Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  
          ANIMAL HOTLINE
Dave Harper

 

The Hotline is a nonprofit service to help reunite lost and found pets.
Placing a Lost or Found in the Animal Hotline is a free service. You can include a photo if you have one available. For more information, call Dave at 867-6135. You may also email the Hotline at placitasdave@aol.com, but please call first.

—DAVE HARPER


 

LOST

Lost Cat

CAT: White cat with black splotches, lost near the end of Camino de San Francisco (about three miles north of the Village of Placitas) on March 5th. Female cat, really small. She responds to “Meow” or “Meowmeow.” #3311. (See photo.)

CAT: Small, female calico cat with a bushy tail, lost from the Village of Placitas in late February. White, orange, and brown. Pregnant. Lost from Paseo de San Antonio near the Catholic Church. #3312.

FOUND/AVAILABLE

Dog needs home

DOG: Bohdi is a three-year-old dog temporarily residing at a Placitas kennel. He needs a permanent home. He is neutered and chipped, fifty-five pounds, friendly, energetic, and needs a loving home and yard with at least a five-foot fence. Bohdi is a mixed-breed Golden Retriever cross. If you are interested, please call 867-0717 #3315. (See photo.)

Available catAvailable cat

TWO CATS: Two stray cats in the Village of Placitas that wandered up months and months ago. Both are neutered males. One is white with grey splotches, about ten or eleven pounds and three to five years old. He is totally friendly! The other is a smaller cat (about eight pounds), grey/blue with white on his nose, paws, and belly. He is adorable. Both are available to a good home. #3303 & 3304. Please call 715-4771. (See photos.)

 


Animal News


BosqueBosque's Pet Prints

“Ruff! Fear not fair princess,
I will save you!”

SEND US YOUR PHOTOS!

Mail your favorite pet photos,
along with a caption and photo credit to:
Signpost, P. O. Box 889,
Placitas, NM 87043 or
email digital photos to
email@sandovalsignpost.com.

Dogs need attention

One way to get attention...hang out on my parent’s picnic table with my friends Dagny and Vincent.
Photo by Katie Williams

Darling Clementine

Darling Clementine looking quite darling in her princess outfit.
Photo by Vivian DeLara

Fiona Begonia

Fiona Begonia amidst the Bougainvillea. Photo by Dawn Wolf


Unabridged:

The animal ghosts of Placitas

—MICHAEL CROFOOT
The American Southwest has a diverse and fascinating history going back many thousands of years to the people who first came here—the American Indians; and then almost five hundred years ago, with the coming of the Spanish explorers and pioneers; and then even over the last 150 years or so with the slow and steady arrival of the pioneering Anglo Europeans. Each wave of the First, Second, and Third Peoples coming into the Southwest left their footprints on the ecology, economy, and cultures of our fabled lands. It is this amazing continuum of overlapping histories and the wonderful landscapes that surround us which draw us newcomers to the high desert from all over the U.S. and even far parts of the world.

It is sometimes almost as if the ghosts of our Wild West were still with us today, as we search out the historical stories of the brave and resourceful people that came before and are somehow still living in these ancient and fantastic lands. Many of us living here in the present want very much to learn about the past of these Southwestern landscapes and their people as we search after the ghosts of our Southwest history. Ghosts, as in disembodied souls or as faint shadowy traces of some things once here and somehow, in our imaginations, are still here. Maybe they are still here, these ghosts from olden times… How lucky we all are to live in the high deserts around Placitas, where much of the tremendous range of Southwest histories have unfolded and intermingled here in miniature all around us!

This is a story of some of the Animal Ghosts of Placitas. But this is not written like a ghost story, in the sense of a tale based on imagination rather than fact. Rather, this story of some of the ghost animals of Placitas is written more in the spirit of a ghost writer—one who writes for and in the name of another. In my case, the other meanings of “ghosts” are more like the related words specter, as in something that haunts or perturbs the mind; and also related to phantom and to phantasmagoria—the latter meaning a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined. This story is based upon my reading of over five hundred pages of literature about the history of Placitas; two thousand pages about the history and ecology of the American Southwest; and also around 150 miles walking the foothills, mesas, arroyos, acequias, and roads of the Placitas area. So these ghost stories are based on some facts and some observations and some imagination. Thus they are just stories, but not merely fanciful tales.

Up until about thirteen thousand years ago in or around our area of Placitas and all through New Mexico and Arizona and surrounding areas, many places had a great diversity and quantity of what scientists call “the prehistoric extinct megafauna of the American Southwest.” The scientist who coined the term ‘megafauna,’ Dr. Paul Martin, declared that megafauna meant an animal which weighed over one hundred pounds.

Up to thirteen thousand years ago in what is now the western United States and northern Mexico, there were three species of curved-tusk mammoths and one species of slightly smaller straight-tusked mastodon. There were three kinds of sloths, including the giant sloth, which was just about as big as a mammoth and could sit back on its bottom and reach as high as a giraffe into the trees for food. There were tapirs and camels and the long-legged llama here in the Southwest. We mustn’t forget the many species of dog-sized and larger horses and asses. Also here around Placitas living many thousands of years ago were the mountain deer, presumably something like an elk deer; Harrington’s mountain goat; the shrub ox and the bonnet-headed musk ox; and several now-extinct bison or buffalo species.

There was even a now totally extinct group of strange animals in the Southwest called glyptodonts, which were like giant tortoise-sized or VW Beetle-sized exoskeleton-armored armadillos with club-like spiked tails, probably to ward off predators. Some of the predators feeding upon this rich biodiversity of herbivores were saber-toothed tigers; the American lion; the American cheetah, two kinds of giant bears; and waist-high and chest-high dire wolves. Back then and right up to around two hundred years ago, there were even giant beavers—the last pelt of which was turned in by a trapper over in Arizona in the early 1800s. It was a bit more than seven feet long from nose to tail. And then there were the giant long-nosed and flat-headed peccaries or javalinas, which must have been very scary to meet in a small oak forest and also must have been very delicious to eat if one did not get eaten first. Most of these recently extinct megafauna were giant grazers and browsers and most of the rest of their large prehistoric animal comrades were those who ate the giant grazers and browsers.

According to paleontologists, all of these fantastically large and small animals went extinct together in a very short time, just about thirteen thousand years ago, and they were all gone in around two or three hundred years or less—maybe much less. There has been a wealth of theories over the years about why more than three-fourths of the very largest of American animals went extinct altogether, and in such a short time in the not-too-distant past. These theories of megafauna extinctions range from the “over-kill” to the “over-ill” and to the “over-chill” theories of Southwestern broad scale die-offs of large animals.

The over-kill theory says that the First Peoples here killed off these many species of large animals through overhunting and, indeed, scientists say that the American Indians also arrived here to North America just about thirteen thousand years ago when the megafauna disappeared. Although, in much due respect to the Native Americans hereabouts, we must remember that they have many, many stories about how the First People all lived under the ground together at first. But when the signs and times were right, the two-leggeds all came up above the ground—maybe even out of a sipapu, or a birthing canal, that opened up out of the Mother Earth. So maybe even both of these stories about the arrival of the American Indians into our wonderful Southwest landscapes are true, in different and equally important ways.

 The over-ill theory of this massive, broad scale and sudden extinction of the Southwestern megafauna has it that diseases swept through the lands hereabouts brought by people coming into the Americas walking here by way of the Bering Straits or even bumping down the West Coast in very small boats. They somehow just killed off every last one of our very big animals in the Southwest.

The over-chill theory says that climate change, in particular the last Ice Age hereabouts, the Younger Dryas Ice Age about thirteen thousand years ago, is said to have killed off the large animals of the Americas due to freezing cold and the loss of food plants while the native animals became all the more susceptible to great and catastrophic loss in such cold, cold times. But just two years ago, there was announced a series of startling discoveries, which were only made possible by new scientific understandings and new scientific measuring devices. These findings appear to have pretty much more or less completely explained this massive and all-too-sudden extinction of the big animals of our lands. And these new discoveries certainly do even apply right here in the Southwest and in Placitas.

On May 22, 2007, at the annual American Geophysical Union conference in Acapulco, Mexico, a group of cutting-edge scientists reported their clearly-documented theory built from large-scale evidence of a great comet that burst apart in the air over the Laurentide Ice Sheet in southern Canada, just like the much smaller comet explosion in the air over Siberia in 1908 which absolutely flattened eight hundred square miles of forest. This celestial explosion also happened just about thirteen thousand years ago, which would have caused massive, broad scale, sudden wildfires streaming down from the north to the deep south.

And because this very high heat explosion occurred over the Laurentide Ice Sheet, the explosion would likely have also sent very large floods streaming down south just after the wildfires which may have drowned a lot of the animals that did not fry in the unprecedented wildfire infernos. The new discoveries have found a very thin black blanket of a carbon-rich layer. Also found in more than fifty places that span from California through Canada and even into Belgium were tiny capsules of glass-like carbon and even much smaller nanodiamonds, both of which are only formed by near-earth energetic explosions in space.

Personally, I bet that the this last theory will prove to be, in fact, the main reason this amazing loss of biodiversity happened in and around Placitas and elsewhere—probably along with some over-hunting and some diseases. Maybe this will be called the over-comet, over-kill, over-chill, and over-ill theory, as scientific theories have been bunching up into multi-layered meta-theories for quite some time now.

Nowadays, sometimes when I walk out on the grasslands and forests around Placitas, I can almost hear the mammoth herds munching and stomping and grazing their way through the native bunch grasses and browsing the native shrubs and trees as they go by. And sometimes when I walk up the Las Huertas Creek, I can almost smell the watery and musky odor of the smaller mastodon herds of Placitas grubbing their way up the river ahead of me with their long straight tusks turning up delicious cattail and sedge roots, and browsing the willow tops as they work their way upriver. Sometimes I even think I might be able to hear far, far off in the desert distances the solitary dire wolves howling. For me, recalling the animal ghosts of this not-too-distant past right where I live is very exciting and alluring.

But we need not go so far back in time to get excited about the ghost animals of Placitas. Just outside of living memory are the stories of the Placitas herds of pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and elk. Up until the Civil War, Placitas Hispanos hunted their game animals around here just as their Indian neighbors and relatives did—with bow and arrow. We can well imagine that there was an uneasy balance between the hunted wildlife and the early settlers of Placitas, with populations of all local inhabitants ebbing and flowing in the fullness of time. But when the Civil War veterans came back to Placitas, they brought rifles with them and as the human population grew and grew hereabouts, soon enough the pronghorn, mule deer, and elk herds were very much reduced in the Placitas area.

There is the story in Mrs. Lou Sage Batchen’s WPA-funded book of interviews with old-time Placitans written in the early 1940s entitled El Indio Viejo, which tells in a chapter called “Hunts of the Old Days” that by the 1870s, most of the “antelope had quitted the region and herded together around San Pedro Mountain off to the Northeast” of Placitas about five miles. It is said that in the winter of 1878, there was a fierce and windy blizzard which drove this last herd of pronghorn antelope ahead of it—west across what is now called Diamond Tail Ranch, and past Placitas. The antelope herd most likely followed the easiest and lowest route down the Las Huertas Creek. This last, luckless herd ended up at San Felipe Pueblo in the midst of the hard blustery winter storm, where the people there quite understandably had a great feast for many days.

But it should be noted here that one of my Placitas informants told me that she went over to visit the long abandoned Village of Tejon on Diamond Tail Ranch in the 1960s and she almost hit a pronghorn antelope with her truck there and also saw another three or four of these beautiful animals that same day. Some local people might even remember that there were pronghorn antelope herds just west of Bernalillo before all the new subdivisions came in.

There were stately elk here as well—and some of these are within living memory. Another Placitan Hispano informant told me that he worked with the Forest Service crew in the early 1970s making the Piedra Lisa Trail that winds its way up into the high northern Sandia Mountains. They heard the distinctive bugling calls of elk so often up there while working that one of the crew members brought his elk bugling call to see if he could bring them in closer—and closer they came, although these elks were never seen. However, less than three years ago, one of the residents of an ecological housing development above Placitas saw five large elk up there leaving big blocky tracks and bigger scat. And of course, there are still mule deer hereabouts—there are even said to be several small and distinctive herds of these lovely animals, one hard up against the north foothills of the Sandias and the other one further north a few miles. Last year, I saw mule deer tracks in the dirt driveway going into the Placitas Community Library down by our supermarket. So, these grazing and browsing animal ghosts are still here with us or not quite here, except as ghost animals.

But what about the ghost animals that ate the ghost grazers and browsers? The greatest of all, of course, was our Sandia Mountain grizzly bears. Known to chase down, kill, and eat their own close cousin, the black bear, grizzlies sure enough tried to get themselves an ailing mule deer or elk or sheep or goat, even near to Placitas in the old, old days. One of my Placitas informants also tells how the brother of Don Jose Gurule, one of the founders of Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, was out in back of his adobe home just west of the Church splitting some firewood sometime in the very late 1800s. I imagine it was in a bad drought year when there was very little food for the local mountain wildlife. Along came a grizzly bear, which apparently quietly snuck up behind the unlucky Mr. Gurule and ripped off his arm at the elbow—no doubt then scurrying as fast as she could back to the safety of the forests, now sure to live for some more days.

Dan Scurlock writes in his amazing Rocky Mountain Research Station report, "An Environmental History of the Middle Rio Grande Basin," that Augie Cooper was said to have killed the last grizzly bear in the Sandias in the early 1900s. And we should most likely be glad he did. I like to imagine that Augie hunted down that last bear, not with revenge in mind, but almost like an honor killing—something that quite simply had to be done for the safety of the people and their livestock all around our area.

The other two big ghostly predators of the pronghorn, deer, and elk of Placitas would have been the mountain lions and the wolves. One needn’t go to the history books to learn about the presence of mountain lions in Placitas—they are still with us. Some years back, near the northern base of the great Montezuma Crest, which runs majestically above Placitas, some of the neighbors there were having a sip of good local fruit wine when they spied a great big mountain lion traversing her way down along the lower flanks of the crest with her tail curved way up and almost over her head, just like a house cat will do. She was close enough that they could see her body was the tawny brown of most mountain lions but that the very tip of her tail was black. A few years back, there were a couple of half-grown mountain lions seen several times just east of Placitas and once they were found playing together, rolling and tumbling like big house cats late at night under the glare of an outdoor spotlight. And who can forget the mountain lion tracks that were found due north of Placitas Elementary School about five years ago? I have heard their crying, scream-like call and it sure is unnerving, yet wonderfully exhilarating also.

But it is the wolves of Placitas that still capture my imagination and my heart (and they would probably have liked to capture my leg and the rest of me too in a drought year back in the times of old…). Many older Hispanic Placitans can tell us about the stories that their elders told them of the wolves of Placitas—more often than not shared with their children to encourage them to stay around home and not wander off into the wilderness and up into the Sandia Mountains to the south. The howling of the wolves and the yipping of the coyotes just might have chorused together sometimes when the night was right back in those old days. But here again, we may not have to go all that far back to feel the thrill of wolf.

Near where that Placitas man had his unfortunate encounter with the grizzly bear, a neighbor was walking south of the Village of Placitas towards the foothills when he saw a wolf—and he says he knows what a wolf looks like. This was a handful of years ago. Even more intriguing is the report of a big black wolf from two very different sources. Both saw their wolf in the same year about ten years ago. One person is an elderly lady of our community and she is said to also know what a wolf looks like. And the other observer was a young woman who would go with her friends and a few dogs after school, or perhaps it was during summer vacation, just about ten years ago, walking some of the trails that lead south from the Village towards and into the Sandia foothills. She said that there was a great big black wolf which would often sit up on one of the little hills out there, seeming to wait for them to come along with their dogs. The black wolf-like animal would come running down towards them and lead the chasing dogs off for a good run and somehow play with their dogs some and then go loping back up towards the wilderness. Ghost animals, indeed!

But we would be forgetting far too much if we did not remember the two most widespread animals by far in olden times hereabouts: the legions of sheep and goats, along with cattle, oxen, and horses. From the 1850s through the 1870s, there came hundreds of sheep and scores of goats to Placitas, as an economic boom in the Southwest was founded in large part on these two livestock animals. Soon in Placitas, the sheep numbered in the thousands and the goats in the hundreds. It is sure that from the top of the many hills to the north of Placitas during that time, one could see little white dots scattered all about, with a smaller number of brown dots sometimes intermingled with them almost as far as the eye could see—the sheep and goats of Placitas. Sometimes I think that for every juniper tree that we can see as far as the horizon represents one or two sheep of that time and every one of the less numerous piñon trees that we see here represents one brown goat of that time. What did they eat? And what ate them, other than human beings? A kindly elder of the Hispanic community of Placitas has recently told me that up until the early 1960s, he and others of the Village looked after a herd of around three hundred brown goats just inside the turn-off onto Juniper Road going into Rancho de Placitas. I was told that in the winter, they would simply cut down juniper and piñon trees and this is what the goats would eat.

Now before you jump to the hasty conclusions that with all those dangerous wild animals of old and all those overgrazing and overbrowsing livestock of near time that those were the scary, bad old days of Placitas, think again. Maybe there is good news written all through this story of the Ghost Animals of Placitas. Stay tuned for the Ghost Plants of Placitas. There is much good news for the future of Placitas…

[References: “Comet chilled and killed Ice Age beasts” found at LiveScience-msnbc.com; Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and The Rewinding of America by Paul Martin (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2005).]

 

     

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