Links: Please navigate to the Clayton Chamber of Commerce web site www.claytonnewmexico.org for a complete listing of business's, service providers, government offices and recreational opportunities.
Union County has been called “Crossroads Country”, “The High Lo Country”, “the Short-Grass Country” to name a few.
Why "Crossroads Country"?
The site of Clayton has been a crossroads ever since time began. About 100 million years ago it was a dinosaur track way on the edge of an ancient sea, and dinosaur tracks and bones are found throughout the area. The most impressive collection of tracks is at Clayton Lake State Park, where over 500 tracks have been documented. This area is open to the public with an interpretive center and a boardwalk around the site.
Native Americans began coming through the area at least 10,000 years ago. Many traces of their passing have been found including various types of pottery, spear points, and even human remains buried in caves. The area was rife with buffalo, deer, and antelope, which made it a prime hunting ground.
The Spanish were the first white men to pass through the area and it is believed that Coronado may have returned from his search for the Seven Cities of Gold following Indian and game trails that led past Rabbit Ears Mountain.
The twin peaks of Rabbit Ears Mountain have always been an important landmark to travelers and were particularly noted by Santa Fe Trail caravans which passed through the area from 1821 through the 1870’s. The name Rabbit Ears was given to the volcanic outcroppings in honor of the Indian Chief Orejas de Conejo who was killed in battle with Spanish colonists in the early 1700’s.
The Spanish, who populated the Rio Grande Valley, came to the area to hunt buffalo and other game every autumn and gradually sheepherders came this way looking for suitable forage for their flocks. After sheep camps were established, ranches began to appear, each isolated from its neighbors, and many days travel from any established towns or trade centers.
In the late 1880’s talk of a railroad was heard and Stephen W. Dorsey, who had built a mansion at Mountain Spring about 60 miles west of Clayton, acquired access to the site where Clayton was eventually situated. A town site was laid out, named after Dorsey’s son Clayton, the railroad came right through the town, and the community began growing in leaps and bounds.
Clayton immediately became a shipping point for cattle and soon big herds were being trailed up from the southern part of the New Mexico territory. The area drew cattle and sheep ranchers and later, farmers. To this day the focus is on ranching and farming.
Source: Clayton Chamber of Commerce
Why "the High Lo Country"?
Based upon a true story about two brothers who lived in Northern Union County,
The Hi-Lo Country is a 1998 classic American Western-drama film directed by Stephen Frears, starring Billy Crudup, Woody Harrelson, Cole Hauser, Sam Elliott, Patricia Arquette, Penélope Cruz, Enrique Castillo, and Katy Jurado. It is set in post-WWII New Mexico and is based on the novel by Western author Max Evans.
Don Walser appears in a rodeo dance sequence and sings a memorable Western swing, honky tonk rendition of "I'll Hold You in My Heart." Rodeo announcer Bob Tallman appears as himself in the film
Just after World War II best friends Big Boy Matson (Woody Harrelson) and Pete Calder (Billy Crudup) return home to find half of their town employed by cattle baron Jim Ed Love (Sam Elliott). Hanging on to the mythic ideals of the American West Big Boy and Pete team up with an old time rancher Hoover Young (James Gammon) to raise cattle the cowboy way and life in Hi-Lo, New Mexico becomes a volatile powder keg.
The fuse is lit when Mona (Patricia Arquette), the wife of Jim Ed's foreman, begins a heated affair with Big Boy. Pete's past longings for Mona resurface with his discovery of the affair and the bond of friendship becomes sorely tested. Ultimately, Pete and Big Boy's friendship will be decided by the extent of their yearnings for the same woman, while Hi-Lo awaits the outcome of the explosive run-ins between Jim Ed Love and two proud cowboys.
Why The "Short Grass Country":
The shortgrass prairie ecosystem of the North American Great Plains is a prairie that includes lands from the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains east to Nebraska and north into Saskatchewan, including rangelands in Alberta, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas, and extending to the south through the high plains of Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
The predominate grass is Buffalo and Blue Grama. Both of these grasses produce an extraordinary amount of protein for their mass. Our country can produce 500# calves by fall with ease as long as we get some moisture. Although we experience years that are droughty, our short grass country is a highly sought after, productive and beautiful grazing ecosystem. We are on the edge of the Rocky Mountains and receive the big summer rain storms that develop over the mountains in July and August. We also experience a “blue norther” every year or two. If you like weather, dramatic weather, you will love Union County! When it rains it rains big, when it snows it snows big and of course most of our days are filled with that incredible NM sunshine. Tornados are VERY rare, they develop just east of us and grow as they move east.
Located on the high plains, Clayton enjoys a relatively moderate climate (see the chart below) with an annual average snowfall of 22.8 inches and average total precipitation of 15.44 inches.
Source: Western Regional Climate Center
The average elevation of Union County is 5,050 feet