Last summer I spent a few miserable weeks working outside of Pecos, Texas, near a town called Mentone. This area is currently seeing a boom in its economy due to new drilling in the area.
Pecos was never a big town, but after the collapse in oil prices in the mid 1980s and a nearly total halt to all drilling and development, the town nearly died, with declines in population, many retail places going under or being re-opened as lower end stores, shuttered storefronts and hotels being flipped from chains to locally-owned places. There was only one grocery store where you could buy fresh produce, and even though the city sits on the interstate, deliveries are spread out so that the choices are poor, both in quality and variety. The town population dropped around 25% in the past two decades.
The town is near the Pecos River, which arises in northern New Mexico but dwindles to a muddy creek, bordered with salt cypress originally planted to halt erosion but which turned out to be invasive water hogs that added to the depletion of surface and ground water in the area.
A rebirth in the oil business means that Pecos is now booming. The hotels, including a couple built in the past few years, are always full. The only sizable store, a smallish, dirty WalMart has a huge parking lot and is full. Burrito stands line the streets, and most of the few sit-down restaurants are also Mexican. Indeed, the town is 80% Hispanic, and a friend visiting from Canada remarked that the area looked to her like northern Mexico in looks and feel. Although the town is only about 8,000 people, a survey early in 2012 reported it as the fasting growing small town in the U.S. The growth has not translated into improved services for the people there.
While I was assisting with a plant start-up, we were there during July and August of a year plagued by record droughts. At the time, there had been no rain for about 15 months, and the daytime temperature on site hit 120 F on some days. We would start out days at 6 am, in order to get as much work done in the ‘cool’ of the morning (it would sometimes get below 90 F). The convenience stores would be out of ice by 8 a.m. Some nights, if we managed to get done with our day’s work before dark, we’d eat at the same two restaurants. Several of my contractors were Hindu and pretty much lived on cheese enchiladas, rice, and refried beans that summer. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that homemade flour tortillas and authentic refried beans are made with a bit of lard. When I asked a local directions to the best restaurant in town, I was directed to Denny’s.
Pecos is not without history. If you’ve heard of Judge Roy Bean and the “Law West of the Pecos”, the reference is to this river, when it represented the edge of the Wild West Frontier, most notably in the late 19th century. Judge Bean’s saloon-courthouse “The Jersey Lilly” was actually located in Langtry, near where the Pecos dumps into the Rio Grande River, but the town of Pecos plays up on reputation with replicas of the saloon.
- Tough times on the Pecos as miles of river go dry (star-telegram.com)
- Noxious weed fuels green-energy debate (fuelfix.com)