paper, some think life in Loving County is idyllic. There's no
poverty, little or no crime, only four people are employed most of the
time, and everyone makes more money than the average American. Oh, and
the daily commute is shorter than the national average, especially if
your going to work around Orla.
last (criminal) trial was in the "80's", Sheriff Billy
Hopper said after taking a few minutes to dredge up the memory.
f you live in Loving County and need a gallon of milk, or a re hoping
to use a credit card to gas up the car, it's a 32-mile trip to Kermit,
and a 23-mile trek to Pecos. If you need anything more elaborate, it's
on to Carlsbad or Odessa.
there's an emergency, fire, rescue or what have you, first responders
from Winkler County have to make the long trip west.
folks who live in the nation's least populated county -- the 2000
Census shows just 67 residents, though locals insist their head count
shows it closer to 80 -- say it's worth it.
just away from all of the flippin' people," Hopper said recently
as he sat in his one-room sheriff's office inside the county
courthouse. "I can walk out of my house at night and I can tell
you what's happening within a mile of here."
County sprawls over 673 square miles -- about the same size as Houston
with its 2 million people. But outside a 10-mile radius of Mentone,
all a visitor will find is brown -- and occasionally green -- prairie.
the county seat, is dotted with just a handful of buildings, about 120
miles southeast (southwest) of Midland.
It sits just below the New Mexico line off a two-lane highway
trafficked mostly by oil field workers.
town was once bustling with a few restaurants and a hotel, but the
population has been on the decline for more than 60 years.
lot of people left during the war," Hopper said. "The roads
got better and you didn't have to live here."
a major highway or Interstate freeway, Mentone isn't really on the way
to anywhere except the lucrative oil fields.
blame the steady population drop on the lack of jobs For those who
have stayed, about the only career options are in ranching or the oil
industry. And most oil field workers are contractors who don't live in
the county and commute from Winkler County, Odessa or other cities.
the people went some services, including the county's school. Hopper
was the last high school student to attend classes locally.
the fall fo 1951, there were eight of us," Hopper recalled
recently. "But by Christmas time," he was alone. He finished
his studies in Pecos and now the few school-age kids in town commute
about 30 miles each way to neighboring Wink.
six Loving County students commute up to 45 miles one way to attend
school in the combined Wink/Loving Independent School District.
those are high school seniors Sarah Jones and Roy Lindsay.
is now home to only the gas station and the Boot Track Cafe, which is
open just half the day.
left, too, for a time. He joined the Air Force in 1959 -- he was the
only eligible draftee the county had and didn't want to be an Army
soldier -- and later took a job as an oil contractor and worked all
over the world.
came back in the 1980's and has no plans to leave.
Loving County, not only does everyone know everyone -- and their
business -- most folks are related. And in a crisis, everyone helps.
my home burned down in 1979 it took me four hours to open all the
gifts," said Barbara Creager, a native New Zealander who has
lived in the area since the early 1970s.
when local resident Opal Cook died earlier this month at the age of
76, everyone made plans to attend her funeral in Pecos -- including
the county offices, which closed for the occasion.
all come together as a family," said Brenda Wildman, 56.
lives in Waco right now, but often visits Loving County and still owns
Acker Jones, a 43 year-old oil field contractor who lives just down
the highway from Mentone's primary four-corner intersection, said
people live in the remote community because it's not crowded or
overrun with gangs or drug problems.
you're raising kids, it's great," Jones said. "They stay out
of trouble here."