Maxwell, New Mexico: Ground Zero
I was reading the Sunday paper recently to find another story on the front page about the serious drought here in New Mexico. The lack of water is affecting the Southwest. This story was about a small town on the eastern plains called Maxwell. The paper spoke about the wells going dry out there and the need to rehab them if the residents were to have any water at all. Kay Pinkston is the Mayor of Maxwell and she spoke about the drought that has been affecting the area for the last several years.
I decided that I needed to go out there to see for myself what was going on. Water has been a concern of mine since my youth and the plains a visual well of images for my photography. I’ve always felt drawn to the plains, the wide open spaces “where the buffalo roam”. In 2006, I started a series called, back in time. The winds were fierce, the dust pervasive and the desolation was a reminder of the Dust Bowl era. I knew it was time to update what I had started.
I checked out my map and saw that the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge was adjoining the village of Maxwell, so I decided to go there first on my way to the village.
It was a windy day with clouds threatening rain as I made my way through Angel Fire and Cimarron and out to the plains. Sure enough as soon as I reached the flat wide open space the wind became fierce. To the south I saw the dust billowing across the land. At first, I thought “fire” and quickly realized it was the prairie taking flight to the east.
I made my way to the Refuge along Hwy. 505. As I got closer to my destination, what was once grasslands that swayed in the wind, was now just New Mexico dirt with nothing to hold it down.
My map showed a large lake called Stubblefield dam that was now empty with a white substance like the build up from the hard water at home. I learned that it is Alkali salts and they were blowing too.
There were a few cattle here and there but mostly naked ground and manure. I found the Refuge headquarters and got my map from the manager Leeann Wilkins. I learned that the refuge was losing its’ winter population of birds and wildlife because there was no water in the lakes, which meant no water for farming. The birds are learning to change their migration pattern looking for water and food farther to the east in Oklahoma. Leeann told me that even if the lakes replenish with snow and rain, the juvenile birds with the knowledge of a new migration would probably not return to the refuge over time.