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  Time Off
 

Looking out from atop Sandia Mountain
Photo credit: —Barb Belknap

Time off in the Sandias

—Evan A. Belknap

When I scheduled my return trip from South America in May, it was the thoughts of the Sandia Mountains that made me yearn for home. There in my run-down hostel in Peru, I wondered what it was I wanted, and why not being in my own world was finally starting to wear on me. And then I imagined great blue skies, filling with thunderclouds, rolling in from the North; the crumbling, lichen-covered granite of the Sandias, glowing pink like a watermelon, or, up-close, every neon color one could imagine; and the dry winds, swirling dust across the plains and through Rio Rancho, far off in the distance.

Within a couple weeks, I was back in the “Dias,” climbing in a freak snowstorm, thinking of how classic the Sandias really are—the unpredictable weather, the slightly nauseating fear that always precedes a beautiful adventure there, the unavoidable periods of being lost in thorn bushes and in valleys and crevasses one never knew existed, but then, most importantly, the surreal and somewhat unsettling sensation that there is something else there that is not quite... normal.

Since the ghost stories of Davito Hammack have buried themselves in my psyche, and having heard strange voices chanting in the sun-rising hours after an all-night epic, and routinely seeing very stable people and hard climbers quivering and Elvis-legging on climbs well within their abilities, I have developed a personal sort of religion, which is greater than superstition, that revolves around our mountain. The mountain is a powerful and dangerous place—ominous and terrifying. But, if treated with the respect it demands, it can love, too. The beauty I’ve seen in that mountain remains unmatched in all my travels. The swifts, the sunsets, being in every weather imaginable, sometimes in a single day, the clapping aspens, and Rocky Mountain Iris, the invisible but tangible presence of a bear—there really is no match for the Sandias.

Since the recent lifting of fire restrictions in the Cibola National Forest—and all over New Mexico—I have been up in the Sandias a couple times. Today, a friend and I tried to get out early and race the normal evening monsoon hell storm; the lightning in the evenings has been truly remarkable lately, but not something I want to watch from a cliff-face, or touch. We climbed through the morning and into the afternoon. Then it was a little later, and we were still finishing our route, but despite a forecast predicting sixty-percent chance of rain, the clouds only built, and grumbled, and whispered by.

We were either lucky, or the mountain took care of us today… it is the same thing, really. It was a perfect day being home in New Mexico again.


Monsoons are here; praise the gods; forests open

—Evan A. Belknap

Halleluiah, it’s raining. Saved are the dry animals of Sandoval County, including its human inhabitants, who had been observably getting more and more antsy and irksome as the dryness eased its way into their souls. With the rain in the evenings, is the dramatic flare of lightning and crack of thunder, the rampaging flashfloods down arroyos, the roads washed with mud and gravel, and in the mornings, the blush of green on the hillsides. Already, I hear a collective sigh of relief lifting our community out of its cursed and perpetual parchdom.

The early rains of August lifted many of the forest closures in the Santa Fe National Forest, as well as BLM land in Albuquerque, Las Cruces District, Lincoln National Forest, the Pecos District, Mt. Taylor, and Mountainair Road. But it took a few more rains for the Sandia Wilderness to become satiated—which is now open, as of July 17.

Several fires, started by lightning—the Jaroso Fire, the Golondrino Fire, the Borrego Fire, and the Lupita Fire—are all being monitored closely by the SF National Forest, and with recent precipitation, do not seems to be a great threat.

Just about everything is now open, with the exception of a few areas that will remain closed due to impacts from wildfires and potential flooding.

  • The boundaries of Jaroso fire in the Pecos Wilderness will be closed year long (campsites within the floodplain of the fire—Panchuela, Jack’s Creek, Cowles, and Iron Gate—will be closed until September 30)
  • The boundaries of the Tres Lagunas Fire will be closed (including Holy Ghost Canyon, Lower and Upper Dalton day-use areas, Field Tract, Windy Bridge, and Forest Service lands within one hundred feet of the water’s edge of the Pecos River. New Mexico State Highway 63 in the Pecos Canyon will remain closed at mile marker 15)
  • The only closure as a result of the Thompson Ridge fire will be a seasonal closure (until September 30) of recreational areas within the Jemez Ranger District which may be flooded by runoff originating from the Thompson Ridge Fire burn scar (these include East Fork River Corridor, East Fork Trail, Forest Trail 137, Forest Trail 121, Las Conchas Picnic and Fishing Area, Las Conchas Trailhead, East Fork Trailhead, Jemez Falls Trailhead, Battleship Rock Trailhead Parking Area, La Cueva Picnic Area, Spence Hot Spring Parking Area, and Forest Trail 130).

For more information on closures, call 438-5300. 

Rangers and firefighters want to remind the public to continue to be safe and aware of fire danger in New Mexico while recreating. Otherwise, go outside and have fun.

 
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