Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Time Off

Road blocks keep summer wilderness fun to a minimum

Dog days of summer

—Ty Belknap

An abundance of time off was not always a good thing during the most brutal of New Mexico seasons. The wind and heat and fire made it practically impossible to recreate in any of my favorite local getaways. We would have headed for a coast or somewhere in the northern Rockies, but were stuck here, waiting out a legal problem that had dragged on for six months.

First, they closed the National Forest. No hikes in the Sandias. No mountain bike rides in the loop. My dog Lalo, a Chesapeake Bay retriever bred for duck hunting in cold water, refuses to hike in the hot sun, so we settled for dawn walks in BLM land near my house.

Lalo did not create the dog days of summer. Webster’s defines dog days as the hottest, most sultry days of summer, or a period of stagnation. During July, Sirius—the Dog Star—rises and sets with the sun, and is in conjunction with the sun. The ancients believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun. They named this period of time, from twenty days before the conjunction to twenty days after, “Dog Days” after the Dog Star.

It’s been pretty nice, waking up so early—plenty of time, in the relatively cool morning, to drink coffee, read the paper, do crossword puzzles, and wait for a phone call from our lawyer. My wife Barb enjoyed the heat and was busy with her artwork. Sometimes, I helped.

As the summertime cabin fever set in, Lalo and I went for afternoon swims in the Rio Grande, south of the Bernalillo bridge. For some reason, few people swim in the Rio Grande, but for Lalo and I, there is nothing better than floating downstream under relentless blue skies, past bosque and mountain. Tossing sticks and lying on the beach, oh man. It doesn’t get much better than that! It’s safe enough for a strong swimmer, but, still, one must watch out for foot entrapment and debris snags.

On one particularly nasty day, we braved the smoke and dust, only to find a sign and crime scene tape barring entry to the bosque at the bridge. CLOSED. Lalo had to settle for a muddy dip in a dammed-up section of the severely depleted Las Huertas Creek.

Several days later we drove up to Cochiti Lake and found it closed, too. Why close a lake due to fire danger? Apparently, helicopters were using it to scoop water to dump on the wildfire, and fire crews were camped out there.

I fully support the closures of vulnerable public lands and shouldn’t whine. Anyway, I eventually found another access point to the river, which might even have been legal, since the bosque was closed—not the Rio Grande. I kept the location secret, because there seemed to be some kind of conspiracy to keep my dehydrated ass out of the water.

And summer dragged on. On the fifth of July, online reports indicated that water being released into the Rio Chama made it easily navigable, so I drove with my solo canoe to El Vado Dam for an overnight trip through the Wild and Scenic River. When I got there, the release had been cut to a level that was barely navigable. In disbelief, I reluctantly loaded back in the car and fantasized of a shady place to camp on Heron Lake, nearby.

A mile up the road, my rear tire went flat, and then my jack collapsed in the uneven gravel. I hiked back to the river to borrow their heavy-duty hydraulic jack and lugged it back to my car. It was hot. I further destroyed my flat by driving to level ground, then dug a hole in the hard caliche for the too-tall jack—finally managing to change the tire.

With no jack and no spare, I gave up on the camping trip and settled for a swim in El Vado Lake before heading for home. Buoyed by the cool water, I had a fleeting glimpse of well-being that promised everything would be okay.

The next day, I did crossword puzzles and got a new tire and jack.

The day after that, our legal issues were resolved.

Two days later, we were floating down the Chama with friends in a four-person paddle raft. It was another sunny day until the clouds miraculously rolled in, and the delicious smell of rain in the desert wafted through the canyon. We greeted the rain with paddles raised triumphantly to the sky.

Now, back at work, I will no longer be plagued by an abundance of time off. The Sandias reopened yesterday, but I was too busy to hike. The bosque is open, but the river is black with ash from the Las Conchas Fire.

I’m not complaining—the dog days are over.





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