By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico
Plain 1.a. An extensive, level, usually treeless area of land. b. A broad level expanse.
That residents of Clovis and Portales live in the high plains, there’s little doubt. The New Mexico-Texas border area known as the Llano Estacado, literally translated as “staked plain,” is not only high in elevation as it rises from 3,000 feet in the south to 5,000 in the north, but it’s also relatively level as the gradual change in height is often barely perceptible.
The notion that such an expanse might include hills and valleys might well be a laughable proposition to those used to such things on a grander scale.
But one need only look at certain place names in the Eastern New Mexico cities for proof that its residents thought such changes of topography did exist.
In Clovis, the north-central area of town includes businesses, churches and schools that betray the way its founders thought of their part of the city. Hilltop Plaza, for instance, has Highland Baptist Church as one of its neighbors.
A little further north from that lies Highland Elementary.
Does that mean the shopping center is situated on top of a hill or that there’s some kind of “high land” in the city, compared to the rest of Clovis?
Some say yes.
“I was born and raised here, and they’re a little higher than the rest of town. To me, that’s the way it seems,” said Barbara Thomas, 60, of Clovis, who acknowledged relative newcomers to the city might not see it that way. “They don’t think there’s a hill here, but there is.”
“I’m from the Rocky Mountains, so I know about mountains — and there are no mountains here,” said Carmen Skabelund, 38, who relocated to Clovis three years ago after going to school at Utah State and living in Magdalena, New Mexico. “It all seems pretty flat to me.”
In Clovis, there’s a fair share of businesses with the word “valley” as part of the title.
But in Portales, whose commerce names include Big Valley Ford, Valley Furniture, Valley Electric, Portales Valley Mills, Valley TV & Appliance, many locals actually feel they live in a valley — traditionally defined as “an elongate depression of the earth’s surface usually between ranges of hills or mountains” or as “an area drained by a river and its tributaries.”
The tradition dates back for decades.
In the 1920s, the Portales Valley News was a newspaper for citizens of the town.
“As I understand it, Portales pretty much sits in the middle of an old lake bed. If you go toward Clovis, you’ve pretty much got to go uphill. If you go to Roswell, you’ve got to go uphill,” said Scott Davis, owner of Valley Furniture. “Just about any direction you go out of town, there’s a place where you rise probably 30 or 40 feet.”
“I’ve lived here all my life and it does (seem like a valley),” said Al Baca, 55, of Portales. “Because of the tornadoes, I guess. We don’t get many here — they’re rare. They always talked about the valley being so low that the tornadoes go right over it. As you’re going to Roswell and you look back you can see where it kind of sits down.”
Not every longtime resident of the area is convinced, however.
Kay Nuckols, 68, of Elida initially laughed at the notion while visiting Portales on Thursday.
“I would consider it the plains,” Nuckols said. “But they also call Portales that because of the porches and I haven’t seen any porches yet either.”