By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico
With the temperatures into the mid-90s on Friday, it was a typical summer day. Except, inside the Home Arts Building at the Curry County Fairgrounds, where display booths were decorated in traditional fall colors yellow, orange, deep red and brown.
The colors of autumn will soon be omnipresent and it’s events like county fairs, to many people, that mark a transition from one season to another.
On Monday, the annual Curry County Fair opens for a week full of activities followed, in short-order, by the Roosevelt County Fair — which begins Tuesday, Aug. 18.
“I think it’s basically the last get-together for people before school starts. Everything gets hectic with sports and school and things like that,” said Jan Riley, interim manager for the Curry County Fair. “It’s the last summer hoorah.”
County fairs in eastern New Mexico, which precede the New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque, have a variety of appeal points.
Indeed, it seems four fairly distinct areas all have their adherents from residents who enjoy going to the fair each year:
• Livestock-related activities
• Food and drinks
• Carnival rides and games
• Traditional contests among local citizenry
Barbara Heintzelman, 62, of Clovis, said “all the animals” are the first thing that pops into her head when it comes to the county fair.
“I used to come out to the fair with my dad when I was growing up. That’s where we always headed first was the animal barns,” Heintzelman said. “He loved going through the horse barns because he was raised on a farm. He’d go around and pet all the horses and talk to them.”
Cows, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits, chickens and more are found in abundance at both the Curry and Roosevelt fairs.
At the Curry County Fair, a petting zoo will return for the first time “in several years,” according to Riley, while a specialty act, Pets Overboard featuring rescued dogs, features shows twice each night.
One of Roosevelt County’s contributions to the beyond-the-mainstream animal activities is a turtle race.
To take in all the events, it’s sometimes good to have something to munch on. In fact, that may be the best part of the fair to some.
“I think of the food. Just all the junk food you get to eat once a year. The funnel cakes, the caramel apples, the cotton candy,” said Kelly Tibbets, 24, of Portales.
Turkey legs, lemonade, catfish from the “Catfish Man” and something called “Cowboy Taters” remain popular favorites in Clovis, Riley said, while one new addition is a vendor who plans to sell coffees and teas during the fair.
Fred Kelly, 39, of Clovis, vouches for the carnival as the favorite part for his family.
“Just having fun and playing games. I’ve got five kids, so that means a lot to me,” Kelly said.
Just as traditional to the county fairs as the midway are contests held in a wide variety of areas. Citizens annually compete for first prize in fruits and vegetables, photography, baked products, canned products, arts and crafts and flower displays — among others.
And this part of the county fair has it’s adherents, too.
“I’ve got about eight or ten items entered for crocheting every year. Anywhere from a doll to a toy to afghans,” said Dean Perry, 68, of Portales on some of her usual projects. “It’s fun. I worked all year long to enter my things in the fair.”