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About the cover


Flying Things

Interesting craft aloft in New Mexico

You may soon be seeing (or have already seen) cool stuff flying over southern New Mexico and Arizona.

At the time of this writing, we hadn’t seen any yet, but according to a press release I got in late June, you could see or may have already seen fighter jets performing low-altitude exercises near Silver City.

The release came from NORAD (remember them?), the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Like many Americans, I learned about NORAD from Cold War-era movies, where military offi-cials made thermonuclear decisions from a super-secure underground bunker in Colorado. Incidentally, as a clipping from New Mexico Magazine’s “One of our Fifty is Missing” column, the press release also said the flights might be seen in Deming, Ariz.

Since the Cold War ended, the only time I hear about NORAD is around Christmastime, when they start tracking Santa’s flight around the world. Apparently, this exercise is a practice involving fighter jets and civilian aircraft,simulating possible identification a nd i ntercept p rocedures. T hese h ave been going on for years, as part of Operation Noble Eagle, as a response and practice after Sept. 11. This is the first I’ve heard of them in southern New Mexico. Think Roswell, 1947. Cool flying things are no stranger to southern New Mexico.

Think the F-117 Stealth fighters that used to fly out of Holloman Air Force Base. Think of the bats at Carlsbad Caverns. I once saw an eagle flying overhead (and then dangerously close to my vehicle) while driving U.S. Highway 54 near Corona.

Cool things are always flying over southern New Mexico. One of the coolest things flying overhead is the New Mexico flag. A friend recently sent me a link to Niraj Chokshi, a Washington Post blogger who on Flag Day reminded readers once again New Mexico has the best flag in America.

Chokshi referenced a 2001 survey by the North American Vexillogical Assocation.

That vexing title simply describes an organization dedicated to the study of flags, whose members prefer strong, simple distinctive flags, of which ours is one.

The runner-up was our neighbor, Texas, whose simple red, white and blue and classic Lone Star is very clean. It’s also very similar to the flag of Chile, which was adopted in 1817.

Though they didn’t make the top five in the survey, I’ve long been a fan of the flags of two of our other neighbors, Colorado and Arizona, both colorful, clean and bold. I firmly agree, however, New Mexico has the best state flag.

I still have a handmade mobile my oldest daughter, Jessica, made in the fourth grade. It features the state, with a roadrunner, a yucca, a Zia and other New Mexico symbols dangling with yarn.

She taught me the meaning of the Zia symbol that adorns our flag. Each of the rays emanating from the center circle has a meaning. One set of four represents seasons: spring, summer, winter, fall. Another represents the time of day: morning, afternoon, evening, night. A third represents the periods of life: childhood, adolescence, middle age, old age. The fourth represents directions: north, south, east and west.

Tribal members of the Zia Pueblo have had frustrations about their symbol being used for commercial purposes. And it is ubiquitous. Just in the past week I’ve seen the red Zia on a yellow field in the following formats: a pair of sweat socks, a can of beer and a necktie. Somebody in town even has a Zia on the back of his yellow SUV.

New Mexico also has, in my opinion, the coolest state flower (the yucca) and the coolest state bird (the roadrunner).

I’ve never seen a roadrunner more than about six feet above ground, but I guess you could call them another cool flying thing in New Mexico.

Sadly, I learned some crushing information just this week.

In addition to learning history from bad 1980s movies, I learned botany and zoology from Warner Brothers cartoons. That’s why my world was shattered when I learned this fact: A coyote can run more than 40 mph. A roadrunner’s top speed is 20 mph.

That means that “Meep, meep” and ACME dynamite in the desert was all an egregious lie.



Richard Coltharp is editor and publisher of Desert Exposure




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