Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Signpost to add new
Arts & Entertainment Calendar

Starting in September, 2015, the Signpost plans to include a new Arts & Entertainment Calendar in each issue as a community service. Focus will be on featuring the art and entertainment events of Sandoval County and those that are directly linked to the residents of Sandoval County.

If you are an artist or musician or organizer in the area and would like your news published in the calendar, go to the Signpost website at and click on Arts & Entertainment Calendar on the Home Page. There you can submit your event details for inclusion via a Who-What-Where-When-Why form. Deadline to submit your event is always the twentieth of each month.

Amy Ostlie of Tucson, but soon to be of Placitas (left), and Virginia Seiser of Albuquerque look over a map of the Sandia Mountains during a meeting on updating the Cibola National Forest management plan. Both are members of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Cibola Forest on vision quest for future

—Bill Diven

A vision for the future of the Sandia Mountains and the other three mountain districts of the Cibola National Forest is taking shape largely through the work of groups in Placitas and other communities.

It’s a vision that when combined with an environmental impact statement and approval by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will guide management of the Sandia, Mountainair, Magdalena and Mount Taylor ranger districts in the coming decades.

Should the vision ultimately include new wilderness areas, that will require additional approval by Congress. There are, however, multiple lesser designations to preserve and enhance the forest assets.

“How do you want it managed?” Forest Supervisor Elaine Kohrman asked during a July 22 meeting in Placitas. “Are there areas that are different or unique?

“If there’s a place that’s unique, we can figure out how to manage it.”

The meeting followed release of a 99-page draft describing “desired conditions” for the ecological and community uses in the four districts. For the Sandia, a 14-member landscape team drawn from surrounding communities and agencies worked with USFS staff to define the vision.

“We all share in a passion for this area,” said John Barney, a team member and a manager in the Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Department. “Based on what we know now, what do we want the forest to look like in the future?”

The draft document is now open for public comment and is posted on the Cibola website along with other documents at

“For us in the land grant, it’s about preserving historic sites,” Rebecca Correa, vice president of the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant, told the Signpost. “I think this is the first time all the different stakeholders, the subdivisions of state government, that we have had this much access and shared our overall vision.”

During the meeting she also noted the Sandia Mountains watershed is vital to the three Placitas acequia systems irrigating crops and to the water system servicing the village.

USFS says the vision statements will guide development of policies for vegetation, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources. The final plan will replace one approved in 1985.

The land grant, a member of the landscape team, hosted the Placitas meeting with support from the Coronado and Edgewood soil and water conservation districts and Bernalillo County Open Space.

Two more area meetings are planned on August 5 at the Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center on Coors Boulevard NW and August 12 at the Cañon de Carnue Land Grant Hall on State Route 333 in Tijeras. Both start at 5:00 p.m.

The landscape teams collected 1,100 comments in the four districts in preparing the draft of desired conditions. September 25 is the deadline for commenting on the desired-conditions document.

The plan draft including any wilderness recommendations is expected later this year or early in 2016 with final approval of the plan and environmental statement targeted for early to mid 2017.

Comments from among the forty people attending the meeting included a desire for places of solitude and areas both safe and accessible and more primitive with attendant risks. The Sandia Ranger District, which extends from Placitas through the Sandias into the Manzano Mountains south of Interstate 40, already includes nearly 38,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Among the topics covered in the draft are vegetation types, the wildland-urban interface and fire concerns, riparian areas, watersheds, wildlife species, grazing and forest products, developed and dispersed recreation, and cultural and historic resources including areas of importance to land grants and Native Americans.

Jemez Pueblo wins Valles Caldera appeal

—Ty Belknap

On June 26, the Tenth United States Court of Appeals upheld an appeal by the Pueblo of Jemez of the 2013 dismissal of the pueblo’s lawsuit, seeking title to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Their complaint contends that approximately 99,000 acres of land, purchased by the U.S. Government in 2000, which became a National Preserve and subsequently a unit of the National Park Service, remains subject to an aboriginal Indian title. The ruling remands the case to District Court for further proceedings.

The appeals court stated that this reversal is not a ruling on whether the tribe holds aboriginal title. This contention is yet to be proven in court. The appeals court did, however, agree with the Pueblo’s contention that the government’s nineteenth-century land grant did not extinguish that title. The opinion provides an abundance of case law, illustrating that it has never been legal for the United States to confiscate Indian land.

In July 2012, attorney Thomas Luebben filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of Jemez Pueblo to obtain all of the lands in the Preserve. The complaint states, “Since at least the twelfth century A.D., the ancestral Jemez people used and occupied the lands of the Valles Caldera National Preserve and surrounding areas in the Jemez Mountains… thereby establishing federal common law aboriginal Indian title… based on exclusive use and occupancy.”

The complaint goes on to state that in 1860, Congress authorized the Baca heirs to select 496,447 acres of so-called “public domain” lands anywhere in the Territory of New Mexico. This America land grant was provided as settlement of a Mexican land grant claim in the area of Las Vegas that conflicted with the Town of Las Vegas Community Grant. One of the parcels selected by the Baca heirs included the Valles Caldera.

On September 28, 2013, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the pueblo did not establish a waiver of sovereign immunity and that the statute of limitations for its claim expired long ago. He agreed with the federal government’s argument that the pueblo no longer has aboriginal title because they had committed to a final judgment for the land decades ago.

Jemez Pueblo appealed the decision, contending that, although they did not defend their land from ranchers and settlers, they never gave away title and that its claim of interference with its access to land did not accrue until 2000 when the government purchased the Valles Caldera.

The area is part of the Rio Jemez drainage known to the tribe as the “western Jemez homeland.” The appeals court opinion states that it “contains ancestral villages, sacred areas, and ceremonial shrines where the ancestral Jemez lived since migrating from the mesa and canyon country to the northwest prior to 1200 CE. Archeological investigation in the western homeland have found at least sixty pueblo villages linked with a network of trails and many thousand farmhouse sites, agricultural fields, ceremonial sites, sacred areas, mineral procurement areas, camp sites, and other areas associated with the ancestral Jemez.” Furthermore, “the ceremonial sites and gathering areas are still actively used by the Jemez Pueblo today and are crucial to the continuing survival of traditional Jemez Pueblo culture and religion.”

In November of 2014, the tribe went before a panel of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during a special hearing at the University of New Mexico Law School. Karl Johnson, an attorney representing the pueblo, told the panel that after the 2000 purchase, “Almost immediately, the United States began restricting the pueblo’s access to the property, and interfering with its traditional, religious, and ceremonial uses of the property in which it had been engaged for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Then Jemez Pueblo Governor Joshua Madalena told The Associated Press before the hearing. “I believe the ancestors are with us. We have to continue to push this issue. These are the most sacred lands and represent who we are as Jemez culture… We’re not going to give up.”

Meanwhile the transition of the Valles Caldera National Preserve to a unit of the National Park Service is scheduled for completion in September, as mandated by the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (Public Law 113-291).

Charlie Strickfaden, NPS Acting Superintendent of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, told the Signpost that the NPS has met with tribes and pueblos that affiliate themselves with the Preserve, as part of preparations for the transition. The legislation requires consultation with tribal and pueblo governments and the protection and restriction of access to cultural and religious sites, including the volcanic domes and peaks in the Preserve.

Las Placitas Association pressing for enhanced pipeline safety

—Signpost Staff

A push for increased safety along petroleum-related pipelines running through Placitas gets underway this month with a public meeting sponsored by the Las Placitas Association.

The meeting is scheduled for August 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Placitas Senior and Community Center (41 Camino de las Huertas).

Dwight Patterson, an LPA director, is leading the effort that includes developing a network of monitoring wells to provide early warning of leaking crude oil, natural gas liquids, and carbon dioxide. At risk is the aquifer on which many Placitas residents rely for their water, Patterson said.

“We’re going to lay out the plan,” he added. Patterson said he is still lining up additional speakers for the event.

Patterson is the president of Xitech Instruments Inc., a Placitas-based company manufacturing equipment used to clean up contaminated groundwater.

Four pipelines carrying carbon dioxide and natural gas liquids run through Placitas from Interstate 25 on the west to Diamond Tail on the east. They are buried along and under Las Huertas Creek.

The fifth line, built in the mid 1950s and newly restored to carry crude oil, diverges from the others within the Placitas Open Space and heads southeast to a pumping station on Camino de las Huertas. From there, it runs under front yards and the community center parking lot, passing near Placitas Elementary School before exiting into the East Mountains.

Students apply erosion-control techniques to the Placitas Open Space during a workshop sponsored by the Albuquerque Open Space Division, which manages the 560-acre property for the city of Albuquerque.
Photo credit:—Joanne McEntire/Querencia Green

Coronado enlisting shovel brigade for Open Space project

—Bill Diven

Money to improve the watershed in a small section of the Placitas Open Space is in place. Now all that’s needed are volunteers to help make the project succeed.

In late June, the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission awarded $7,600 dollars to the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District for a demonstration project to reduce erosion and restore native grasses.

“This particular process is applied on a slope, but the seed pockets they create—digging a hole and putting in straw and seeds—are applicable anywhere,” said Coronado Supervisor Patricia Bolton, who is heading the project and prepared the grant application.

The demonstration site covers two acres of the 560-acre open space owned by the city of Albuquerque. The volunteers will create small swales by berming along contour lines adding straw sponge pockets to hold water and laying woven juniper boughs over the berms.

“The desired result is that arroyo head cuts will stop cutting and the runoff water will be slowed down and spread out, enabling it to be absorbed,” according to the project proposal.

Reseeding the area with native grasses will also help prevent erosion. The open space in north-central Placitas is popular with hikers and drains into both Las Huertas Creek and neighboring residential areas.

Bolton said she is looking for about 14 volunteers who are willing to commit to two training sessions, one at the beginning of the project and another in the middle, plus one work day a month on site during the other months. She estimates the total time commitment at about fifty hours from September through April.

Additional information is available by contacting Coronado by email at or by phone at 867-2853.

Coronado will manage the project and provide the tools, and the terrain-management division of contractor Soilutions Inc. will handle the training and consult on the project. Bolton, other elected Coronado supervisors, and a photographer will contribute to the work as in-kind rather than paid help, according to the project proposal.

Coronado and the other 47 soil and water conservation districts in the state trace their roots to the Dustbowl days of the 1930s when poor farming practices left soil vulnerable to erosion and being lofted by the wind. The districts are a rare subdivision of state government that can work directly with private landowners on land preservation and restoration projects.

The district has worked on its own, and with other agencies, to improve reservoirs for acequia systems, reduce wildfire risks, and maintain the Piedra Lisa Dam, which protects part of Bernalillo from flash floods.

Sandoval County Assistant Fire Chief Dave Bervin, County Commission Chairman Darryl Madalena, Deputy Fire Chief Jess Lewis, and Cañones resident Charlie Reggan scramble over a field of boulders and debris left behind when flash floods hit the community.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Monsoon storms spread havoc in Jemez canyon

—Signpost Staff

When the first of two flash floods rampaged into Cañones, it brought boulders and trees with it, blocking a state highway, flooding property, and leading to a rescue of stranded residents. It filled in the arroyo with rocks, sediment, and debris, so when the second, smaller flood hit the area southwest of Jemez Springs two weeks later, water could only spill in all directions. With the damage mostly on private property, residents appear to be on their own for restoring about five hundred feet of arroyo channel between State Route 485 and the Rio Guadalupe.

Once a tree-lined meander, the channel is now a boulder field almost level with the highway and fanned out into properties on both sides.

“If we want it, we’re going to have to do it ourselves,” said Sharon Chism. “I’ve already paid for 12 hours of backhoe work that got washed away.”

Chism described the June 28 flood as raging water slamming boulders into each other and carrying an upright cottonwood tree toward the river.

“It wasn’t scary at the time because we were so busy trying to protect things,” she said. The water carried away an unoccupied goat house and pen plus items stored on the property and left behind items carried in from upstream although water didn’t reach her house, she added.

A neighbor lost most of a litter of seven or nine puppies, Chism said.

The runoff and debris kept campers stranded farther up the canyon in the area of Gilman tunnels. New Mexico Department of Transportations maintenance patrols cleared off the highway twice and patched pavement, said District Engineer Larry Maynard of NMDOT District 6.

A NMDOT crew also helped reopen a U.S. Forest Service road to reach a campground isolated by the storm, he said. Elsewhere in the Jemez and across the district, extending into the Gila region of west-central New Mexico, crews have stayed busy clearing fallen rocks from roadways and removing debris blocking culverts, he said.

“For the most part, our guys have kept up because we never got that one big storm that just parked over an area,” Maynard said.

On July 17, Sandoval County Commission Chairman Darryl Madalena toured the area with Deputy Fire Chief Jess Lewis and Assistant Fire Chief Dave Bervin. Earlier in the month the commission approved a disaster declaration partially in anticipation of more heavy rain.

The declaration frees up money for emergency work on public infrastructure and makes the county eligible for reimbursement of some expenses.

“I’ve lived up here all my life and never seen so much damage,” Madalena, a resident of Jemez Pueblo, said as he walked through Chism’s property. The county officials told Chism about the only assistance they could provide for private property would be sandbags and possibly sand to fill them.

The second flood hit on July 11 with less force but still strong enough to spread confusion over whether people had been swept away by the torrent. Instead it was a couple living near Chism who sought refuge on the roof of their mobile home and were yelling for help.

District Fire Chief Virgil Gachupín said the water had receded to knee deep by the time he, another firefighter, and two paramedics from the Jemez Volunteer Fire Department formed a human chain to walk the couple from the home to higher ground. It’s not clear if the couple also took to the roof during the earlier flood.

“The neighbors said a five-foot wall of water came down the river,” Gachupín told the Signpost. On the steep hill across from Chism’s property water marks and flattened foliage could be seen at least ten feet above the then-tranquil Rio Guadalupe.

There also were reports of a small trailer used as a home being washed away and of a horse trailer ending up in the river.

The unnamed arroyo is long and drains mesa-and-canyon country in the Jemez Mountains west of Jemez Pueblo, said Mariano Lucero, mayordomo of the Cañon Community Ditch. Debris filled about three hundred feet of the irrigation ditch, blocked a section of underground pipe, and damaged the head gate on the river near Chism’s home. That shut down water to about 25 irrigators for two weeks. Lucero and his grandson spent a week with a mini-excavator cleaning out the ditch and unplugging the head gate.

“I had to dig my way in there pulling out rocks and trees to get close enough to reach in and pull the dirt out,” he said. Luckily irrigation pipe running under the arroyo was not damaged, and the blocked pipe under a road flushed itself under water pressure, Lucero added.

While no rainfall totals specific to the Cañones area are available, the National Weather Service reported nearly three inches of rain at a remote reporting station in the Jemez from mid June to mid July. The area around Cuba, which also recorded damaging floods, tallied more than five inches of rain in that time.

Weather trends hint at continued wet year

—Signpost Staff

Rainfall may not be breaking records, but it’s been plenty wet in Placitas. Through the end of June, the National Weather Service spotter in Placitas logged 5.97 inches of precipitation for the year. Then July stayed soggy.

“That’s a very healthy number,” NWS meteorologist Jason Frazier said of the six-month total. “There’s been more since then, so you’re probably close to seven inches.”

Actually more than seven inches when newer year-to-date numbers came out.

During the first two weeks of July, the weather service logged 1.7 and 1.5 inches of rain at sites in Placitas with more than half of that falling on July 6 and 7. One site recorded 7.16 inches for the year through July 15, about 2.5 inches more than the same period in 2014.

Albuquerque averages 9.45 inches annually, and by July 19 had topped seven inches, about three inches more than usual.

June highlights reported by the weather service included severe storms during the first two weeks, delivering large hail and damaging winds both east and west of the central mountains. Later in the month, Albuquerque topped one hundred degrees Fahrenheit twice on consecutive days—101 on June 21 and 102 the next day—while Aztec National Monument, Cochiti Dam, and Los Lunas broke temperature records about that time with highs of one hundred, 104, and 105 respectively.

Late in the month, severe thunderstorms caused flash-flood damage near Jemez Springs [See story, this Signpost page 7.] and on the eastern plains in Colfax County. Frazier described the summer storms as basically a traditional monsoon pattern as conditions east and west of the state funnel moisture up from the south. Enhancing the storms this year has been El Niño, a warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean that affects weather patterns and tends to bring more rain and snow to New Mexico, he said.

Trends point to a moderate El Niño growing stronger and extending into winter with the current indicators similar to what last developed in 2006, Frazier added.

That year brought feet of snow in late December as a three-day storm shut down interstate highways and the Albuquerque Sunport, broke snowfall records, and filled hotels and American Red Cross shelters with stranded travelers. Placitas officially logged 18 inches of snow in those three days with unofficial reports of higher amounts.

For now, however, and despite all the rain, New Mexico is only seeing relief to the short-term drought while overall remaining behind on moisture. “Because of how dry we were in 2011 through 2014, it really put us in quite a deficit,” Frazier said. “One year of rain isn’t going to bring us back.”

The bi-annual Corrales Bike and Wine Tour returns in August

—Dana Koller

Four participating wineries will be pouring their hearts work of wines for libation pleasure, as participants bike a ten-mile route through the historic village of Corrales on August 8 and 9.

Every year, bicycle and wine enthusiasts flock to join the fun. Your journey begins at the tent at the Frontier Mart on Corrales Road. Between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., you will be checked in. This is an all-ages event, though IDs will be checked for those who wish to drink. Bands will play for the 21-and-over participants and directions of the route will be given.

As you set off to conquer your only hill, you’ll find the sweat will pay off at Acequia Winery. Allow yourself time to indulge and enjoy the breathtaking view, as they open up their backyard patio for your enjoyment. 

Continue to follow the arrows provided to arrive at your next destination and award-winning winery: Corrales Winery. This friendly winery opens up their cooling patio overseeing their vineyards and lush grass.

Third stop is Pasando Tiempo. Pasando Tiempo welcomes you to relax in their recently added wine-tasting room or outside in the shaded grass area. The enthusiastic owners are on site and love giving tours and answering any questions about their wine-making successes.

The fourth winery will be eagerly awaiting your arrival back at the tent where you originally started. You will meet Matheson’s Winery, while enjoying live music and refreshments provided by The Frontier Mart.

Tickets will be eight dollars the day of the event or early ticket sales can be purchased at Your fee will include the tasting from all four wineries and refreshments while they last. Bottle sales are encouraged and will be picked up and waiting for you at the end of your tour. For more information, call Dana at 379-5072 or Rachel at 507-7036.

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