SNM’s dirty little secret

The nasty truth we all try to avoid


It’s Southern New Mexico’s dark, dirty secret.

The visitor centers from Alamogordo to Lordsburg, from Las Cruces to Truth or Consequences, avoid this truth and fear its consequences.

Chambers of commerce keep it out of their conversations.

As I write this, on a Wednesday afternoon in Las Cruces, my teeth are full of grit, grime and crunchy bits of sand that were in Deming this morning.

At the same time, Las Cruces topsoil was winding its way to Otero County, at about 75 miles an hour, seeking some unsuspecting teeth in Alamogordo or Tularosa.

Remember the old saying? “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

That doesn’t work here in Southern New Mexico.

In 1975, in a hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch, John Belushi gave his take on the old adage. Here’s a sample of that Belushi genius:

“Did you know March behaves differently in other countries? In Norway for example, March comes in like a polar bear and goes out like a walrus. Or, take the case of Honduras, where March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a salt marsh harvest mouse. Let’s compare this to the Maldive Islands, where March comes in like a wildebeest, and goes out like an ant. A tiny, little ant about this big…”

I’m not sure what animals would best describe the bad windy days in Southern New Mexico, but it would probably involve flying javelinas or bald coyotes.

Once, while hiking outside of Silver City, I saw a raven flying into the wind, flapping its wings furiously, and going nowhere, like an air treadmill. Ravens being ravens, the big black bird seemed (and sounded) as if it were having a grand old time.

Recently, while driving along New Mexico Hwy. 28, I saw a roadrunner run into the wind, stop, and do an instantaneous 180-degree turn so he could run with the wind, which lifted him off the ground a few feet.

Ninety-five percent of the time, Southern New Mexico’s weather is damn near perfect. We like to brag – and rightly so - about not having tornados, hurricanes or earthquakes. We don’t get much rain, but when we do, you gotta love our rainbows. We also don’t have to deal with six months of snow as people do in Minnesota or North Dakota.

But we keep pretty mum to visitors about our dirty dozen or so windy days from hell. That said, we’ll complain all day – and rightly so - to our fellow Southern New Mexicans about the evil winds.

During one of the nasty, windy days when I was living in Alamogordo, every car in town had a thin layer of gypsum because the directional winds sent tons of the white stuff from White Sands National Monument (I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to calling it White Sands National Park) over the city.

Lots of people in Southern New Mexico own one of those pop-up shade canopies, and tote it to festivals, kids soccer games, Gus Macker tournaments, picnics or wherever. They can provide welcome relief from our relentless sunshine. However, nobody owns one for very long. Inevitably, on one of those occasions, a beautiful calm morning turns into a whirlwind afternoon, mangling canopies in the wake.

When I talk with old friends from Oklahoma, where I grew up, and the talk turns to weather, they’ll tell me about the latest tornado, ice storm or flood. And I might complain that it rained mud last month.

“Rained mud?” they’ll ask, confused.

We here in Southern New Mexico know the phenomenon well.

Occasionally, during one of our dirt uprisings, the sky decides to rain sideways for about 17 seconds. As the raindrops fly through the dense dust, they collect just enough soil to soil your car windshield with a spattering of mini mud pies.

If you happen to be reading this outside, and the wind hasn’t already whipped your Desert Exposure away, now might be a good time to nail it down to the nearest hunk of wood.

Richard Coltharp is publisher of Desert Exposure and the Las Cruces Bulletin. Years ago, he and his daughter Avalon, while flying a kite in Artesia, watched helplessly as a big wind gust broke the string and sent the kite into the sunset. They gave up and opted for a sand-covered ice cream cone.