Day Trip: Larger than life

Compiled by Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer

Natives call Jal the “Gateway to the Land of Enchantment,” according to its Web site. With its larger-than-life cowboy sculptures overlooking N.M. 18 and a well-stocked lake that spells J-A-L, the town is a waiting adventure.

Jal is a small city of 1,800, located about 42 miles south of Hobbs. It was founded in the mid-1880s when the Cowden brothers brought a herd of cattle from San Angelo, Texas, and moved them into Monument Draw, located approximately six miles northeast of the present town, according to the Web site.

The cattle were branded with the initials of the previous owner — J.A.L.— and soon came to be called the JAL Cattle. When oil and gas were discovered in 1928, Jal became a thriving boomtown and once proclaimed itself the “gas capital” of the nation, the Web site reads.

As a means of honoring this southeastern New Mexico town’s ranching heritage, artist Brian Norwood created a larger-than-life sculpture display entitled “The Trail Ahead …” that consists of 17 metal silhouettes, the Web site said. The iron sculptures erected on a ridge two and a half miles north of Jal, just off N.M. 18, consists of four mounted cowboys and 13 cattle and can be seen from miles away. The tallest cowboy measures more than 20 feet high and his horse is more than 21 feet long. The entire sculpture stretches out more than 400 feet.

Another special attraction in Jal is the Jal Lake State Park. The 10-acre recreational oasis in the desert is centered around a manmade lake that spells out the name of the city when viewed from the air. Jal Lake has become an important landmark for airplane pilots.

The lake is kept stocked with fish year-round. The park also has a recreation area with tennis and basketball courts, a playground, sand volleyball court, picnic pavilions, barbecue pits and RV space rentals.

People from all over come to Jal, located in southern Lea County, for the annual Fourth of July celebration and Jalarama Chili Cook Challenge and Car, Truck & Motorcycle Show, according to the Web site.

Fast facts
Driving time: Two and one-half to three hours from Portales, or three to three and a half hours from Clovis, or 152 miles.
Directions: Take Highway 206 to Tatum and then Hobbs. Then get on N.M. 18 South and follow signs to Jal.
For more information: Contact the city of Jal at
395-3340 or Jal Chamber of Commerce at 395-2620, go to the Jal Web site www.jalnm.com or e-mail info@jalnm.com or jalchamber@leaco.net