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Shifting Sands

Shifting Sands photo 6/23/2008 4:54:33 p.m. - Hobbs, NM. The sand at the New Mexico Junior College rodeo arena is shifting - literally. To make way for NMJC's Transportation Safety Center, the arena is being relocated to the northeast side of the stall barn.
Since the old arena, stalls, and bucking pens had to be demolished, it was necessary to put a bid out for portable panels, posts, chutes, and gates, which was won by Red River Arenas. Next, the dirt foundation had to be laid. This is where the story becomes interesting.


Rodeo Coach Philip Berry and Assistant Rodeo Coach Richard Morris had pondered since spring 2007 how to get the new "pad" put down. At the time, the construction rate in Lea County was explosive, making it difficult to find anyone available to do the job.

"The college went out to bid four times looking for a vendor to haul the base material and red sand/clay loam top layer," said Morris. Hobbs High School donated part of the base material that made up the foundation for the main arena and calf lane. This material came from the football field's sod that was removed and replaced with artificial turf. The remainder of the base material was available on the NMJC campus and the red sand composite was purchased. A vendor arrived in the form of Ramirez & Son Inc., who hauled and laid both layers.

Soon a new arena rose from what had just been brushy terrain. The base layer, made of football field material and black earth, holds the area and protects athletes and animals from rocks. The second layer, comprised of red sand and clay loam, provides extra cushion. With the main pad completed, construction began on the corral pipes and panels.

This part of the arena relocation was completed in the summer of 2007. At the time, the funds available could only cover the main arena, calf lane and 4 livestock pens. Morris and Berry knew that the final addition, the bucking arena, would have to wait. As 2008 leaned toward summer, they began looking for a way to complete the project. In late May, they heard that the local chapter of the New Mexico Army National Guard was looking for local undertakings as training projects.

At the Guard's monthly meeting, Morris contacted Staff Sergeant Daniel Williams with the idea. By June, the plans were made and the project was a go. The National Guard from Hobbs and Carlsbad brought in twelve servicemen, a front-end loader, a scraper, a grader and five dump trucks, and Berry, Morris and Ismael Zuniga of NMJC maintenance came in with the NMJC equipment. The bucking arena was on its way.

Amazingly, in only two day's time, the National Guard servicemen and the NMJC crew had laid 85% of the dirt work for this 14-inch deep, 150-foot by 150-foot arena.

This project was unique for the Guard. "The soldiers that worked on the project were excited to do something different," said Williams. "It was a win-win situation for both parties. It was good training for our troops and helped NMJC get one step closer to being ready for the fall semester. The soldiers had a good sense of accomplishment when they looked at all that they had completed in just two days of work."

As July approaches, the main arena, calf chutes, and part of the sorting pens are nearing completion, lacking only a few minor additions such as overhangings and gate adjustments. Zuniga recently added to the bucking arena, bringing it up to 90% completion. Its corral will be the last thing assembled. This pen is made up of the green portable panels that stand off to the side, ready and waiting.

"The bucking arena was a low spot when we started. It took approximately 900 cubic yards of material to fill it in so that the top layer could be put in place," said Morris. Caliche remaining from NMJC's current apartment construction provided the filler material.

The choice for the construction of the arenas was intentional to leave room for the covered arena or Equine Center that is to be built in the future, along with a new hay barn and an extension of the current stall barn.

Morris and Berry are hoping to have the bucking pens up and the area ready for use by August 1. "When completed, I envision it to be a great practice area for our students," said Berry. With the determination of these two coaches and help from the talented Zuniga and the efficient National Guard, the arena sands are quickly shifting.

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