Nellie Twirls Baton

Nellie, a Vietnamese potbellied pig, hams it up for the crowd at the Southern New Mexico State Fair Wednesday. Sun-News photo by Norm Dettlaff Security tighter, attendance light first day of fair

By Christopher Schurtz Sun-News

Heightened security measures were being taken on the opening day of the Southern New Mexico State Fair, a response to the terrorist attacks two weeks ago on New York and Washington D.C.

Doña Ana County Sheriff's department deputies checked purses, bags and baby carriages of fair-goers, while vendors reported tighter security and checks of their vehicles and trailers upon entry to the fairgrounds earlier this week.

Sheriff's department spokesman Sgt. Ed Miranda, who was working at the entry gate Wednesday, said most people understand the increased security measures.

"So far people have been very receptive to the searches. A lot of people say they appreciate it. We've actually got a lot of positive feedback," Miranda said.

And though vendors said the turn-out for the first day of the fair was small and business was slow, they all said it was likely just the calm before the storm.

Particularly on Friday and Saturday, attendance traditionally swells, as cars and pickup trucks fill the parking lots and crowds pack the walkways of the fairgrounds.

But Wednesday afternoon, most rides were vacant of riders and vendors sat in the shade, ready for customers.

First-time Southern New Mexico Fair vendor Lloyd James said he and his wife have taken their bratwurst stand to fairs and events from California to Kansas.

"There's no way to know" how many people will turn out, he said. "Everywhere I've been, there's just no telling," James said.

Vendor Enrique Rivas and Maria Moreno, who said this is their tenth year as a fair vendors, said on past Wednesdays, school buses packed with students arrived at the fair.

Rivas said he did not know why this was not the case this year, but stopped short of saying it had anything to do with security concerns or some sort of response to the World Trade Center attacks.

Rivas added that for most of the years he has been at the fair, the first day has always been the slowest.

One explanation for the absence of kids on fair rides was the overflow attendance at the performance of the Valentine Performing Pigs from Seattle.

And no, they were not performing "Hamlet."

Waist-high kids crowded the front of the stage as their parents held on to their cotton candy and assorted fair-bought toys. The five miniature pigs displayed their talents -- from pushing various carts, baby strollers and a "pork" barrel -- to a suitably impressed crowd.

Each pig that took the stage was progressively younger and, therefore cuter.

That was until Nellie, a larger, 9-year-old, took the stage. Nellie has made numerous television appearances, including "Donahue," "Late Night with David Letterman," the "Today Show," as well as the BBC and Japanese and German television.

The "world's smartest pig," Nellie is "the one who brings home the bacon," according to the pigs' trainer, Priscilla Valentine.

Wednesday's events concluded Wednesday night with the crowning of this year's fair queen. 7 p.m. Proceeds from a baked goods auction at the Special Events Building will be used for infrastructure improvements to the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds are located 15 miles west of Las Cruces, off Interstate 10. Admission to the fair -- which includes entrance to rodeo performances and auto racing on Friday and Saturday -- is $6 for adults and teens 17-years old and older and $3 for children ages 6 to 16. Children ages 5 and younger will be admitted free.

The fair grounds will be open from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Thursday; from 8 a.m. until midnight Friday and Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tours for school children will be conducted from 8 a.m. until noon today through Friday.

Multiple daily performances by magicians, cartoon characters, comedians, mimics, a hypnotist, a ventriloquist, and musicians will be staged throughout the fairgrounds.

Local entertainers include magician Jamie O'Hara and folk music group Hoot and Annie (Bob Burns and Nellie Nosbisch). One highlight of this year's fair will include a concert by national recording artists Trick Pony. That concert will start at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Coca-Cola Pavilion.

Admission to the fair Thursday night will enable people to attend the concert.

In addition to the Trick Pony concert, other major events Thursday include the ranch rodeo, which begins at 6 p.m. at the rodeo arena; the lamb show which begins at 7:30 a.m.; the beef heifers show at 1 p.m., and the steer show at 1:30 p.m. The lamb, heifer and steer shows will all be conducted in the Livestock Complex.

The variety of events at the fair picks up on Friday, highlighted by the Junior Livestock sale, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Livestock Complex. Livestock raised by young people and exhibited at this year's fair will be auctioned. Proceeds from the auction will go directly to the children and teens who raised the animals.

Other notable events Friday include the first of three performances of the Southern New Mexico State Fair Rodeo, which will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Rodeo Arena; stock car racing at the Southern New Mexico Speedway, at 7:45 p.m., and a 9 p.m. dance, with music by Desert Wind, at the Coca-Cola Pavilion.

Saturday's marquee events include the livestock judging contest, at 10 a.m. at the Livestock Complex; 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. performances of the Southern New Mexico State Fair Rodeo; cart races at 2 p.m. at Supertrack Southwest; a watermelon eating contest at 3 p.m. at the Kids Park, and a second night of stock car races beginning at 7:45 p.m. at the Speedway.

Throughout the five-day fair, the Frazier Shows of America carnival will be in operation. From 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. today and Thursday, the carnival is offering an "All You Can Ride Night" for $15 per person. The offer is good only on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

For additional information, call the Southern New Mexico State Fair at 524-8602. People with Internet access can get general information on the fair at