Out-of-the-Way Lea: Places Not to Miss in the County

Dozens of out-of-the-way geographic, cultural, and historic places in Lea County await a vigilant observer or curious sightseer wanting to know the county like the back of his or her hand or just looking for an interesting experience on the weekend.

A century ago, ranchers and settlers came here in search of free or inexpensive land, resulting in the creation of so many communities or schools or churches during the period. The sites of those communities offer a moment to jump back in time.

As an example, the little community of Plainview was located 15 miles northeast of Lovington, a couple of miles or so south of what is now McDonald. It began in 1907, and residents had high hopes of the community becoming a major town in the region. The next year, Lovington was formed with a store and post office.

At the high point in its history, Plainview had a newspaper, several stores, a school, dance hall, hotel, skating rink and cotton gin. Photos show cars and wagons filling the street. The post office existed from 1907 until 1930; by then, hardly anything was left of all the town stores and homes.

You can get close to the site of the town south of McDonald on the caliche Enterprise Road on the east side of State Road 206.

Plainview is now abandoned, but a second location to see is very much alive. For residents wanting to drive no farther south than Jal, the tallest and fattest mesquite tree in probably all of Lea County is the place to go.

This one mesquite in Lea County stands out above all the others across the several hundred square miles within the county lines. Located a mile north of Humble City on Highway 18, which runs between Hobbs and Lovington, the tree is on the east side of the road.

It’s some 25 feet in height with branches of maybe 10 feet in length circling it from about head high to its top. Despite its thorny coat, cattle keep branches from growing lower than where they can reach up to eat. If you happen to be driving along 18 at sunrise and look to the east, you are likely to see some of the tree’s grandeur flush with a curtain of red sky as its backdrop. At that time of day, it looks as if it is ready to take a bow for being so grand in the morning.

The mesquite has a mixed reputation in much of the Southwest, with the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California being the mesquite’s U.S. headquarters. Ranchers hate mesquites, but cooks love them. Rural homeowners loathe them in their yards, but they love them in their fireplaces where they generate the hottest fires.

Mesquite smoke carries one of the great aromas of the outdoors, although like the taste of particular wines, the scent takes some getting used to. To a beginning builder of fires, mesquite smoke may smell too much of the soil, its earthy aroma initially a put-off. To others, the smoke from a mesquite fire can be intoxicating, prized for its overly earthy odor.

The tree should be a destination for everyone living in Lea, and I am thinking about requesting the County Road Department to blacktop a gawker’s pullover area just off the east side of Highway 18. Perhaps we could even have a Scenic Pullout sign for the location.

Let’s call her Big Mother Mesquite and let the county commissioners designate her a natural historic site, because she has been here for a long time, perhaps as long as the county now celebrating its centennial.

There are dozens of interesting places to see in Lea, but the abandoned town of Plainview north of Lovington and the mother of all mesquites north of Humble City are two good places to begin.