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New Mexico's Living Landscapes by William Dunmire

Dunmire’s New Mexico’s Living Landscapes—A Roadside View tells answers

—Lois Nethery

Writer William Dunmire and photographer Christine Bauman have produced a gorgeous book that every lover of New Mexico should have in their home. Upon reading this book, this reader realized that she had not even touched the surface of the state’s beauty and interesting areas, even though she has been visiting for some twenty years.

The book is divided into seven areas of the state, covering all the major deserts, grasslands, woodlands, forests, and byways. Each page reveals magnificent photographs of the area being described, one more beautiful than the next.

Dunmire states that this book speaks to the natural world. He has made the history of New Mexico—from the volcanic explosions thousands of years ago to the gradual development of what we look at today—come alive in the pages, making reading the words on each page a pleasure.

In the introduction to his book, Dunmire says his given purpose of his book is “to give readers an understanding of the natural elements that define the outdoor environment in each of the different regions of New Mexico and to focus on some of our most interesting landscape features. Questions like, “Why does the countryside around Las Cruces appear to be so different from the surrounding Albuquerque, Taos, or Farmington?’ The answers to such questions will be found here.”

The book focuses on the major ecoregions of the state. Dunmire states that “it is a fact that more than nine-tenths of the state’s land base remains in native or near-native conditions, providing landscapes that pulse from the effect of unpredictable weather and other natural cycles rather than from human manipulation. Ours, truly, are living landscapes.”

This reader can only hope that everyone has the opportunity to turn the pages of this beautiful book. New Mexicans can read the history of their land and rediscover that they really do live in the Land of Enchantment.

The book is published by Museum of New Mexico Press (

BLM announces fee-free days for 2013

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will waive recreation-related fees in 2013 for visitors to BLM’s National System of Public Lands on January 21 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), September 28 (National Public Lands Day), and November 9 to 11 (Veterans Day Weekend). These fee-free days also include areas managed within the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). The fee-free requirement only applies to standard amenity fees such as individual day-use fees. Other fees, such as those for group day use, overnight camping, and cabin rentals will remain in effect. 

New Mexico fee-free sites include: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, which includes Wild Rivers and Orilla Verde Recreation Areas, Santa Cruz Lake, Valley of Fires Recreation Area, Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, Aguirre Spring Recreation Site, and Dripping Springs Natural Area. For more information, please visit BLM’s website at:

Everyone is encouraged go out and enjoy their public lands.

PV solar mount

A DIY guide to PV

—Ty Belknap

Homemade adjustable ground mount

John Knight adjusts angle on solar panel mount. (below)

John Knight with solar panels

Finished solar array

Finished solar array

The hardest part of installing photovoltaic (PV) is deciding whether or not to do it in the first place. After toying with the idea, I finally did it for the tax break, inflation hedge, and to keep up with the Joneses. It might have been my last chance for the tax break before the fiscal cliff. The federal tax rebate is set to expire in 2016.

PNM’s incentives have dropped considerably since I first priced a system in 2008, but the price of solar has also dropped since then. Later that year, we sold the Signpost and no longer had any tax liability, so we dropped the idea until we got it back last year. Spending money on domestic infrastructure is surely a better investment than stuffing it under the mattress.

I considered a “doomsday system”—an off-the-grid electricity generating plant, which includes batteries and a gasoline powered generator that would keep the house powered-up even if when grid goes down. Since the PNM grid rarely fails, and since I was already connected, I opted for net metering which allows customers to return the electricity that they generate to the grid—and get paid for it.

Last June, I got a quote from Affordable Solar (, because they have a good reputation, the best prices, and they advertise in the Signpost. They sent a certified solar designer to our house to measure the roof, made sure net-metering would work in our location, and calculate how many PV panels would be required to offset my electric bill. Then they mailed a slick folder containing a proposal for a turn-key installation along with all the charts showing how with federal, state, and PNM incentives, our investment would be paid off in eight-to-ten years. It looked good. It would have been so simple.

Before I signed the dotted line, however, I showed the folder to my friend John Knight, an engineer, expert web shopper, and devout do-it-yourselfer. In no time at all, Knight found a DIY package online. “It would be a piece of cake to install,” he said. “Let’s start with your house, then you can help with mine.” I would be the guinea pig. A representative from the New Mexico Solar Energy discouraged DIY, but, since it looked like all we had to do was mount the panels in the yard and run wire to the house, I decided to give it a try.

First I took photos of a neighbor’s ground-mounted solar array and emailed them along with measurements to Knight. Next thing I knew, he had ordered a bundle of wholesale aluminum stock and hardware. It cost a fraction of the cost of ready-made framing. I was now committed to a big project without taking my usual waffle time. Online, out-of-town photo voltaic suppliers made me nervous, so, at the risk of antagonizing a good advertiser, I called Affordable Solar for a DIY package price. It was the best price, all the equipment was in stock, and I sent them a check.

Then I went to the PNM solar program website ( and read at the top of the page of the step-by-step instructions. It read: “Most importantly, don’t start construction yet. If you build a system before obtaining approval, you risk paying for a system that does not qualify to receive payments under this program.” It was the first of several “oh, shit” moments.

Affordable Solar graciously agreed to send my check back or hold the equipment until I was ready. They even sent me a very professional looking one-line diagram and technical information that made my PNM application process fairly easy—if not quick.

Meanwhile we built concrete piers with anchor bolts to mount the PV array. There was no reason to think that it would not be approved, and it was the cheapest, if not easiest part of the design. Knight used his GPS helped me lay out a grid facing due south. We googled the specs for adequate mass to keep the array from blowing away (technically, a building permit is required). Then I bought sixteen-inch diameter cardboard concrete forms and rented a big auger from Home Depot. Digging the holes and leveling twelve forms was not easy, the auger just serving as a power pickaxe to loosen the rocks to dig out by hand. I hired a guy to mix and pour the concrete.

When PNM approved the application several weeks later, I picked up the PV package. It took another month to find a time when we were both free to fabricate the system. With the help of Knight’s metal saw and drill press, we built an array three adjustable racks for twelve panels in two short days in October. We googled the optimum angles to face the sun in different seasons. Knight even had a tool for setting the angles. It was almost fun.

Later, I wired the panels and inverters together with a ready-made daisy chain and got a backhoe to dig trenches for wires to the house. A licensed electrician is required to pull the state permit and tie the system through breakers, a PNM Renewable Energy meter can, an emergency shut off switch, and into the main panel at the house.

We failed the first inspection due to a small grounding problem, which set me back about two weeks. Then we waited another ten days for the PNM inspection, which we passed, but after the technician installed the REC meter, turned on the system, and pronounced it operational, he turned it off again. A week later, on November 13, another PNM technician came out for our official ceremonial turn-on and handshake.

The system seems to work. All that remains is paperwork for the tax break and installation of an electronic monitoring system that plugs into our wireless hub and gives a real-time readout on the performance of each panel.

So far, solar power has not changed my life. We still keep the heat down and turn off the lights. I was a little disappointed to learn that my PVs don’t actually power my house. Silently and with no moving parts, they just pour energy back into that vast sea of   electricity called the grid. They say it will pay off in the long run.

I’m proud of it. That array looks good out there. I saved a bunch of money and reduced my carbon footprint. Thanks to Affordable Solar, John Knight, Rock Hill Electric, and Google.

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