The Sandoval Signpost

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: welcome to 87043

Perhaps a little historical speculation is in order regarding the “disappearance” of the “Welcome to Placitas” sign. The state highway department has authority over the signs on state highways. Their varieties are amazing: black on white, white on red, black on yellow, white on brown, white on blue, white on green, black on florescent greenish yellow, etc., etc. (It’s a good automobile game to keep the kids busy discovering the many possibilities.) In any case, the rules are pretty specific as are the rules for billboards on state highways. Rules include size, shape, and wording, as well as color. Sandoval County also has sign rules, but that isn’t the subject here.

At the time that “Welcome, etc.” sign went up, that area was actually under the jurisdiction of the town of Bernalillo’s extraterritorial zoning authority. Admittedly “Welcome to Bernalillo Extra-Territorial Zone” does not have much of a ring to it.

About a year and a half ago a small (about twelve by eighteen inches) white-on-red sign that read “Placitas Village 7 Miles” located on the south side of Highway 165 halfway up the hill was removed by the highway department because it didn’t meet the proper standards. The “Welcome, etc.” sign was left, probably because it was made to look like a regular white-on-green highway-department sign, which it was not. It was a developer’s sign gathering the land east of Interstate 25 into that magical designation called Placitas.

The only really official designation for Placitas is a zip code. “Welcome to 87043” doesn’t have much of a ring to it either. Sandoval County has a half dozen incorporated communities. Placitas is not one of them. (Incorporated communities can make their own rules.) Many years ago I was taught that the difference between incorporated and unincorporated communities was that in the unincorporated communities you had to fence the livestock out—and in the incorporated ones you had to fence the livestock in. That description only partly works in our area these days, depending on how you want to define livestock (does it include kids, dogs, etc.?)

There is, however, a defensible reason for the new, and present, location of the “entering” and “leaving” signs as they presently exist, and as they were installed by the highway department.

There are reasons why the several miles of highway about seven miles up from the freeway is called Placitas. The reasons are the post office for 87043, Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, San Antonio Mission Church, the Placitas Elementary School, several cemeteries, the Placitas Community and Senior Center, and probably a few other things I haven’t thought of.

Placitas Village has been around a long time, and many of the households go back a long way too. The village is a good deal more mixed-up-looking than the area closer to the freeway. Houses tend to follow the whim of the current owner. We have mobile homes and modular homes. We have animals, some quite large, living among us. We have nonworking vehicles and “stuff” or “junk,” depending on your point of view, here and there. We have signs and what passes for art in some yards, but make no mistake about it, the village of Placitas is alive and well. I guess you could say there is a kind of live-and-let-live attitude about it all, and, of course, the people who live in the Village feel sorry for the people who have to live somewhere else. Well, so be it! At the risk of offending those who think I should find a Spanish dicho to fit, I will use a French one instead, “Chacun a son goût” (each to his own taste)—as the old lady said when she kissed the cow!

P.S. Within reason you can put signs that suit you on private property; just be sure you take them down after the election. And apparently the highway department turns a blind eye to temporary sandwich-board signs that are up for only a few days, and to the descansos, or roadside memorials, where the souls of the departed left their bodies when highway accidents occurred.


re: hazards of moving to Placitas

Wind? Why would I worry about a little wind? I'd weathered several hurricanes and winds of eighty to ninety miles per hour, and I know New Mexico does not suffer hurricanes. Of course, the realtor didn't mention that it blows no less than forty miles per hour every single day in the springtime, nor those other thirty days or so throughout the year where it randomly gusts to fifty, just to remind us what happens in the spring?

Rain? C'mon, it's the desert, plus where I lived we got plenty of rain, sometimes several days at a time, and sometimes hurricanes (see above). Never thought that the yearly total would come in one day!

Dust? What's with that anyway? I'd visited the state three or four times prior to moving here, and it didn't seem particularly dusty. Sure there's that desert thing down south, but even there it didn't seem to be an issue ... it is the desert after all. And any motels we stayed at seemed relatively dust free, and believe me when I say if there were a dust problem it would have been at the places we stayed. How does that stuff get in your house anyway?

Centipedes? Why would I even think about them? No New Mexico tourist brochure ever mentioned them. I wonder if they get into the house the same way the dust does?

Scorpions? See centipedes above.

Pack rats? I'd been accused of being one. I thought they were an urban legend. My auto mechanic set me straight on that.
So ... I'm pretty used to all of the above, and I still really like it here. And then comes the November Signpost and I make the mistake of reading the Gauntlet.

Rattlesnakes in the house! Have you noticed that any snake actually in your house is three times as long as a snake in the wild? Sorry, I don't want to even spot them in the wild.

Then there's the “deadly donkeytail.” Yep! Got that in several places in my yard (Dust patch. I won't go near it, and it's getting really big!) I guess it thrives on dust and one annual watering of ten inches in one day.

And then, on top of all this, the town I thought I moved to, moved! (Must be true, I read it in the Signpost.) I went to the post office one day last week, and upon returning I had to leave Placitas (the sign said so) to get back to my house, which used to be in Placitas. I don't know where it is now.

I'm not going to read the Gauntlet anymore, too distressing. I stopped my Signpost subscription, but damn if it doesn't keep showing up in my mailbox!

—BARRY MCCORMICK, Placitas (vicinity) 87043

re: no art galleries?

I was tremendously outraged at both the arrogance and ignorance of the article you published last month about a guy who calls himself an artist who had the audacity to claim there were “no art galleries in Bernalillo.” What? This same person was at one of our gallery events!

As an owner of Art Gallery 66—yes, art gallery—one of five art galleries located in Bernalillo (Art Gallery 66, Angus McDougall, Julianna Kirwin, Plein Air, and Home on the Range), it was very disheartening to read that article knowing that each of us works as hard as we can to publicize our existence on a bare-bones advertising budget in an already risky business, as well as create as many community-outreach events as we can, to have this guy come along and make such a claim. Shame on you for not being more mindful of your loyal advertisers to catch such a remark.

The only upside to this is knowing that your loyal readers likely know better than to have believed that self-fulfilling drizzle and realize we are here for the art needs of Bernalillo and the surrounding communities. In fact, 2007 will prove to be a good year for the galleries in Bernalillo because we are beginning to be better noticed for our offerings of great art by local and national artists at reasonable prices and great quality, art you can be proud to own!

Now, who was that guy? And where is he now? Nowhere to be found—figures.


re: heartless in Bernalillo

My baby girl was my soulmate and a close friend. She loved me unconditionally and she proved that when she died for me last Saturday. She got out of her fenced area to follow me (without my knowledge, of course) and was struck by two heartless asses that kept going after running over my four-pound baby.

I forgot how heartless people can be when it comes to animals. She was such a sweetheart and everybody who knew her will vouch for that. She loved her treats from Chris, her new human friend from Buttons & Bows, in Placitas—Chris had the best treats.

Well, to the two people that were heartless that day, I hope nothing like this happens to your animals, but then again, you would probably do the same thing, because you are heartless toward life, big or small. You could have stopped the car, but chose to look the other way. I hate both of you and I’ve never hated anybody in my life. But I can say to both of you heartless asses, a “sorry” would have been a start.

Until we meet again, Tequila (2000-2006). A very loving Chihuahua you were. Mama will miss you. I will think of you daily, my friend. Rest in peace. You are gone but not forgotten.
Your heartbroken owner,


re: autumnal adjustments

To Friends Back East,
Your most recent letters seem to suggest that I'm experiencing difficulties in adjusting to my New Mexico retirement. Your fears are groundless.

Please know that I was invited to a Halloween costume party in Bernalillo several weeks ago and had a wonderful time. Although my costume failed to win a prize—I dressed as an oxcart—several people did speak to me. (By the way, a particularly lovely woman from Placitas dressing as Global Warming received first prize—hands down—from the all-male judges.)

I confess to some adjustment problems immediately upon my arrival, a couple of years ago, having driven from the East Coast with Patrick, my splendid Maine coon cat. Road-weary in the extreme, we were driving northwards through Albuquerque, when the sky became suddenly filled with large numbers of enormous, garishly colored lightbulb-shaped flying objects soundlessly moving about with no apparent means of suspension and with guidance systems seemingly based on wishful thinking. Unidentifiable forms occupied small baskets on the undersides. I considered the possibility that this was an alien invasion intended for Roswell, but that the armada's leadership had failed to ask proper directions.

Patrick also became thoroughly upset. Paws placed on the dashboard, and hind feet braced on the passenger seat, he fixed yellow-eyed glares upon the airborne spectacle, hissing malevolently. Soon the stress overpowered his precious little bladder, releasing its contents upon the upholstery of my otherwise new Saturn. While similarly stressed, I am pleased to say my body did not respond in this fashion, although I suppose it was a near thing. We simply had not heard of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and I confess we probably overreacted a bit.

I also admit that New Mexico's spectacular sunsets initially gave us consternation, as they frequently produce colors and hues for which there are not yet names and with indescribable brilliance. At first I concluded that these gaudy displays were wholly unnatural events almost certainly produced by one of our overly funded political parties in a glaring appeal to my fragile sensibilities, my patriotism, and my pocketbook. Or that a fiery cataclysm was occurring in Arizona. (You realize, of course, that the sunsets in my former community back east were mostly in comforting shades of pewter and beige—hence my somewhat skeptical reactions.)

A particularly brilliant New Mexico sunset also upset Patrick early in our first days here. Paws placed on the windowsill and hind feet braced against the dining room table, he fixed a yellow-eyed glare at the dazzling display on the western horizon, hissing malevolently. Soon the stress overpowered his precious little bladder, releasing its contents upon my otherwise new banco cushion.

But don't fear for me. Or Patrick. We're adjusting well, and have concluded that “Land of Enchantment” is an ideal descriptor for New Mexico—far superior, I think, to the license-tag mottoes of the states in which you folks currently reside, i.e. “Eat Clams or Die” and “The Formaldehyde State.” I of course mean no offense to you or your fellow citizens.

As I write this letter to you, I can hear the wonderfully spooky but pleasant sound of a great horned owl speaking to us from the New Mexico night. Patrick hears it too. Paws placed on the windowsill and hind feet braced against my new Dell printer, he is fixing a yellow-eyed glare at the darkness, hissing malevolently ... oooops, gotta run.

A harvest cornucopia hangs on in New Mexico


I hate leaving this party. I go from person to person, a hug here, a kiss on the cheek there. I wave goodbye to Farmer Monte and thank him for all the harvests he has shared this year.

October has always been my favorite time of year in New Mexico. Part of it is the weather, of course, clear blue skies, crisp mornings and warm afternoons, the cottonwoods turning yellow. It’s also the smell of roasting chiles and the taste of green tomatoes picked and fried before frost.

This year is even better than most. Earlier this summer, my husband and I joined a CSA, which stands for community supported agriculture. Every other Tuesday, we’ve picked up locally grown foods from Los Poblanos Organics, a 12-acre farm in Albuquerque. Here, Monte Skarsgard grows 75 kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs and also distributes produce from other local organic growers. So this year, Harvest Festival was an intimate experience. It didn’t mean walking past food vendors and chatting with growers I didn’t really know.

While strip malls and suburban tract housing have reclaimed much of Albuquerque's agricultural land, this Saturday in late October I am standing on farmland where gaggles of kids play together, jumping off stumps and chasing one another around the trees, checking out the irrigation ditches. They are kin to my daughter; I know they're eating the same avocados and apples that she loves. And I know there are other people in this orchard who, like me, have stood in the kitchen, wondering how to cook beets.

My husband and I do not have expendable income to blow on fancy food. As subscribers to Los Poblamos, $104 buys us enough produce to last eight weeks, and if need be we could figure out a work-share arrangement. And I'm no Rachael Ray or Martha Stewart: I don't even enjoy cooking. I'm only marginally proficient in the act, and only if there's a detailed recipe to follow.

To get to Los Poblanos, my daughter and I drive along a narrow road, lined with cottonwoods. Each time we come, I place her on the no-longer-moving antique tractor, though we usually have to wait our turn while the big kids clamber around the tires or sit on the seat and fiddle with the giant steering wheel. We peek in on the chickens — they'd been molting — to see if their feathers are finally coming back. As we walk to the barn, we say hello to the farm workers, smile at the other members counting out their produce.

This week there are no more green tomatoes or pale purple eggplant. As Harvest Festival signaled, summer is over and we’re close to the fall and winter crops. Today, we pick up a bunch each of edamame, broccoli, and collard greens; three avocados, a pint of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I've ever popped into my mouth, garlic, a pound and a half of potatoes, one bag of seedless grapes, five green apples, a bunch of carrots and a vacuum-packed bag of roasted and frozen green chiles. These are the fruits and vegetables we'll eat for the next two weeks. We say goodbye to the folks in the barn, and I grab a copy of Farmer Monte's Journal.

As I drive home, I feel grateful to have found this farm and the families that support it. Not only because I enjoy the fruits of its labors, so to speak, but also because the farm has created a local food economy here in the land of giant grocery chains and expensive health food stores. As a result, farmers, almost surrounded now by upscale subdivisions, have been able to preserve agricultural land along the Rio Grande.

While the broccoli and garlic sauté in my kitchen, I read what Farmer Monte had to see about the celebration. It's clear that he's still wearing that ear-to-ear grin he had on Saturday. After a long, hard season, he writes, the festival gave him and his staff the "energy and purpose" to keep doing what they're doing. He continues: "A child who knows the difference between what tomatoes should and shouldn't taste like when they are five, will be a force to be reckoned with when they are 20+ years old …. And after the festival, I have no doubts that we will all be in good hands."

Across the dinner table, I look at my daughter. She's cramming eggs into her mouth, avocado is stuck to her chin. Better eat up, kiddo, I tell her; you've got a lot of work ahead of you.

Laura Paskus is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She lives and freelances in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Heard Around the West


Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Forest Service employees from Utah, that’s who. Two staffers from the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Ogden were working in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness Sept. 23, when they spotted wolves chasing a bull elk across a meadow. They weren’t frightened by the sight of the running pack, reports the Idaho Mountain Express, but the sound of the animals howling afterward scared the researchers so much that they radioed for help—pronto. Their supervisor obliged, sending a helicopter into the wilderness to remove the pair, even though designated wilderness is protected by law from all motorized equipment. The evacuation has not gone over well in Idaho. “Holy moly—sounds to me like someone’s read too many of Grimm’s fairy tales,” commented Steve Nadeau, who runs Idaho’s wolf program. Lynne Stone, who lives in Stanley and often sees wolves, said it was sad that the agency staffers “didn’t take time to enjoy one of the greatest experiences you could ever have in terms of observing wildlife.” The pack, she added, was hot after an elk and probably oblivious to the men: “I’d be more afraid of running into a moose cow with calves, or a black bear with cubs, than encountering howling wolves.”

At the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, fried-food impresario Charlie Boghosian gathers a crowd by offering deep-fried avocados, deep-fried Twinkies and other “artery-clogging culinary oddities,” reports the Los Angeles Times. The 37-year-old chef tried deep-frying edible flowers, he says, but they kept falling apart. He also experimented with Ding Dongs and Sno Balls this year, but the coating of wet pancake batter slipped off when the treats hit the 370-degree soybean oil. “You can’t just fry anything,” he’s learned. “It has to look good, it has to taste good, and it has to be so different that people will be in awe.” The gut-bomb at this year’s fair featured an unlikely combo of glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts, fried chicken and runny Swiss cheese, deep-fried, of course. “I can feel my arteries tightening,” was the reaction of one satisfied customer. While Boghosian is recognized as the master of deep-fry cuisine, he has rivals. Los Angeles Fair-goers were treated by other cooks to deep-fried spaghetti on a stick. What’s now known as “extreme fair food” goes back decades: In 1942, at the State Fair of Texas, the first corn dog emerged from a deep fryer. The tradition continues. Last year, the Texas fair played host to the first deep-fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich.

You’d never call Joan Opyr’s column on the late Helen Chenoweth-Hage an obituary. The column, recently posted on NewWest.Net, was more a denunciation of the Idaho congresswoman, who delighted in making outrageous statements during her three terms in the House of Representatives. (Example: Salmon can’t be endangered, she insisted, because canned salmon is available at any supermarket.) “How did she represent us?” Opyr asked rhetorically. “As militia-loving loonies who believed that the U.S. government was at least partially to blame for the Oklahoma City bombing.” Opyr accused Chenoweth, who later married rancher Wayne Hage, the leader of the anti-government Sagebrush Rebellion, of exercising her libertarian bent in the worst possible way—by refusing to wear a seatbelt while riding with a 5-month-old baby in her lap. In the one-car accident, near Tonapah, Nevada, both Chenoweth-Hage and the infant were thrown from the vehicle; only the baby survived. Opyr subtitled her essay “Buckle Up!” and didn’t mince words: “She was a nut—a dangerous, reckless, senseless nut whose death in a single-car accident in Nevada on October 2 was tragic but not really much of a surprise. Why wasn’t (she) wearing a seatbelt? Because she didn’t need no stinking seatbelt, never mind the dictates of common sense and Nevada law.” Twenty-three comments followed Opyr’s column, with most blasting the writer for being mean-spirited. As “Elizabeth” put it: “A nice old grandmother died trying to make a baby stop crying after a long trip. Don’t you have better things to do than laugh about it?”

Ken Gordon, the energetic Democrat who is running for secretary of state in Colorado, feels so strongly about people exercising their right to vote that he advises voters to “guilt trip” their friends: “Say, ‘Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.’“ Doing this might make some people uncomfortable, he acknowledges, but adds, “I’ve had to spend all summer calling people I don’t know and asking for money, so it has been a long time since I visited my comfort zone.” Gordon travels across the state to talk to voters, and in conservative Colorado Springs he spotted a bumper sticker that made him wonder. It said, “Give war a chance.” His campaign manager’s take was sarcastic: “Yes, let’s give war a chance … we’ve never tried that before.”

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in Heard around the West.



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