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Stopping to see the New Mexico Sunrise

By Story and photos by Don Lovell

Last updated on Thursday, July 17, 2003

New Mexico Sunrise
New Mexico Sunrise 

When traveling around New Mexico during my work there last year, I found myself spending a good portion of every drive I made pulled over to the side of the road taking pictures. It seems that around every corner and just over every hill there is a commanding view with amazing textures, deep pastel colors, or the surreal effect of heat shimmers and stark contrast. The sight of elk, deer and antelope grazing, or a roadrunner hunting for snakes and lizards always catches my attention, and I can’t resist stopping to check it out.

One morning I was driving from Ruidoso down through Nogal to Carrizozo. I happened to catch one of the most colorful and striking sunrises I have ever witnessed. As I stood beside my truck taking it in, a New Mexico State Trooper pulled up and asked what the trouble was. “No problem officer, I was just admiring the incredible sunrise today.” As I stood there with my hands on the hood of the truck in a non-threatening posture, he got out of his patrol car. “Good morning officer, you should know that there is a firearm in my vehicle,” I said.

He inquired why I had a firearm with me. I explained that when traveling close to the border by myself I thought it to be prudent. He checked out my handgun and commented that he had one just like it. I said that I did not want to give him the image of concealing the weapon or cause him any undo stress. After calling in the information, he handed me back my driver’s license. Then he gave me a short dissertation on the do’s and don'ts of carrying a firearm in my vehicle. After he felt assured I had no criminal intent and wasn’t sitting on a stash of marijuana or other contraband, he mentioned that he enjoyed recreational shooting and hunting also. Then he commented, “I just hadn’t noticed, but you are right, that sure is a pretty sight, sunrises here are really beautiful.”

Here was a man who drives the State of New Mexico constantly, and while his eyes are on the prowl for speeders, smugglers and outlaws, he had grown somewhat blind to the beauty around him everyday. He asked again about my reasons for being here. I explained my demolition projects for Union Pacific Railroad and said, “ I have found that unless we take the time to feel the beauty of our surroundings and allow ourselves to be amazed by the greatness of it all, then we become hard and unfeeling and there is already enough of that in the world.” He stared at me from under his broad-brimmed trooper’s hat and slowly grinned. “Yeah I guess that I sometimes take it all for granted; you have a nice day and please use your seat belt and drive safely.” Off he went; I would like to think I helped him have a nice day.

Later that day I had to drive to Tularosa to check on some railroad work sites. Along the way there is a great view of an expanse of the White Sands Missile Range near Three Rivers. As I was writing a report on the railroad site I heard some very loud military jets flying overhead. It was a pair of F-117 Stealth fighters from Holloman Air Force Base and a couple of F-15’s making bombing runs on the range several miles west of where I was standing. I got out my big binoculars and the clear day made for great viewing of the U.S. Air Force spending some of our tax dollars the fast way.

As I watched the planes circle in and drop ordinance on the desert floor, some movement caught my eye. Out in a rocky rise about ½ mile from me was an ibex. His long curling horns reached over his back all the way to his rear end. He moved through the large rocks, then laid down in the shade of a large boulder. Just a few days before I had seen an oryx at Stallion Station on the upper end of the Missile Range next to Hwy 380, and now here was an ibex, close to Hwy 54. I had been seeing a rather large group of antelope everyday on the outskirts of Carrizozo. I had to watch when driving from Carrizozo to Ruidoso every evening to avoid hitting a mule deer or elk crossing the highway between Nogal and Ruidoso, but oryx and ibex were definitely critters I was not prepared to see.

Diamondback rattlesnakes seen by the author
Diamondback rattlesnakes seen by the author 

This was the third of these Union Pacific locations I had been to in this vicinity. Wildlife abounds in this area, and I constantly found interesting animals and birds to watch everywhere I went. I had found a couple of fat diamondback rattlesnakes sunning at the first site I went to, and at the second site I flipped over a flat rock and found a large bunch of black scorpions huddled together in the cool morning air. I had seen a pair of roadrunners hunting in the debris piles at the demolition site in Carrizozo earlier that morning.

I finished writing my report and took the obligatory pictures, then proceeded to Tularosa. I took the time to visit a pistachio nut farm and got some roasted nuts from the roadside stand. Then I toured a couple of really nice craft and southwest furniture stores in Tularosa.

Later in the afternoon I headed back toward Carrizozo where I ran into an U.S. Customs checkpoint on Hwy 54 a few miles north of Tularosa . Apparently these types of checkpoints are common in the region close to the border, a reminder of the war on drug smuggling and the flow of illegal aliens. I pulled in as they directed and saw the New Mexico State Trooper I had met earlier in the day. He was standing there with the Custom’s officers. He chuckled when he saw me and told the U.S. Customs officer with him that he had checked me out when I met him earlier in the day over at Nogal. I answered the necessary questions as they checked out my vehicle. I joked with them a little. I said that I had not been able to find any major contraband to bring back and assured them that I was not doing anything they needed to be worried about, but that I would keep looking for some entertainment at every opportunity. That got a smile out of them. Pleasant enough law enforcement officers, but I would say they definitely looked like they could take care of business the hard way if need be. I never felt like I'd be having any problem with them, though. They actually exhibited a pretty good sense of humor. As I drove away, they bid me have a nice day and drive safely.

My travels showed me three important things about New Mexico: the extraordinary beauty of the land, the friendliness and hospitality of the people, and the incredible magnetism it can have for your soul. I think about being there all the time and always look for excuses to return. My kitchen at home reflects the influence of the region in the food I cook. My best photos of the area adorn the walls of my house in Kansas City, and I talk about New Mexico's beauty to my friends and family constantly. I really cannot wait to return. Maybe I will run into that same state trooper the next time I am driving through; I just hope he isn’t writing me a speeding ticket when I do. Those wide open spaces and long distances between towns actually make you forget how fast you are driving.

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