Jal is located at the southern edge of Lea County and is the southern gateway into New Mexico. The city had its beginnings in the mid 1880s, when the Cowden brothers bought a herd of cattle from San Angelo, Texas, and moved them into Monument Draw, approximately six miles northeast of the present city. The cattle were branded with the initials of the previous owner (J.A.L.) and the cattle soon came to be called the Jal cattle. The men who worked the herd were referred to as the Jal cowboys. In time, the name became synonymous with the settlement itself. When oil and gas were discovered in 1928, Jal became a thriving boomtown. With the establishment of Texas Company (later renamed “Texaco”), El Paso Natural Gas Company and The Continental Oil Company, Jal proclaimed itself the “Gas Capital” of the nation. Oil and gas are still the major industries in Jal, although ranching remains a small but significant part of the area’s economy.
Today, Jal boasts a population of 1,800. Among Jal’s special attractions is Jal Lake Park, which is the centerpiece of a 10-acre recreational oasis in the middle of the desert. The manmade lake, when viewed from the air, actually spells out the name of the city (Jal) and resembles the cattle brand which inspired the city’s name. Jal Lake has become an important landmark for pilots as they fly overhead, and it is periodically stocked with fish, which provides year-round fishing to the residents. The recreation area also has tennis courts, a basketball court, playground equipment, and sand volleyball. There are also picnic pavilions, barbecue pits, and RV spaces available. People from all over southern Lea County gather at Jal Lake for their annual Fourth of July celebration.
Jal Lake also provides a wildlife sanctuary for a large variety of birds, including red-wing blackbirds, ducks, geese and an ever-changing population of migratory birds including herons, pelicans, swans and seagulls. These birds have all enjoyed the welcome haven of Jal Lake.
Jal also offers three other city parks to residents and visitors alike, summer access to the Jal High School indoor pool, and public use of the school’s walking track and tennis courts. The Jal Country Club has a terrific nine-hole golf course, as well as a swimming pool and game room for club members.
While in Jal, visitors will want to visit the Woolworth Community Library — one of the finest libraries in the state. The library is a legacy of the Woolworth family (early homesteaders here) and serves as a combination school and public library with approximately 10,000 square feet containing more than 35,000 volumes. The collection includes audio and video tapes, magazines and newspapers. Internet access is available at nearly a dozen computer work stations located in the library, which is interconnected with other libraries in Lea County through Estacado Library Interactive Network (ELIN). The library also features a soundproof children’s area, film and lecture theater, classroom, meeting room and a fully equipped kitchen. Just off the foyer of the library is the Woolworth room, which contains furniture, photos and other items owned by members of the Woolworth family.
The Senior Citizens Center contains a reading room with large-print books, an exercise room and a large room for playing games, holding meetings and serving meals.
North of town is the Jal Cowboy Sculpture created and built by local artist Brian Norwood. The sculpture, which honors Jal’s ranching heritage, consists of 17 metal silhouettes of cowboys herding cattle and stretches for approximately 400 feet. The tallest figures stand more than 20 feet tall. This sculpture honors not only the ranchers who still work the land in Lea County but also the ranchers who originally settled this area.