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An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Around Town


Gold shovels were used in the ceremonial breaking of the ground to formally begin The Placitas Community Library construction project.

 Library Groundbreaking

Ann Rustebakke presents a check to Wendy Amen on behalf of the original Village of Placitas Community Library.

Seth at Groundbreaking 

Seth Matteucci, 8, joins in the festivities of the groundbreaking. 

Placitas Library contract awarded to Hart Construction

—Anne Frost, Co-Director

Wow! What a groundbreaking we had! Thanks so much to all of you who attended and especially to our shovel-wielding DIGnitaries: New Mexico Representative Kathy McCoy, Commissioner Orlando Lucero, Former Commissioner Bill Sapien, and our Founder Sue Strasia and Tom Ashe. The site is still outlined with stakes and flags, so take a moment to get the feel of our beautiful new site if you missed the event itself.

The PCL is honored by the trust that Ann Rustebakke and the original Village of Placitas Community Library (PCL) put in us by giving us their final nest egg. We will put it to good use! Many thanks also go to PVFB, especially Drew and Kenda, as well as Pam and the Friends of the PCL for all those great treats.

Chuck Homer and Diane Torrance brought two of their sweet alpacas. Bandolero and Jimmy stole the show, greeting everyone at the Fire Station and then showing the way to the groundbreaking site. All are still in recovery from the terrible incident at their home corral and their presence was both fun and healing for all. We hope to see them at future Library events.

The Sandoval County Commission has awarded the construction contract for the new library facility to Hart Construction. They come highly recommended by our architects, SMPC, and others. Keep a look out for construction vehicles near the Fire Station and watch the new building come into being. The Library Board is most grateful to Building Chair Gail DellaPelle and Furnishings Chair Rebecca Watson-Boone for the extreme diligence necessary to bring us to this exciting time.

Save some space in your garden for our Annual Spring Plant Sale, May 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Again this year, we will offer an assortment of xeric, rabbit-resistant perennials, courtesy of High Country Gardens (thanks again Pam), as wellas a variety of organic and heirloom tomatoes and other veggies and herbs, thanks to Placiteño gardeners Ann La Grone and Scott Dueul. Prices are reasonable and all proceeds will go to the landscaping of the new building. We are also planning a talk on “birdscaping“ your garden in the afternoon.

Upcoming Library Happenings:

  • April 5 at 2:00 p.m.: Reading and book signing with Mary Stuever, author of A Forester’s Log.
  • Pre-school story time: April 2 and 16 at 10:30 a.m.
  • Bilingual story time: April 14 at 3:00 p.m.
  • Children’s book club: April 21 at 3:00 p.m.
  • PCL Book Group II: Tuesday, April 21 at 7:00 p.m. This group is just forming.

Library Hours:
Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; and when the flag is flying. Visit us online at

Local author to speak at Placitas Community Library

On Sunday, April 5 at 2:00 p.m., Mary Stuever, author of the recently released book entitled A Forester’s Log, will share stories from her book at the Placitas Community Library.

Stuever, a Placitas resident and a forester since the early 1980s, is also the co-editor of Field Guide to the Sandias.

A  Forester’s Log is a collection of Stuever’s many newspaper columns over the years and offers personal experiences as well as understanding of vital forest issues.  Placitas residents interested in forestry and the challenges faced by this profession will find Stuever’s experiences and insights valuable and entertaining.

Permits required

—Town of Bernalillo

A reminder to all residents: please remember to obtain a burn permit when planning to clean your yard this spring. This ensures the safety of all community members. The permit fee is $10 and is valid for thirty days. For an application or more information, contact Fire Chief John Estrada at (505) 771-7135.

Also, Waste Management and the Town of Bernalillo are currently auditing the number of trash bins that are in service. Waste Management drivers will be counting trash bins while servicing their routes.

Please ensure that you are being billed correctly on your water bill if you have an extra trash bin. The standard one bin service costs $9.99; each additional bin is $3.83. Please contact the water department to make any changes at (505) 771-7120.

Jemez Springs bath house

In the mid-1800s, the first commercial bathhouse was built in Jemez Springs.

Soda Dam

Soda Dam forms a natural dam to the Jemez River, which cuts through it to continue its course.

Jemez Hot Springs

—Margaret Nava, Signpost

The mineral hot springs scattered throughout the beautiful Jemez Mountains are a source of relaxation and enjoyment to all who visit them. Located in both rustic wilderness areas and refined resort-like environments, they are geothermally heated by pools of magma located as much as five miles below the Earth’s surface.

Simply speaking, magma, or molten rock, is created when solid rock deep beneath the surface of the earth melts due to the high temperatures and pressures inside. The deeper the rock, the hotter the temperature. Because magma is lighter than the surrounding rock, it tends to rise, sometimes breaking through the surface in volcanic eruptions, other times remaining buried in reservoirs as large as forty cubic miles across. As rain or snow percolates through the earth’s crust, it comes in contact with the molten rock and as the water heats, it builds up steam, works its way back to the surface, and erupts in the form of geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, or hot springs.

Long before the Spanish arrived, ancestors of the present day Jemez Indians named their village Guisewa in honor of the many natural hot springs or “boiling waters” occurring in the area. It is believed the Indians bathed in these waters for both physical and spiritual rejuvenation of the body, mind, and spirit. With minerals such as calcium, sodium, lithium, and magnesium, and gases such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, it is no wonder they considered the springs sacred openings to the underworld and the residing places of great spirits.

As other cultures settled into the area they, too, discovered the springs. According to one historian, “the trails leading to the springs cut through the mountains like spokes of a wheel.” Several of these trails led across the Rio San Antonio north of the Jemez Ranger Station and straight uphill to several pools that eventually became known as the Spence Hot Springs. At one time, this area was once so popular that “hot-spring enthusiasts built a small community of adobe and log huts around the springs and stayed throughout the summer.” The huts are long gone but the trails and springs remain. Although warm thermal water seeps out in several locations along the short, steep trails leading to the springs, water temperatures in the upper pools may reach as much 106 degrees, while water in the lower pools seldom exceeds ninety degrees.

Halfway between Jemez Falls and Battleship Rock, McCauley Hot Spring fills three sandy-bottomed shallow pools with warm eighty-five- to ninety-degree water. Although the hike to this pool is longer than that to the Spence Hot Springs, the reward is worth it. Nestled amidst a ponderosa pine forest, this sometimes-obscure trail winds high into the slopes above the East Fork of the Jemez River. Along the way, observant hikers may catch glimpses of red sandstone cliffs, quaking aspens, and enough birds to please Audubon himself. Barbara Silva of the Jemez Ranger District laughs when she talks about the fish at McCauley. “Years ago, someone took a goldfish and stuck it into one of the pools. Since then, they multiplied and now there are little goldfish up there.”

More of a monument than a hot spring, Soda Dam is a natural dam to the Jemez River that flows through it. Described by the Santa Fe Forest as “a unique geologic feature,” it was created as superheated water from the Valles Caldera rose to the surface, picked up minerals (particularly calcium carbonate—the major mineral component of limestone), and exiting through the deep Jemez fault zone, deposited it on the surface in the form of travertine, a porous sedimentary rock. Over thousands of years, layer upon layer of the rock built up, forming the dam. At one time, there were as many as forty-two active hot springs at the dam. However, when Highway 4 was built in the 1960s, part of the dam was blasted away and many of the springs were destroyed. Nowadays, all that is left are several small algae-tinged roadside pools, a few springs along the walking path, a small spring in a cave hidden deep within the dam, and waterfalls when there has been rain.

San Antonio Hot Spring, one of the least frequented hot springs, is located approximately five miles north of the junction of Highway 126 and Forest Road 376 west of La Cueva. Due to unpredictable road conditions, this spring is best reached by skis, foot, or mountain bike. Once there, bathers will find several rock-bordered 105-degree pools sitting high above the picturesque San Antonio Canyon. Like some of the other springs in the Jemez Mountains, nudity at San Antonio is common. And while this might seem like a stimulating way to spend an afternoon, it must be noted that nudity at any of the natural hot springs in the area is a violation of state law and is subject to a $500 fine.

In the mid-1800s, the first commercial bathhouse was built in Jemez Springs. It was operated by a man named Archuleta, and others soon followed. Constructed of mud and logs, these early bathhouses boasted “Hot Sulphur Spring Water Baths,” and attracted loggers, miners, cattle rustlers, and those seeking “healing” from various infirmities. All but destroyed in the flood of 1941, the building still stands at the end of the driveway leading in to the Giggling Springs Hot Springs, where bathers can soak in a comfortable 102-104 degree pool, take “cold plunges” in the nearby Jemez River, sip fruit smoothies, or relax under hand-made ramadas.

In 1860, local residents of what is now Jemez Springs heard a roar and found that one of the seven hot springs in town had erupted like a geyser. Once the eruption subsided, a rock enclosure was built around the spring and by the 1870s, another bathhouse was built. According to local history, “the bath house was initially operated by the Otero and Perea families. In 1924, [it] was operated by Charlie Clay, and in 1940, Dr. Bruington gave [it] to the Catholic priests who in turn sold it to the Village of Jemez Springs in 1961.” Facilities at this historic structure include four massage treatment rooms and eight large concrete tubs. The tubs are enclosed for privacy and filled with one hundred percent mineral water from the natural hot springs, using a combination of hot and cold water. Healing massage by licensed therapists and herbal sweat wraps are also available.

The volcanoes that formed the Jemez Mountains left behind a number of springs that have attracted people to the area for many years. For more information, contact the Jemez Ranger District at (575) 829-3535; the Giggling Springs Hot Springs at (575) 829-9175 (; or the Jemez Springs Bath House at (575) 829-3303 (

Local Rail Runner Express Station to get bigger platform

Added capacity at Los Ranchos and U.S. 550 stations means easier boarding for passengers

Construction crews have started work on the first of two New Mexico Rail Runner Express platforms in an effort to make it easier for passengers to get on and off the train. As part of the Phase Two expansion to Santa Fe, these platforms are being expanded to accommodate longer train sets.

“Once completed, this project will make the Rail Runner more time efficient,” says New Mexico Department of Transportation Secretary Gary Girón. “Right now, we have to stop at the station, let passengers off and then move the train up one car length to let the last car-full off. The added platform length means that we’ll be able to stop just once at each station and everyone can get on and off at one time.”

Work at the first platform—at the Los Ranchos/Journal Center Rail Runner station—will continue for the next month. Once that work is completed, crews will begin lengthening the platform at the Sandoval County/U.S. 550 station.

“This work is being done as a result of the overwhelming response we’ve had since opening service to Santa Fe—particularly at these two stations,” says Lawrence Rael, Executive Director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments. “Phase Two service has been a great success, and people are really enjoying being able to hop on the train to Santa Fe. Now, the experience will be that much more efficient when they do.”

Placitas Recycling Center hours change in April

The Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) will be reverting to earlier hours starting April 4. The Recycling Center, located on Highway 165, will be open between 8:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Saturdays. PRA officials would also like to remind residents that the center will be closed on April 11, the Saturday before Easter.

The center will stop accepting plastic bags in April. However, residents can take their plastic bags to most grocery stores for recycling. The Placitas Recycling Center continues to accept all forms of paper, including newspaper, mixed paper, and white/pastel office paper; cardboard; No. 1 and No. 2 plastics; and aluminum. The newspaper and mixed paper can be combined, but the white/pastel office paper is collected in a separate container.

“It’s important to us that people separate their office paper from other types of paper because we receive significantly higher prices for the office paper,” commented PRA President, John Richardson. “Prices for all recyclables have dropped dramatically, and these revenues are our only source of operating funds. We use those funds to pay for utilities, fuel for the truck that hauls the recycled materials to vendors, and other expenses.” Office paper includes white or light pastel printer/copier paper, computer paper, white or pastel shredded paper, and white envelopes without plastic windows. Envelopes with plastic windows, heavy cardstock, and paper with a lot of color can be recycled as mixed paper.

Last year, the Placitas Recycling Center collected over 146 tons of recycled materials, including ninety-three tons of newspaper and mixed paper, almost thirty-eight tons of cardboard, over nine tons of plastic, four tons of office paper, and two tons of aluminum. Those are wastes that did not go into landfills. The Placitas community has an outstanding history of recycling and environmental responsibility. The PRA is proud to play a key role in the community. However, its ability to continue providing this valuable service depends on volunteers, and new volunteers are always needed, either as board members or to work at the yard a couple times a year. Prospective volunteers can sign up at the center during its operating hours.

The Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway 165 one-half mile east of I-25. It is open Saturday mornings except the Saturdays before Easter, Labor Day, and Christmas, and after Thanksgiving. More information about the center and the materials it accepts can be found on the PRA website at

Best in the West Navajo taco dinner

—Vivian DeLara

Las Placitas Presbyterian Church has been serving dinners to raise money since the late 1950s. We have come from serving dinners in our small basement to about forty people to folks from Menaul School in Albuquerque, and then for a short time we got permission to serve dinners in the Placitas School Gym. Today, we have served as many as three hundred people in our nice Fellowship Hall with the big fireplace.

We have had lots of changes to our little church, but one thing that has never changed is our traditional Best in the West Chile recipe. We still clean the chile pods, roast them in the oven, and then blend the pods with other special ingredients in preparation of our chile sauce. Our sopaipillas our fried to perfection and topped with chile, pinto beans, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Please come and enjoy a great Navajo taco fix at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church on April 25, 2009. We will serve from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The price for adults (pre-sale) is $8 and $10 at the door; tickets for children twelve and under are $5.

Stay awhile, enjoy the company, and have a cup of coffee after dinner. If you’d like, you can enjoy some baked goods that we will also have for sale.

We will also have special entertainment for your enjoyment. So please mark your calendar for April 25 and come and join the fun.

Breathing new life into tired rooms

— Patsy King, Placitas

This month I want to emphasize that small changes in any room can make a big, beautiful statement. “People don’t buy because of decorating, but it helps to sell the home.”

Here are some tips to enhance your space:

1) Centerpiece for a dining table — a grouping of a mass of candlesticks of all shapes or sizes. This can also be done with varying finials.

2) Make bookcases more interesting by adding photos and collections of accessories.

3) Try bringing outdoor furniture inside, and inside furniture outside. Rugs, pillows, greenery, and lamps can give your portal a cozy look and enhance the square footage of your home.

4) A small lamp makes a kitchen more inviting when entertaining than having the overhead lighting on. Candles can also “romance” this area.

5) During the warm months candles, greenery or florals can decorate the fireplace when not in use.

6) Animal prints are always in vogue. Leopard and zebra prints can jazz up ay room (pillows, throws, napkins, etc.).

It is the details that affect the look and feel of a home. Rarely is a big, expensive overhaul necessary; just little changes can achieve a new updated look.

Remember you can achieve the fine art of breathing new life into tired rooms simply by trying some of these tips.

Se. John Sapien 

Senator John Sapian smiles before he and other legislators hit the court to raise money for the Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Members of the House dominated for the tenth year in a row over the Senate.  

Local legislators shoot hoops for a good cause

Representative James Roger Madalena and Senators John Sapian and Kent Cravens played in the 2009 Annual Legislative Basketball Game, on Friday, March 6, pitting members of the New Mexico House of Representatives against the members of the State Senate. The House of Representatives took the victory for the tenth year in a row, defeating the Senate 58 to 51. Billed as “Hoops 4 Hope,” the event helped raise $10,000 for the University of New Mexico Cancer Research & Treatment Center, the State of New Mexico’s official cancer center based on the UNM campus in Albuquerque.

The Legislative Basketball Game allows New Mexico’s state representatives and senators to leave the roundhouse for the hardwood and play basketball for a good cause. “The UNM Cancer Center was thrilled to be the sponsor and recipient of the proceeds from the basketball game,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and chief executive officer of the UNM Cancer Center. “Cancer is one of the leading causes of death for New Mexicans, second only to heart disease. In fact, based on a recent study, one in five people die annually from cancer in the state.”

More than 8,200 New Mexicans will experience a life-altering cancer diagnosis this year, according to statistics from The New Mexico Tumor Registry, housed at UNM Cancer Center.

The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of the State of New Mexico, and one of only sixty-four National Cancer Institute designated cancer centers in the nation. It is home to eighty-five board-certified oncology physicians representing every cancer specialty and more than 120 research scientists hailing from such prestigious institutions as M.D. Anderson, Johns Hopkins, and the Mayo Clinic. Last year, the UNM Cancer Center served more than eight thousand cancer patients in more than ninety-five thousand patient visits.

County opens youth jobs program

Sandoval County Commission Chairman Don E. Leonard said residents ages fourteen to seventeen years are encouraged to apply for the County’s highly successful Summer Youth Employment Program.

Applications for this year’s eight-week program will be available beginning Monday, March 16, at the Sandoval County Courthouse in Bernalillo and at senior or community centers in Cuba, the Jemez Valley, and Peña Blanca.

Applications must be completed and returned by the April 17 deadline. Applicants will be notified of job placements by mid-May, and work begins with a mandatory orientation session in Bernalillo on June 8.

About one hundred young workers will be selected for the program this year, which runs through July 31. Participants will work twenty hours weekly for government and not-for-profit employers in all areas of Sandoval County, and will earn $7.50 an hour.

“The Summer Youth Employment Program is a great opportunity for younger residents,” Leonard said. “This is a program that I and each of the other four County Commissioners strongly support,” Leonard said.

Leonard said the jobs available under the program provide more than paychecks and that they help develop “new skills and work ethics that will last a lifetime.”

“Adult supervisors in the County program are key to the program’s success,” he said. “They are responsible for training and on-the-job oversight as well as performance reviews.”

Leonard said jobs may include washing dishes, clerical typing and filing, lawn maintenance, or working with seniors.

“Each job is important and necessary,” he said. “In turn, the County Commission has high expectations of participants. We expect our younger residents to do a good job and make a valuable contribution in their work and to establish the ethics and memories that will last through their lifetimes.”

French Onion Soup


Flash in the pan:
Soup without tears

—Ari LeVaux, Flash in the Pan, A Nationally Syndicated Food Column (He lives in Placitas)

French onion soup was the last meal Julia Child ate before she died. Perhaps it was a premonition, the earthy flavors of concentrated onion-root wafting from the underworld and foreshadowing her descent.

And while it generally won’t kill you, a good batch of French onion soup can jerk a lot of tears before it takes you to heaven.

Like many French recipes Child helped popularize, French onion soup is a simple dish, essentially a fancy version of peasant food commonly made with inexpensive, locally available ingredients.

Legend has it that King Louie XV invented French onion soup after arriving at a hunting cabin and finding only onions, wine, and butter. But the reality is that these ingredients were what stocked the average farmer’s larder on an average winter day. “I didn’t have to go to the store for anything,” said my friend El Camino, who made French onion soup the other day. “It worked out great.”

The price tag makes homemade French onion soup a good option when money is tight, and its rich, warming, and concentrated flavor makes it good wintertime food—which suggests, all things considered, that now might be a good time for some French onion soup.

El Camino traded with a farmer friend for a big batch of organic onions. He packed away the good ones for storage, removed the less-than-rock-hard specimens, and ended up with fourteen pounds, which, he decided, would be preserved as frozen portions of French onion soup. “I ran out of tears,” he says, of his adventure cutting those onions.

The secret to good French onion soup is to slowly oven-roast the onions in butter, El Camino says. This gently concentrates the sweetness of the onions without burning them. Doing so in the oven, and not the stovetop, slows the process and provides a cushion against overbrowning, as you don’t have to watch it like a hawk like you do when browning onions on a stovetop.

“I tasted the onions after a few hours, and they were sweet like fruit,” El Camino said. “I couldn’t believe it. I kind of wish I’d served it like that, but I kept going ‘til it was mahogany brown, like it says in Cooks Illustrated.”

He served his soup oven-baked, with a slice of bread and Gruyere on top, in personal-sized clay pots he scored at Goodwill that morning.

When I tasted his soup, the bottom dropped out of my mouth. I was tasting the sweet fragrance of the earth, first concentrated into the form of onion bulbs, and concentrated again into the brown broth in my mouth.

I enjoyed the bread and cheese in creating the finished presentation of the dish, but at the same time they were a bit of a distraction. The onion soup itself was the soul in that bowl, and that’s where I really wanted to focus.

The recipe El Camino used was a modified version of a Cooks Illustrated recipe that, as is the way of Cooks Illustrated, is extremely detailed to the point of being micro-managerial. You can find the Cooks Illustrated recipe that El Camino did wonders with at

But I’m partial to old James Beard recipe that’s nearly the same at heart, right down to caramelizing the onions in the oven rather than on the stovetop, but is more conversational and less like a laboratory protocol than Cooks Illustrated. The recipe is called Onion Soup without Tears, because the onions are only cut in halves, and not laboriously sliced or chopped. This minimizes the cook’s exposure to the onion fumes. The only thing I would add to Beard’s recipe is to back the temperature down to 250-275 degrees once the oven is preheated, and slowly caramelize the onions at that temperature.

“Set the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the onions [four medium sized, yellow] and cut them in half from tip to root, then lay them in a roasting tin and add the butter [2 tablespoons], salt and some pepper. Roast until they are tender and soft, and toasted dark brown here and there. You might have to turn them now and again.

“Cut the onions into thick segments. Put them in a saucepan with the wine [one glass, white] and bring to a boil. Let the wine bubble until it almost disappears (you just want the flavor, not the alcohol), then pour in the stock [six cups, beef or vegetable]. Bring to a boil and simmer for about twenty minutes.

“Just before you want to serve the soup, make the cheese croutes. Cut the loaf into thin slices and toast lightly on one side under a hot grill (broiler). Turn them over and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Get the soup hot, ladle it into bowls and float the cheese croutes on top. Place the bowls under a hot grill (broiler) and leave until the cheese melts. Eat immediately, whilst the cheese is still stringy and molten.”

El Camino added thyme to his soup as well, and I’ll vouch for that being a good thing. He gave me a yogurt container full of frozen French onion soup to take home, and I could have eaten the whole batch in a single sitting. But instead, I decided to spread the love over many future meals, and added my soup, thawed, to a batch of deer bratwurst sausage I was making. The juicy onion slices make the sausage more moist. And the earthy, pungent, golden depth of flavor the soup brings to those sausages will move my mouth to tears many times in the coming months.






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