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A rich history full of sentiment and ... polka dots?

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By Carol A. Clark

As the big rock in White Rock nears six decades as the town’s unofficial messenger, a local photographer recounts how it got there and its history through the years.“White Rock wasn’t even here in 1949,” said Jack Clifford, who’s lived in the area for 58 years. “It became a construction town about a year later.”The man responsible for placing the big rock on the corner of N.M. 4 and Rover Boulevard is Max Chavez, Clifford said.Chavez owned what’s now the Quick Stop gas station on that corner. He was driving down N.M. 4 one day and noticed a major construction site.“Max thought it would be neat to get a big rock and put it on the corner and paint it white,” Clifford said. “He talked to the superintendent on the job to see if he would place the rock on the corner.”They bartered for a few tanks of gas in exchange for the rock and its transport, he said. Chavez painted it white and Clifford said he really watched over it. Then one night some kids painted polka dots on the rock.“Max was furious,” he said. “He painted it white again and it stayed that way for a long time ... Then some guys painted the rock black. Max repainted it and it stayed white for the longest time. Then people started to paint it at night and he just couldn’t keep up with it.”Clifford has a large collection of photos of the rock. He has attempted to photograph the various messages painted on the rock for the last 10-12 years. He has been very diligent about it and even has a pitch-hitter photograph the rock when he’s on vacation.About 10 years ago, some kids tried to move the rock to the lawn at Los Alamos High School, Clifford said, adding that they could hardly move it and it ended up in the middle of the street.One evening someone painted, “Will you marry me?” on the rock. He noticed a man standing near the rock. A car pulled up and a woman got out. She walked up to the man and said, “Yes” and hugged him. Clifford got the shot.On the 50-year anniversary of the rock, C.J. Buckner and a couple of women painted it to look like a chicken. “The deal was if I painted the rock white, they’d paint it to look like a chicken,” he said.He got a long extension cord to plug in a hair dryer so he could dry the paint before the women got there to paint the chicken.Clifford remembered taking a photo of the rock after someone had written on it, “Welcome back Wen Ho Lee.” An Asian woman showed up and asked about the Wen Ho Lee party on Barcelona and whether Clifford planned to attend. He told her he did not plan to attend, he said.After taking countless photos of the rock, Clifford was touched one day when he saw Happy 70th Birthday to Clifford painted on the rock by his friends.Clifford worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for 41 years as a photographer before retiring in 1990. He suggested a community project in commemoration of the rock’s 60 year anniversary. He’d like to see someone core drill the rock and count the paint layers. Following the core-drilling, he would like to see a community wide contest to find out who can come closest to guessing the number of layers.