An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Desert bighorn ewes released into the wild
Desert bighorn ewes are released into the wild.

Desert bighorn sheep get new home in Little Hatchet Mountains

New Mexico now has more than three hundred desert bighorn sheep living in the wild in five mountain ranges, following the completion of a two-day trapping and relocation operation at the Red Rock Wildlife Area and the Little Hatchet Mountains.

Fourteen rams and fourteen ewes were captured with helicopter net guns in November at the Red Rock captive breeding facility north of Lordsburg. After they were examined, given injections, and fitted with radio collars, the sheep were taken to the Little Hatchets, where they joined a bighorn herd of about twenty-five.
Eric Rominger, bighorn sheep biologist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said the latest operation will bolster efforts to downgrade the state listing of the desert bighorn from endangered to threatened.

“We've come a long way, when you consider that in 1980 we only had sixty-nine sheep in the wild, and in the fall of 2001 we only had 166,” Rominger said. “With the lambs that will be born next spring, we could have more than four hundred sheep in the wild by next year.”


Super-fast broadband coming to Bernalillo in January

—BILL DIVEN
High-speed Internet connections often are called big pipes, and Sandoval County residents may be getting the biggest.
Jonathan Mann, of the Sandoval County Broadband Project, recently told county commissioners a pilot wireless signal should be online in Bernalillo by January 31, with Cuba soon to follow. The public-private partnership started with $2 million in seed money from the county hopes to reach an initial transfer speed of a hundred megabits a second, he said.

“We would have the largest bandwidth anywhere in the county,” Mann added.

Bandwidth and megabits indicate the speed at which digital data moves between computers. The wireless connection in Bernalillo would be about 180 times faster than a telephone dial-up connection.

But fasten your seat belt. Mann's group is talking about boosting speed a hundredfold over the next five years as the project expands and technology evolves.

The goal is not just bringing high-definition video into homes but an interactive two-way connection to education, medicine, government, and emergency responders. Boosters also cite the potential for economic development, as wireless technology frees business from urban centers.

Mann, whose AQV Inc. won the contract to organize the system, said the first application in Bernalillo would be for government services, while the Cuba pilot will focus on distance learning, linking classrooms with the University of New Mexico and TVI. A telemedicine van is also planned to connect rural patients with doctors and hospitals, he said.

“It doesn't matter how fat the bandwidth if you don't have the applications,” project spokeswoman Betty Anne McDermott said.
The project, funded with county income from handling the $6 billion Intel bond issue last year, is running about a month behind schedule. Part of the delay involved creating the public-private partnership to make it clear the county is not setting up a utility.

County manager Debbie Hays said the contract also was amended to give the county ownership of the network while it is being established and the option to sell it. That is needed to attract the partners and private investment required to spread the wireless connection throughout the county, she said.


Windshield hotline

Motorists peppered by debris from unsecured loads now have a toll-free number to report dangerous trucks: 1-866-630-5623.
That number rings at the state Department of Public Safety, whose motor transportation division focuses on commercial trucks. A large number of motorists have complained about rocks and other debris falling from trucks and damaging vehicle bodies and glass on I-25 between Algodones and Albuquerque, according to DPS.

The MTD recently conducted Operation Rock and Roll No. 4 on I-25, targeting unsecured loads, as both an enforcement action and to educate trucks on changes in state law. By law, truckers must secure loads and remove any debris outside the truck or trailer which might fall off and damage other vehicles.


Walking into the Ojito Wilderness
Walking into the Ojito Wilderness

Ojito becomes wilderness

—TY BELKNAP
On October 27, President Bush observed a momentary cease-fire in his war on the environment and signed the Ojito Wilderness Act into law. The tree huggers are ecstatic. The media has been full of well-deserved praise for the win-win, bipartisan effort and the flowery descriptions of Ojito’s natural beauty. Ojito is wild and beautiful, but it’s not like Yosemite suddenly appeared on our western horizon. It’s badlands, but it’s our badlands, and now the government has promised not to give it away.

“Wilderness Areas are special places where the earth and its community of life are essentially undisturbed; they retain a primeval character, without permanent improvements and generally appear to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature. In 1964, Congress established the National Wilderness Preservation System and designated the first Wilderness Areas in passing the Wilderness Act. Wilderness preservation has become an increasingly significant tool to ensure long-term protection of natural landscapes.”(from the Bureau of Land Management Web site)

In the newsletter of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance at www.nmwild.org you can read in great detail about the long and arduous process that took place over the last fifteen years and finally resulted in the eleven-thousand-acre Ojito’s protected status.

The Bureau of Land Management will continue to manage the area. BLM spokesperson Danita Burns told the Signpost the only immediate change resulting from the change in designation from wilderness study area to wilderness is that mountain bikes will no longer be allowed. There will be no new road construction and no motorized vehicles, except for those deemed necessary to facilitate cattle grazing, which will continue intrude upon the “outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined types of recreation.”

To access the Ojito from Bernalillo, drive west on US 550 for about twenty miles, then turn left before San Ysidro onto Cabezon Road and take the left fork, as indicated by the new signs. The right fork leads to the Centex Gypsum mines, which offer a grand and bizarre moonscape, enhanced by a Martian space-transport vehicle left behind from a movie set. This is private property.

No permit is required to explore the Ojito. All you really need do is park beside the road and start walking. There are no facilities or signs directing visitors to trailheads leading to archeological ruins or dinosaur fossils, or any opportunities for wilderness experiences that lie off the gravel road that follows the pipeline toward Cabezon Peak. First-time visitors who need more structure might find it helpful to join an organized tour.

BLM land starts at a cattle guard about four miles up Cabezon Road. Nearby is a fenced-off jeep road marked by bullet-ridden signs advising against motorized entry . There is a long knife-edge ridge (a breached incline), popular with geologists and mountain bikers which descends all the way back to US 550. This is outside of the wilderness area, so biking is still allowed. Poorly defined trails loop back around and meander through miles of arroyos.

Take the left fork at Gasco Road and park in a designated area beneath a mesa on the south side of the road close to a brown plastic post with a decal that reads “wilderness.” These posts will be placed every half mile around the Ojito boundary. Follow the trail to the north for about a mile and you might come upon the place where Jay Cummings found the bones of Seismosaurus, the world’s longest dinosaur. (See November 2005 Signpost.) It’s a sandy pit beside a cliff overlooking a spectacular broad wash. Just past the pit are a number of well-preserved petroglyphs, and on the cliff face below is a small cave blackened by Paleo-Indian campfires.

Park beside Cabezon Road next to another trailhead a little further on and follow the trail around the east side off a hilly ridgeline; climb over a barbed wire fence next to colorfully striated boulders. Here you enter into an magical environment full of hoodoos (formed by the erosion of soft sandstone beneath a harder cap rock). Here also are ponderosa pine trees growing at the lowest elevation in New Mexico. Outcroppings of shattered rock are covered by weird-looking pebbles and ancient gnarled juniper.

Ojito Wilderness hoodoos

Under the new legislation, another area of about eleven thousand acres contiguous to the wilderness to the west and south will be purchased by Zia Pueblo. Public access will be permitted, but the property will join two separate parts of pueblo land and will be protected for its cultural values.
Ojito is a badlands, and that’s good. There are four more Wilderness Study Areas in the Rio Puerco, including Cabezon. Be sure to equip yourself adequately. Chances are you’ll have the place to yourself.

For more information, visit www.nm.blm.gov or call the BLM at 505-761-8700.

Rail survey party
Survey party stakes out curb-and-gutter locations as Amtrak's Southwest Chief passes through Bernalillo. The first of two Bernalillo stations for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter trains is expected to begin operating in January. The 300-foot station platform will be built next to the tracks once the state negotiates access to the railroad right-of-way.

 

Bernalillo Mayor and JR Central officials
Bernalillo mayor Charles Aguilar listens while Shiro Hosaka translates his welcoming remarks for officials of JR Central, a Japanese railroad company. The Japanese delegation visited Bernalillo and Los Alamos National Labs as part of its work on magnetic-levitation trains. Also pictured are Osamu Nakayama, JR Central general manager (far left), and Don Oppenheimer, a Rio Rancho engineer and maglev proponent (far right).

Rail Runner Express update

—BILL DIVEN
US 550 commuters crawling toward I-25 in Bernalillo can now look down and picture the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, or at least the parking lot for the northernmost of its nine rail-transit stations.

The governor and area dignitaries, amid the usual groundbreaking ceremonies, kicked off construction a month ago on the site southwest of the US 550 bridge over the BNSF Railway. Dirt began flying immediately on the access road and parking but not on the three-hundred-foot-long station platform next to the tracks.

For now, work stops at the fence while the lead Rail Runner agency—the Mid Region Council of Governments—continues to negotiate with BNSF for access to the railroad property. Construction of the second station off Calle del Presidente in downtown Bernalillo has yet to begin.

“We actually have agreed on the major points,” MRCOG executive director Lawrence Rael said. “BNSF is in final review of the documents.”

Trains now are expected to start running to Albuquerque from Bernalillo in late January, and from Belen soon thereafter as stations are completed.

Rael said he could not comment on talks with the BNSF, although state transportation secretary Rhonda Faught confirmed the state wants to buy the track not just from Belen to Bernalillo but on through Las Vegas and Raton to Trinidad, Colorado, for future passenger trains. An announcement from Governor Bill Richardson on the BNSF deal is expected early this month, she said.

BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent also declined to discuss the negotiations other than to say the railroad is working diligently toward an agreement.

Rael said he had met in Denver with members of the Front Range Rail Coalition, which is pressing to reestablish passenger trains from Albuquerque to Denver and Cheyenne. The proposal is interesting and may be possible in the future, he said.
Expansion plans under study include service to Santa Fe starting in 2008. Startup costs estimated at $320 million include a new fifteen-mile shortcut roughly parallel to I-25, from existing track near La Bajada to the Santa Fe Southern Railway near the capital.

In other transit-related developments:

• Herzog Transit Services won and signed the annual $5.5 million contract to operate and maintain Rail Runner trains. Herzog will build a maintenance facility near downtown Albuquerque and employ forty-five to fifty-five people.
• MRCOG hired Robert Gonzales, a New Mexico native and former regional Amtrak official, as its Rail Runner operations manager.
• The town of Bernalillo hosted a dinner for visiting officials of JR Central, the Japanese railroad company whose heavy-rail magnetic-levitation train set a world speed record of 360 miles per hour. The group spent the day at Los Alamos National Laboratory discussing superconducting magnets and learning of Bernalillo and Rio Rancho's interest in using light-rail maglev to get commuters across the Rio Grande to the Rail Runner.
• At the Bernalillo station groundbreaking, Sandoval County Commission chairman Bill Sapien urged the governor to include a second highway bridge across the Rio Grande in or near Bernalillo in the state's $1.6 billion transportation program. The county, which chipped in $10 million for the Rail Runner project, plans a shuttle service linking Rio Rancho and the Bernalillo stations.
• Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez pledged a priority of his new four-year term would be mass transit, including expanded express-bus routes and planning a light-rail system. Bernalillo Mayor Charles Aguilar called coordinated mass transit the “missing link” needed to make the heavy-rail Rail Runner Express successful.

 

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