Notes From The Crash Site

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Part Two

New Mexico is all wide open space punctuated only sporadically with small clumps of civilization that dot the landscape like little yucca plants. This is why it is such a safe place to crash things, as there is little likelihood that anyone will be in the way.

For example, there is a whole town covering about two square miles right next to the Oscuro Bombing Range which is north of Alamogordo, south of Carrizozo and a little east of the White Sands Missile Range. Is it safe? All two of the inhabitants think so.

The thing about New Mexico is that many ambitiously conceived towns got created without ever actually being built. They only exist on paper. Developers have had a tendency to look at only one side of the equation which is that you can buy huge unbroken tracts of land for very little money and if you then subdivide that land into, oh, say a thousand lots and sell them for a thousand dollars apiece—well that's a tidy profit. The only problem is you'd have to find a thousand people to sell to and you might as well go looking for ping pong balls in the ocean.

There is one notable exception to this that I ran across in a karmically busy way. Here is what happened. I was leafing through a copy of Life Magazine from January 1969 that I found and it had an enticing full page ad for a subdivision somewhat near Deming, NM—which is a sleepy little town about 2½ to 3 hours from where I live. The development, called Deming Ranchettes was south of town, covered a roughly square area about 20 miles on each side and was subdivided into a nearly uncountable number of ½ acre lots for homesites. This developer recognized that a really good advertising pitch in a glossy magazine reaching a wide and credulous audience ought to pay off—and it did. The lots, every one of them, were sold to people all over the country who had never been to New Mexico much less the little town of Deming and couldn't be expected to grasp the remoteness of the place. Consequently, in the last 40 years or so, only a handful (less than 10, I'll bet) of houses have actually been built there.

As it happened, I mentioned the full page ad to some friends here and one of them, who has lived in New Mexico for decades and who should know better, said, 'I own four of those lots'—well, I nearly fell over. Then they said, 'I've been paying taxes on them forever and have no idea where they are exactly—only that they're south of the town somewhere.' I said that I could at least help them with that. So, on our day off, Ms P and myself drove out in the surveying car with all the surveying equipment (for that is what I do by way of a job) and actually found the lots. To appreciate this you have to imagine yourself standing on the moon with a map in your hand showing a network of roads and all you see in every direction are craters, rocks and sharp crags on the horizon. Oh, and the earth rising above the horizon causing you to wonder how it was that you got so far away.

Nonetheless, I actually found stakes in the ground at the block corners and am certain that I'm the first to have scraped the dirt from them in almost 40 years. We had fun, by which you can surmise that we are easily amused. Well, I mean, we did get to stop on the way there and back and eat interesting food in Las Cruces which is not only a relatively large town, but populous too by our jerkwater standards.

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