Cibola County in the Crosshairs of Pandemic and Depression

Ideas and Issues

Grants, New Mexico      No camping allowed at Chaco Canyon or what is more formally known now as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, nor could we cross the Navajo Reservation to get there, given the curfew and lockdown from 9PM Friday evening until 5AM Monday morning.  All of which made Grants, New Mexico, a former uranium mining town off of Interstate 40, our staging ground to get to Chaco during the pandemic hours for a self-guided visit.

Driving on famed Highway 66 through Grants is a confounding experience.  The usual couple of chain motels next to the interstate exit and a nice Malpais National Monument visitor center, but then there are two boarded up motels and one still trying to survive.  Gas stations abandoned.  Businesses shutdown.  A pretty, new looking city park as a testimony to CDBG money no doubt and a couple of other cultural amenities, but a Walmart that could only be accessed on a zigzagged side road near the interstate and a takeout Denny’s as the only option other than two pizza places, a Sonic, a Lottaburger, and one Chinese buffet.  On state orders there is no indoor dining and only takeout and delivery anyway with a mandatory mask policy.  The news says eight restaurants have lost licenses for not following the rules, although the advertised 14-day self-quarantine in New Mexico seems to simply be a discouraging word on this part of the range without any force.   Outside of Walmart, streets are empty.  This town seems dead and dying.

We bought the weekly Cibola Citizen to try and get a better understanding of what was happening here, and it was a jam-packed six-page gift of a first section.  It was also in this small town and county, a presentation of the nightmare of contemporary America.  The zoom call for the school board meeting was hacked, likely because the zoom link is published in the paper and online.  A bomb threat had emptied a grocery store and sent the county offices on lockdown.  A new trial was granted to the self-proclaimed oracle and leader of the Aggressive Christianity Missionary Training Corps in the western part of Cibola County for child abuse.  The city manager of Grants in a long editorial tried to straddle the line between supporting the governor and sympathizing with the opposition to the shutdown.  There was a kerfuffle in neighboring Milan over most of the police force resigning or heading for the door when a new chief arrived, meanwhile they were trying to contract for more camera surveillance and curfews in their village.  Covid-19 cases were surging.

All of this in a county with only about 27,000 people on recent census estimates, which has been growing steadily even though it is in the top five poorest counties in New Mexico with a population about 41% Native American and 41% classified as white of which all but 5% are of Hispanic or Latino heritage.  Three prisons run by private contractors are likely the big employers that replaced mining, although the Mining Museum is joining with the Chamber of Commerce to jointly hire a new executive director.  A high school diploma or GED is required.

We’re here to examine the past a millennia ago, but we had to wonder what the future is for our brothers and sisters in Cibola County, both a microcosm of the horror of modern American politics and economy, but likely so lost by indifference that it is not even a blip on any one, any where’s radar.