A few folks have wondered why we’re still in southeast New Mexico during summer when the plan was to be traveling to California, the Pacific Northwest, western National Parks, and a visit home this summer. This post is to address that question, and to allow me to unload some pent up emotions. If a pandemic is somehow political, this will be a political post. Let me add – pandemics aren’t political.
I am also going to offend people who love this area and for that I am sorry. I recognize that everyone is from somewhere and that there will always be somebody who loves a place.
I do not love southeastern New Mexico. I hate the heat. I miss good restaurants and cocktails, which are readily available for curbside pickup in Milwaukee. I miss diverse grocery shopping and good bakery and liquor stores with interesting ingredients for unusual cocktails. I miss being able to go to a locally-owned hardware store where there’s an old duffer who would love to spend 20 minutes explaining how exactly to address your particular house project and let you pick out the three screws you need to achieve success.
We have Albertson’s, Lowe’s and Walmart. The A&W in Carlsbad frequently runs out of root beer, when it’s open at all. The Burger King in Artesia frequently runs out of tomatoes, lettuce, and…burgers. The local pizza joint uses pre-made dough disks. At the same time, restaurants are refusing to abide by the governor’s closure order (but not offering health care to the employees they’re sending into close-quarter kitchens and dining rooms filled with unmasked patrons).
I’m slowly adjusting to cooking at altitude, in a toaster/convection/air fryer oven. The hits are beginning to catch up with the misses, but it makes cooking – my eye in the storm – stressful instead of comforting.
Southeast New Mexico has been devastated by the opioid and meth crises, and the population is becoming outnumbered by transient oil and mine workers who fill RV parks, “man camps” and all available housing, pushing housing prices through the roof. The average oil worker makes $98,000 annually; the median household income in Carlsbad in 2010 (prior to the fracking boom) was $38,640 – it is now around $60,000. Low-skill employment (fast food, retail) suffers constant turnover at all levels.
The SKP Ranch where we are is filled with warm, welcoming people – well, filled in winter. It’s a bit of a ghost town now, although more populated than usual as there are some other folks unwilling to risk travel right now. The co-op hasn’t been accepting new visitors since April, only allowing current leaseholders into the park. There have been a few comings-and-goings and ostensibly, those returning are quarantining.
The risks of travel are manifold; obviously, the primary one is the health risk presented by swathes of the population who refuse to accept that this is a pandemic and that it can be stopped in its tracks with simple masking, social distancing, and hand-washing/sanitizing. It’s been done internationally to great success, without loss of long-term personal freedoms.
After that, it’s a cascade of effects. Because there is no consistent guidance at the federal level, state leaders have to cobble together their own responses. Some states or even local communities are putting in place travel restrictions, ranging from blocking entrance to outsiders entirely (Gallup, NM did this to try to protect a devastated community) to requiring quarantines ranging from 14 to 30 days for visitors. Other states are denying there’s a problem at all, while their caseload and death toll rise precipitously. We are bounded to the west by Arizona and east (by 60 miles) by Texas, for reference.
New Mexico just closed all state parks to non-locals, defining “local” as someone with New Mexico ID or license plates. Most full-time RVers domicile in other states, with Texas and South Dakota the top choices for tax reasons. We’re domiciled in Wisconsin as we own property and have family there.
State and national parks had been fully closed earlier this year, and slowly re-opened, then immediately slammed shut again when visitors absolutely trashed the places. Sitting Bull Falls, a beautiful recreation area near here, was nicknamed “Shitting Bull Falls” for reasons.
I anticipate some private campgrounds to follow their states’ leads; as a result, we aren’t comfortable leaving the Ranch as we have no idea where we might get stuck and for how long, and if we’d be stuck in a death-positive state or someplace we’d feel relatively safe.
Indeed, Eddy County, NM has (as of July 15, 2020) 150 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death. We know we have it very, very good here. This is the tradeoff we are making – not seeing the country, not tasting amazing new foods, not reuniting (socially-distanced!) with friends and family vs. our extremely low risk of contracting COVID. Life temporarily on hold is still life, and we’re going to do the best we can with it here.
So, the short answer for us right now is “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
I pray for good health and safety to all my friends and family. Please mask up. Please socially distance. Please encourage others to do the same. We want to be able to come home and see all of you – alive, and soon.