessing bat use of Deep Cave. I was especially excited about this trip because of vertical techniques required to enter the cave. The trip starts out with a 200-foot entrance drop, requiring a rappel. I enjoy technical rope work as a part of exploration. On this day, something a little different happened. I descended into the darkness alongside the ghost of the legendary cave explorer Jim White. 

I, like you, have heard the infamous stories told about Jim White and his exploration of Carlsbad Cavern, and of course the story of his discovery of the Big Room. As a caver I really appreciate the sense of excitement that Jim must have felt when he discovered the Big Room. I am sure he was elated beyond comprehension. I will freely admit I did not initially get the sense that Jim White was a great cave explorer. I was a bit blasé about the common tale of a young kid happening into a cave that later becomes a show cave. I thought it was neat that Jim made a ladder to descend the 60 feet to explore the cave and that must set him apart. I wanted to somehow get to know Jim as an explorer better. On this mid-summer’s day in 2013, my wish was granted. 

So there I was in my fancy, modern gear (bright light, rope, seat harness and rappelling device). I haughtily call “on-rope,” and “on rappel” when I started my 200-foot descent. That is when I saw it, and that is when reality sharply smacked me in the face.

As I lowered myself over a small ledge, I came face to face with the top of one of Jim’s handmade ladders. I took my time rappelling that day; it felt as if I was next to Jim. I was studying the craftsmanship of the ladder and getting to know Jim White as an explorer a bit better. Near the bottom portion of the entrance drop, about 20 feet from the cave floor, the ladder stopped at an extremely small ledge. I paused my rappel and imagined Jim with his lantern in hand, stepping off the ladder onto this small protrusion from the wall. I felt, in that moment, as if I had been properly introduced to “Jim White the cave explorer,” known to some as the Grandfather of Caving in the Guadalupe Mountains. I have never been so pleased to ingest a big ol’ slice of humble pie. I ascended the cave with the determination to tell Jim’s story in a way that others will grasp his spunk and gumption—through film.

As a bit of a preface, I have experience in writing, directing and producing plays, but not film. I have experience with underground photography and cinematography, but not historical documentaries, so I began searching for partners who will assist me in bringing Jim’s story to life. Conversation after conversation with filmmaker after filmmaker revealed many good ideas for how to “re-create Jim’s exploration by computer graphics; using green-screens was the way to produce this film.” 

I finally spoke to a triad of filmmakers who were different. I invited the filmmakers to Carlsbad to share a different documentary they produced and to talk about the possibility of producing a movie in partnership with my employer, the National Cave and Karst Research Institute.

On a mid-summer’s day in 2015 at the Carlsbad Caverns Amphitheatre, I stood with Wade Smith, Scott Hall, Michael Crisp and Ben Chaffins, and I asked them if they knew the story of Jim White, the legendary cave explorer. We started our descent into the cavern, retracing the steps of Jim White. These guys understood that to truly bring Jim’s story to life, we needed to show him climbing on his ladder, the sweat on his brow, and the look in his eye as he discovered enchanting underground landscapes. By the end of the day, Guano Loco Productions was formed, and we immediately went into pre-production phase on the Jim White Project.

This phase was very exciting, energetic and fun. We all began researching and reading every written source we could find about Jim White. We began calling and talking with people that knew Jim and could share details about his life and personality. We would hold weekly production meetings to share what we had learned to determine the key points in Jim’s life that would provide a nice thread for his story. 

While most of the pre-production meetings would take place through conference calls, we decided our team needed a face-to-face meeting, with one of the goals being to formally title the film. We met at Scott’s studio in Lexington, Kentucky. The five of us sat in comfy chairs, surrounded by memorabilia and the ambient sound of the Andy Griffith Show playing in the background as we engaged in the most energized, chaotic, creative conversation I have ever had. The conversation would frantically burst, all of us simultaneously throwing out a title and listening to others, followed by silence. This conversation had a life of its own. After about an hour, we sat in silence, and Ben quietly suggested, “How about ‘By Lantern Light,’ because that’s the way he explored.”  Collectively, we knew we had just found our title.

As we learned more about Jim, we realized that the landscapes upon which he grew up, both surface and underground, shaped and influenced the once-cowboy turned guano miner, turned cave explorer, turned conservationist. 


An Evening to Remember : Christmas Around the World

Once a year, the Western Heritage Museum & Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame goes around the world in…80 plates. The museum will soon be celebrating its “Christmas at the Museum: Annual Christmas Traditions from Around the World” event, still growing stronger in its ninth year. 

“This started when I got here in 2008,” explained Mary Lyle, director of education with the museum, located at 5317 Lovington Highway, in Hobbs. “We had a lot of people at the time from Europe who were working at URENCO and some of them were my friends or volunteers.” Everyone agreed that putting together an event to allow participants the opportunity to share their diverse cultures and traditions would be a lot of fun, and the gala has grown in popularity and scope since then.

The event is always held on the first Thursday in December from 7-9 p.m. (Dec. 1 in 2016), and Lyle said it incorporates decorations, food and entertainment. Tables are set up throughout the museum with samplings from the fare, from the Netherlands or England. The food tables now include an average of 14 countries such as Italy, Germany, Peru, Thailand, Lebanon and Korea, the most recent addition. Some volunteers even dress up while staffing their tables.

Maria Vick, advisor with the Phi Theta Kappa honor society at New Mexico Junior College, said her group represents Spain every year. 

“I have distant relatives from Spain,” she shared, explaining that she had prepared non-alcoholic sangrias and piaya, among other treats and dishes. Some of the participants at her table dress up like matadors. “I always try to do something different. I wear my flamenco outfit, just to give it a flair and dress up the table.”

“Spain” has developed a friendly rivalry with nearby “Germany.” Germany brings a huge nutcracker every year, “and if it is missing, they know where it is!” Vick joked. “It’s just a wonderful way to get the community together.”

There is also a table specific to food items representing the Land of Enchantment itself, which served biscochitos last year; and there are 45 different designer trees spread out across the property that remain on display throughout the Christmas season. “We all have special trees with themes,” Lyle explained. “The whole idea is to make this a community celebration.”

To fit in with the international theme, one tree has flags representing all countries. There’s also a Mexico tree featuring decorations representative of our neighbors to the south, as well as trees with themes independent from the international theme. 

“Every year is a little different,” Lyle continued. “We have service groups who have started to decorate, such as the Fire Department and the Salvation Army. It’s really fun to see the police chief and fire chief decorating trees.”

Bonnie Moran’s North Pole Village has also become a mainstay of the event. “She has collected those little Christmas houses and villages,” Lyle continued. “It was taking her months to set it all up around her house, so a few years ago, we talked to the director about her setting up her display at the museum, also in the south gallery.”

This year’s feature entertainer will be “Accidental Harmony,” an a capella group that dresses up in traditional Victorian costumes. Santa and Mrs. Claus will also be there for the kids. 

“We have mariachis and this year the Flying J Wranglers will be doing three or four shows in our theater,” Lyle added.  “And we’re going to have lots and lots of door prizes all night.”

A portion of the proceeds will benefit Phi Theta Kappa’s Lea County Foster Children’s Holiday Party, which will take place on Dec. 5 this year. “This is our big event for the year,” Vick stated, explaining the charity event.  “Last year we gave 135 gifts for foster children in Lea County.”

The honor society receives a list of foster children from the Children Youth and Families Department. NMJC also helps sponsor the event. “Santa Claus then gives each child a present, and it’s a huge party,” she concluded. “I think this (the party for children) has happened for the last 100 years or so.”

Tickets for Christmas Traditions from Around the World must be purchased in advance by calling (575) 492-2678. The museum’s web page ( also offers updated information. Tickets will be timed this year to try to help with the flow of traffic from table to table. While Christmas Traditions from around the World is a one-night gala, Lyle stressed that the museum also hosts a family fun day in December featuring tables of Christmas crafts.

“Everybody has come to expect it as the kickoff for the Christmas season,” Lyle concluded. “It’s such a fun thing, and you really get into the Christmas spirit and into the community spirit. You can appreciate everything the community has to offer.”



Local state parks and national parks across southeastern New Mexico offer unique holiday experiences that are guaranteed to make lasting memories. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is wrapping up a very special year that included Centennial celebration activities and even a visit by President Barack Obama.  

Four members of the New Mexico Philharmonic performed a free concert underground on Nov. 3. It has been a few years since a similar event took place: in 1933, the Albuquerque Symphony performed “The Creation,” by Joseph Haydn, featuring a full orchestra and choir.

“The park was pretty young (as a national park) when we last did this,” observed Valerie Gohlke, park spokeswoman. “We’re going to seat people at the Top of the Cross and the quartet will be across the Big Room. We don’t usually allow music in the Caverns, but because this is the Centennial it will be a special, one-time event.”

Meanwhile, the Rock of Ages performance will also take place this year. The Rock of Ages is one of the more recognizable landmarks of the Caverns underground. “Rock of Ages” is also a hymn first written in 1763 by the Rev. Augustus Montague Toplady, referencing a smitten rock in the Old Testament.  

The event sells out every year and has become a tradition for many families. The park held Rock of Ages ceremonies from 1928 through 1944 but then discontinued them for many years. The event resumed in 2000 and has been held ever year since with the exception of 2015, which was not possible because the elevators were shut down.  

“That’s where we turn out all the lights in the cave and give every visitor, or every other visitor, a candle lantern,” Gohlke explained. “As we walk through the cave we meet characters, such as Amelia Earhart or (longtime park superintendent) Col. Thomas Boles.”

The trip begins at the elevator in the Big Room. The costumed historical figures are lined up at intervals throughout the route to the Rock of Ages. Visitors quietly reach the Rock of Ages feature in the park’s Big Room.“Then, out of the darkness, a beautiful voice sings the hymn Rock of Ages,” Gohlke shared. “Nobody knows where it is coming from.”

Different local singers are invited each year to perform the song, Gohlke added. 

The event is limited to 40 people each evening, and children under 5 are not allowed to participate. This year’s performances will be held on Dec. 9, 10 and 16 from approximately 5:30 to 7:30pm. For more information, please call (575) 795-2232 or visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but remains open for the rest of the year. Gohlke said visitation is usually down throughout the winter, with the exception of the holiday break. 

Across state lines to the south, the big season at nearby Guadalupe Mountains is actually the fall, where thousands of visitors marvel at nature’s color scheme across McKittrick Canyon and other similar hikes. Elizabeth Jackson, Public Information Officer with Guadalupe Mountains National Park, said the “Lunch with the Rangers” program at Pratt Cabin is especially popular. 

“Amphitheater programs will also carry on into November,” Jackson stated. “Our camping numbers always start to go up as soon as the weather gets cooler and people come to camp,” she shared. “The program at the amphitheater begins at 6:30 or 7pm, depending on when it gets dark.” 

The Guadalupes are closed on Christmas Day, though people with camping permits can remain at the park. There are also ranger-guided hikes offered through the winter months. “We identify animal tracks and talk about how animals prepare for winter,” Jackson explained.  “The scenery stays beautiful.”

The park’s popular “Coffee with a Ranger” program also remains active through the winter season, at the visitor’s center.  For schedule updates on ranger-guided trips within the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, visit the park’s website at 

Meanwhile, at the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park overlooking Carlsbad, the holiday season is celebrated with back-to-back weekend activities. There is no charge for the events, though regular admission fees to the zoo itself still remain. 

On Dec. 3 a local group of handbell performers will provide holiday music at the visitor’s center. “The event begins at 11am.,” noted Kathryn Law, park ranger. 

“All of this happens with volunteers,” Law explained. “It’s just a wonderful time of the year up here. It’s also a nice time to visit the animals, since many of them are much more active during the cooler months.”

On Dec. 10, from 1:00 to 3:00pm, the Living Desert will celebrate its popular “Holiday with the Animals” event, which has been going on for decades. 

Park staff place dried fruit into egg cartons to provide the animals with a special treat. Local youth make cards wishing their favorite desert animals a merry Christmas. The park also celebrates with craft tables and face painting.

“We also have our Giving Tree up all of December,” Law explained. “We collect donations such as non-perishable food items, books and toys and give them out to local charities.”  

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park is closed on Christmas Day only. Winter hours are 9:00am to 5:00pm., with the final entrance into the zoo at 3:30pm.

For more information, please visit:  

Psalm 145:5 states, “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Celebrating at least a portion of the Christmas holidays at one of the area’s natural wonders may just be the right recipe to tap into the true meaning of the holiday.


Ringing the Bells: MAKING CHRISTMAS

For many, the Christmas season means hot cocoa, Christmas cards, caroling and dropping coins into the iconic red kettles of the Salvation Army. And then there is the hustle and bustle of the holiday, as we rush into malls to see Santa Claus and to do our shopping, and perhaps, pluck the name of a child from an Angel Tree.

For the general public, these are just the things we do at Christmas time; as much a part of Christmas tradition as chopping down a tree or setting stockings out by the mantle. For some families in Lea County, providing Christmas for their families can be a challenging endeavor, filled with more stress than fun. However, through the tireless efforts of the workers and volunteers at the Salvation Army, Christmas is a little easier and brighter for those who may have been deprived of Christmas cheer without them.

The story of the famous red kettle dates back to 1891 when Joseph McFee, a captain with the Salvation Army, wanted to distribute food in an attempt to provide the people whom he served in the San Francisco area some hope during the holidays. His idea? Place a large iron kettle with a sign beside it hoping people would toss in a few coins. That simple idea has become a worldwide phenomenon, allowing the Salvation Army to turn those coins into millions of meals a quintessential Christmas tradition spanning more than 100 years.

 “It’s not as easy as you think,” says Hobbs Salvation Army Captain Sue Spousta, of manning the famous red kettles. “Even to volunteer you have to fill out an application, have a background check and have a good attitude, even when it’s cold.” 

 “Making eye contact and providing a little conversation goes a long way,” Spousta enthused.

Every year the Salvation Army relies on a pool of local volunteers from places like the Rotary Club, Lions Club and Hobbs schools to man the seven doors that are covered by bell ringers in Hobbs. Many donors drop coins into the Salvation Army Kettles, never thinking about what happens to that money after it is in the hands of the Salvation Army bell ringers. The answer is a myriad of different programs for the men, women and children served by the Salvation Army, not only at Christmas, but throughout the entire year.

 “Our Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets are very similar to our everyday emergency baskets,” explained Spousta, “but we bump it up and add things like sugar, flour, oil and cranberry sauce to make it special. I’m always looking out for deals and sales to add more to the baskets.” 

In addition to providing a special holiday meal, the Salvation Army also provides gifts for the families through their Angel Tree program, which can be found at Walmart and Schlotzsky’s in Hobbs. Each card has the first name of a child, the size they wear and one coveted toy.

“We think Star Wars is going to be big this year!” Spousta expressed as she explained the process by which a family was added to the Angel Tree. “We take the names for the families that need gifts from our food baskets. We have to be very careful to make sure that certain criteria are met for our assistance; we want to make sure that the children receiving the gifts live in the home and are in need.”

The push toward Christmas is an arduous task for the workers of the Salvation Army, as they struggle to provide as much as they can for the surrounding community. “Sometimes we’re so busy doing for others that we forget to do for ourselves. Suddenly Christmas is here and we realize that we haven’t bought a turkey for us and instead we have meat loaf,” Spousta adds with a chuckle. “But it still tastes good, and you know you’ve done some good for other people. We take the entire week after Christmas off!”

While Christmas is a time of cheer, festivities and the anticipation of Santa Claus, for some families in Lea County, providing Christmas for their children can be challenging.  That is where the men and women of the Salvation Army step in, providing food, comfort and ultimately the very essence of Christmas to those who need it most.


Christmas with Family

It was a Christmas that would not be forgotten.

Not much money was to offer, but the gift of love was so much more. On Christmas Eve, families were gathering and the snow was pouring down on Schilling Avenue. Money was tight that year and we knew not to expect anything, but what more could you want when you are with family? We did not expect anything to be under the tree, so we were amazed to see it was filled with an abundance of presents. Tears filled our mother’s eyes, as she had no idea where the presents came from and you could tell it filled her heart with joy that Christmas was once again met. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” That Christmas was filled with a miracle for a family that had nothing, but ended up with so much more than they ever expected.

Every year Church on the Move in Roswell creates a production called Christmas with Family. Christmas is not all about the presents, but knowing that you are spending it with family. Christmas with Family is a unique production where you will be surrounded by people that care, have compassion and welcome you with open arms. 

Reed May, the worship leader at Church on the Move, had this to say about Christmas with Family:

“Preparation for Christmas with Family takes months of brainstorming, meetings, rehearsals and pre-productions. From the initial idea to implementation, lots of moving parts influence how it is seen at production. We have musicians, production personnel, writers and builders working throughout the season to put everything together and make sure everything runs smoothly for the program. Stage designs and props are constructed almost entirely by staff members, volunteers or business individuals who attend our church. Christmas with Family always carries a similar theme, and that is all based in the title. We want this service to be a place that families of all ages can come and enjoy Christmas in a way that is fun, entertaining and based upon Christianity and the birth of Jesus.”

So what is the meaning behind the production? May sums it up as this: “The entire basis and purpose behind Christmas with Family and our church is to give people an opportunity to find Jesus Christ as lord of their life. Without Jesus at the center of the Christmas program, all of the work and preparation would have no meaning. Along with that, the Christmas with Family service is fun and entertaining for families and for children of all ages. We always encourage people coming to the service and try to find ways to connect with each age group so everyone can have fun.”

May’s role in the Christmas program is typically to lead songs that the team has selected and to ensure the band and singers to achieve the best sound possible. He proclaimed, “This gives me a chance to think outside of the box and get creative.”

In past productions of Christmas with Family, Pastor Tim Aguilar had the opportunity to play roles such as the Grinch and Jesus. Last year he played the role of Mr. Scrooge. Pastor Tim has participated in Christmas with Family for the last several years. According to Pastor Tim, two of his fondest memories were when he played the Grinch and Mr. Scrooge. He went into detail as to how much make-up he had to wear, and the time it took to prepare for each program, but conceded it’s all worth it. 

 “Seeing the joy that we bring to the people during the show, and how much older people enjoy the program, makes the time and preparation worth it,” he shared. “After one of the productions, a little girl brought a Christmas card and gave it to me when I was the Grinch. To know that I had that much of an impact and to see this little girl’s face helped me realize that I am making a difference.”


Last year he had the opportunity to portray Mr. Scrooge and his family also joined in on the fun. “Not only did I get to participate in the ministry, but my children got to be part of the ministry as well and dance with me on stage. My family was getting blessed, but we were also blessing others as well by taking pictures, greeting and being part of the ministry,” he recalled. 

He said the shows are fun, but “when we see mass amounts of people coming to know Jesus and changing their lives, we realize why we spend so much time investing in these programs. Seeing the altar calls at the end of the production, presenting the Bible in a fun way and seeing people wanting to change their lives – there is nothing more rewarding!”


During the production, Senior Pastor Troy Smothermon of Church on the Move reads the Christmas story from the Bible. Christmas with Family is so much more than attending and enjoying the show… it is being around people you love, having fun and celebrating the birth of Jesus. 


This year, everyone is encouraged to join in and celebrate at Church on the Move, in Roswell and let their family become yours. The cost is free and all are welcome to attend. Join them on Dec. 24 at 4pm or 6pm for Christmas with Family, or for a special Christmas Day service on Dec. 25 at 10am. Kids on the Move will host a production of “Back to the Manger” on Dec. 7 at 7pm. 


15 Years and Counting. Ruidoso's Festival of Lights Continues to Dazzle.

What’s in a name? When you hear the word “festival,” what comes to mind? Definitions will certainly differ, but most people can probably agree that a festival is an organized collection of celebratory events, and for the last 15 years, Ruidoso’s Festival of Lights has been just that: an evolving, beloved, nebulous celebration of winter and shared holiday cheer.

Started in 2001 by a group of Ruidoso lodgers who were concerned about losing business when there wasn’t enough snow to attract skiers, the Festival of Lights has been a cherished community tradition since its inception. The Ruidoso Valley Chamber of Commerce assumed management of the festival in 2008 and has been organizing the surrounding events ever since. 

The Festival of Lights can be comprised of more than a dozen events in any given year, but the two real anchors are the Christmas Jubilee and the much-anticipated Parade of Lights, which annually draws thousands of onlookers armed with folding chairs, blankets and warm beverages.

The Christmas Jubilee, held at the Ruidoso Convention Center, is much more than 80 merchants showing off their holiday wares and crafts. In a town that supports a retail shop that only sells Christmas ornaments, decorations, and figurines and is open all year long, many consider this to be the holiday event of the year. Attendees can shop to their hearts’ content and enjoy food and beverages from various vendors, and kids have a chance to visit Santa Claus. The Christmas Jubilee will be held on the weekend of Nov. 11-13.

The fantastical Parade of Lights generally takes 45 minutes to an hour and features a dazzling display of marching bands, ornately decorated floats, music, dancing, and enough fire trucks and police vehicles to cause some people to cross their fingers and hope there isn’t an emergency elsewhere during the parade. Each year the theme changes, but there is always one thing you can count on: lights, lights and more lights. 

In addition to the flashing, swirling lights of the emergency vehicles and the floats that are brightly lit from bumper to bumper, the street lamps along Sudderth Drive are wrapped in twinkling holiday lights as well, thanks to the Parks and Recreation Department. Some folks even say you can see the concentration of so many thousands of lights from outer space. Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration but never the less, the spectacle is awe-inspiring. 

If you have a chance to attend this year’s Parade of Lights, make sure and go early. The best curb-side viewing spots are often claimed an hour or more before the parade kicks off, at 5:30 p.m. Expect to see children scrambling for candy as it soars through the air and skitters along the sidewalks. In past years, the Chamber of Commerce has partnered with Toys for Tots in an effort to increase goodwill and help those in need.

The Parade of Lights is easily described as a positive, community event, but for many it represents much more. In a town where tourism reigns supreme, the parade serves as a well earned, collective sigh of relief, a marker signaling one more year on the books, and a chance for locals and visitors alike to come together in celebration and say “We did it! Now it’s time to look ahead to 2017.”


For more information about

the 2016 Christmas Jubilee,

visit their website at

For more information about the Festival of Lights, visit the Chamber of Commerce web page at


You Get a Bike! Local Organization offers bikes to every kindergartner.

Over the last 10 years, Ride for Bikes has provided 2,800 bicycles for kids in Artesia, Lovington, Roswell, Dexter, Hagerman and Carlsbad. For the past two years every kindergartener in Artesia has received a bike for Christmas.  

It all started in 2005 when Robby Gaines, Shannon Johnson and Don Greetan, all Navajo employees at the time, teamed up with   co-workers and friends to make Christmas a little brighter for kids in Artesia. The first recipient was CASA, Eddy County Court Appointed Special Advocates. “We delivered 45 bikes (that year),” Gaines recalled in a recent interview.  

It was so much fun they decided to do it again in 2006. That year they provided 35 bikes and two rocking chairs for Grammy’s House, a local shelter for women and their children who are victims of domestic violence. Both years were primarily financed and manned by Navajo Refinery and employees. 

In 2007, Gaines said they started looking and expanding and wanting to involve more of the community in the project, so a letter went out to individuals and businesses asking for donations and volunteers to help provide the Christmas bikes. Living up to their town’s name of “City of Champions,” Artesians and businesses responded, and the project just keeps growing. In 2008, Michelle Madrid, a new enthusiast from Mack Energy, came on board.  

Now, some 10 years later, there is a six-member board of directors: Gaines, Madrid, Greetan, Blair Porter, Bri Padilla and Jessica Caballero. They have a budget of $36,000 which covers more than 300 bikes, as well as a new addition: the Ride to Meet the Challenge scholarship program, which provides an $8,000 scholarship to a qualifying Artesia High School graduate. 

This year, like all the previous years, volunteers will gather at 8am on the second Saturday in December at the Artesia Center to assemble all the bikes. “This year the date is December 10,” Gaines said. “Volunteers are welcome. Even if you aren’t handy with tools we can find something you can do,” he added.

 “We always get our bikes from Walmart,” Gaines said. “We order the bikes in the fall. One year we placed an order for more than 500 bikes. When we called for them to be delivered, the store didn’t have that many because they didn’t believe we needed that many, so in order to fulfill the delivery they had to import bikes from almost every Walmart store in New Mexico,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “We got them assembled and delivered in one day. 

And that’s what they do every year. “When the bikes are presented to the children, each is labeled with the child’s name,” he added.

He fondly recalls how, last year, “the kindergarteners were told there was a big surprise waiting for them in the gym. As the children streamed into the gym, their eyes grew large at the sight of 313 bicycles. Many of them asked, ‘Do I get one?’ When told that these bikes were a gift from the community, there were a lot of ‘wows’ from the children.”

"One mother stood in the corner with tears in her eyes. She said the only thing her daughter had requested for Christmas was a new bike, but the family had not been able to afford one. She was so thankful that her daughter now had her Christmas bike. A new teacher that had transferred to Atresia from another New Mexico school was also teary-eyed as she praised Artesia and said she had never heard of such a program anywhere else,” he said. 

In order to make it a more rewarding experience, the children have to earn their bikes. The younger children made Christmas cards for our troops overseas or for the wounded soldiers in the VA hospitals. The older children did even more. One little girl who had long hair showed up to the bike presentation with a short bob. She had given her hair to Locks of Love. All of these children learn powerful lessons in giving. 

 “The children receiving the bikes were not the only ones that learned lessons and received gifts through this program. All who were involved walked away with a new sense of happiness, purpose, love and generosity,” Gaines gushed. 

Last year the state football championship was scheduled to be played on the same day as the bike build, raising concern. “It takes a lot of hands to build 313 bikes, and we feared that many of those would be in Las Cruces. But, as always, the people of Artesia were not going to let the children down. More than a hundred people showed up to build bikes, air up tires and load and deliver bikes” he marveled. 

By 2010 the program had become a 501(c)(3) public charity under the Greater Artesia Foundation, and it is solely funded by donations and operated by volunteers. This allows contributions to be tax deductible, he said.  

One of the largest fundraisers is the Wet ‘n Wild summer romp that draws hundreds of bikers, runners and walkers to participate in a four-mile course that is cordoned off by Eddy County Sheriff’s department for safety. There are six to seven obstacle stations designed to soak participants — yes, everyone — in a variety of ways and compete for the Super Soaker Award, thus the title Wet ‘n Wild.

Each participant is given a poker chip at the end of the race. The chips are dropped into containers labeled with names of the organizations manning the stations. The container that holds the most chips is the winner. This year the Elks Club took over the popular Boot Camp Bubble Bath which has won the last three years, Gaines said. 

Each board member has responsibilities. Gaines is event chair and director of events, Christmas Bikes and Wet ‘n Wild, along with Blair Porter. Bri Padilla is in charge of the Celebrity Waiter Event. Jessica Caballero does public relations and fundraising, and Don Greetan is in charge of logistics. In other words, he gets the bikes where they need to go. Michelle Madrid’s chief interest is the scholarship program, as well as keeping tabs on the recipients. She monitors their grades and ensures they are living up to the scholarship agreements while providing encouragement and whatever help she can.   

One of the objectives of Ride for Bikes, explained Gaines, is that everyone involved has a good time: the planners, the people who assemble and deliver the bikes in a single day, the children who receive the bikes, the folks who set up for Wet ‘n Wild and the bikers, runners and walkers of all ages who participate. At the close of activities, Gaines wants the general consensus to prove the old adage: a good time was had by all.

Ride for Bikes depends on the generosity of people to continue providing bikes for children. Donations help to make Christmas wishes come true and to provide the children of Artesia a healthy activity. For more information visit To make a contribution, visit the website or mail a check – payable to Greater Artesia Foundation, with “Ride for Bikes” in the memo – to P.O. Box 1344, Artesia, NM 88211-1344.  

All of the work and donations come from individual people and companies in the surrounding community. That is part of the wonderful thing about this program. It really is a community effort.