The first part of the new year was marked by a number of weather-related
misadventures involving New Mexicans. I’m happy to say that
the only bad thing that happened to me was missing a perfect powder
day snowboarding at Ski Santa Fe when a power failure shut down
the lifts. We saved the day by doing some scenic cross-country
skiing, instead. Things could have been worse.
I had hoped for an exclusive interview with the Placitas couple
who spent three nights lost in the mountains after snowboarding
out of bounds from Ski Santa Fe in waist-deep snow. Understandably,
they were tired of notoriety after “Good Morning, America,”
and elected not to talk to the Signpost.
Not to be critical, but I just don’t understand why—with
that much snow—anyone would venture out of bounds. Snowboards
are fun to ride, but they are not a good form of transportation.
It’s best to keep moving in deep snow because getting unstuck
can be totally exhausting. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe
they took a wrong turn, zigged when they should have zagged.
Once lost, the couple seems to have been uniquely qualified to
survive—equipped with a shovel and experienced in building
snow caves. Their cell phone was also a key to survival.
I admire people who prepare and equip themselves properly to
enter the wilderness with fire starters, protective clothing,
food, water, maps, first aid kits, and electronic gadgetry. But
I’ve never seen anyone carry a shovel for a day in a ski
area. That’s really well-prepared. I’d also like to
know if they ditched their snowboards when they got lost, or if
they used them like surfboards to paddle through the snow. I know
from personal experience that they make pretty good shovels for
digging your car out of a ditch.
In December, one of my son’s rock climbing partners was
snowboarding down Big Tesuque Trail after a day at Ski Santa Fe.
The trail drops out of the backside of the ski area and ends at
a trailhead several miles down the road below the parking lot.
He had taken the trail plenty of times in the past. This time
his snowboard caught a snag, and he flew into a tree, breaking
his femur in half.
It was sunset. His leg shortened and swelled up like a basketball
as his contracting muscles pulled on the distal segment of the
bone. This is a limb- and even life-threatening injury if the
femoral artery is severed. It was worse than being lost, but he
too survived—thanks again to a cell phone, an experienced
friend, and a warm fire. Rescuers from the ski area arrived with
a sled, morphine, and a traction splint about two hours after
dark. A helicopter was waiting at the trailhead.
Other skiers and snowboarders were not so lucky. Tragically,
another young friend of a friend apparently suffocated after doing
a header while snowboarding off a cliff at Duango Mountain.
I’ll bet those missing Albuquerque snowboarders at Wolf
Creek would be glad to be interviewed about their survival, if
only it could be so. Out of respect, I won’t speculate about
their apparent demise.
Western mountains have been more than rough on backcountry travelers
this winter. Fourteen people died in avalanche-related accidents
between November 2007 and January 9 of this year. Last year, there
were half as many fatalities during those months, and this season
is still young.
My son is in Idaho taking an intensive college course in backcountry
skiing and avalanches. Maybe next month, I can get him to write
about his experience. Right now, though, I just wish he’d
give me a call.
The Moment of Snow
I remember snow each night that winter at the cabin
in the Crazy Mountains, each morning
a kind of forgetfulness, a soft scatter over the grit
of yesterday, wherever we’d worked or walked,
and I traced for years the way snow moves across Dakota,
smokes on the highway, drifts in the ditch, but
has stayed longer than one gray Colorado afternoon,
7th grade, 8th, heads down in our usual ranks
when a little hiss of notice rippled across the room
and we looked up—one row at a time, it
at the sift of the fragile first flakes slanting down,
carrying our dizzy eyes and hearts along.
Regularly irregular, it shuffled inside us,
a relentless delicacy which might erase
everything we knew about our lives and teach us
something else. I don’t know why that falling
still carries me down with it, or why,
helpless, I’ve loved anything in my life.
I do know
the shapes of houses fading, the trees
dimming like twilight and how the multitude of
was an oblivion and nothing could save us,
nor mother, nor father, the town to be buried
by steady uncertainties, the world coming loose,
the first time something ceaseless had appeared
and we were beautiful enough to recognize it,
who would never see each other again,
who would see each other the next day,
who would no longer recognize ourselves.
From Robert King’s book of poems, Old
Man Laughing, published by Ghost Road Press in 2007.
Rio Grande Trail to benefit New Mexico’s
economy, environment, and health
Although still in the planning stages, the Rio Grande Trail will
provide hundreds of miles of new trail to hikers, bikers, and
joggers. Trail-related recreation is the most popular outdoor
activity in the state, with forty-one percent of New Mexicans
participating in some form of trail activity every year. This
has translated into significant economic gain for the state—the
outdoor recreation retail sales account for 4.6 percent of gross
state product, according to “Blazing a Trail: The Benefits
of a Rio Grande Trail in New Mexico,” a new report released
today by Environment New Mexico. The report highlights the need
for trail funding from the New Mexico legislature, which convenes
in session next week.
Owing to the popularity of trails, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals,
and Natural Resources Department, State Parks Division has set
in motion an ambitious plan to construct a multi-use trail alongside
the Rio Grande statewide.
“In addition to fulfilling the public’s desire for
more trails, the Rio Grande Trail will have positive impacts on
New Mexico’s economy, environment, health, and recreational
opportunities,” said Environment New Mexico Associate, Randall
State Parks is overseeing development of the trail from Belen
to Sunland Park, where they are already developing river trails
in five state parks along the southern stretch of the Rio Grande.
State Parks is undergoing a corridor study to identify and evaluate
potential trail locations and constraints. Several stakeholder
meetings, public workshops, and surveys will be conducted to achieve
community input in the planning process.
“The Rio Grande Trail has the ability to preserve the Rio
Grande and the Bosque by increasing public awareness and connection
to the river, while at the same time improving recreational opportunities
and the health of New Mexico residents,” said Coleman.
The trail has already generated popular support in the New Mexico
legislature. In 2006, the legislature appropriated $4 million
for State Parks to begin planning and development of the trail,
and in 2007, a joint House and Senate Memorial (HJM49/SJM44) was
passed in support of completing the Rio Grande Trail.
“Despite all this support, there’s one catch. The
major obstacle to trail development has been the lack of funding.
Funding is scheduled to run dry this summer, following the completion
of the planning study. More funding must be allocated if the Rio
Grande Trail is to be realized,” said Coleman.
“During the 2008 legislative session, Governor Richardson
and New Mexico’s legislators have a terrific opportunity
to support trail funding and give New Mexico the benefits of a
visionary river trail,” concluded Coleman.
Old growth restoration project to affect Forest
Service Trail use
From mid-January to the beginning of March, the Forest Service
will be implementing an old-growth ponderosa pine restoration
project that will cause portions of the East Fork Trail and the
area north of the Redondo Campground in the Jemez Mountains to
be closed to cross-country skiing and other recreational uses.
This project is the culmination of a three-year partnership effort
between the Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Northern Arizona
University’s Ecological Restoration Institute, the University
of Montana, and several local landowners and participants. The
purpose of the project is to optimize old-growth ponderosa pine
habitat for forest health and sensitive species such as the northern
goshawk by reducing overly dense areas of small trees. Treatments
will be applied by shredding or masticating trees. There will
be no logging, and no pre-settlement trees (estimated to be 130
years or older) will be cut.
Treatments will primarily occur over snow to avoid impacts to
soil and minimize disturbance to wildlife species. The East Fork
Trail will be closed on weekdays during this time period between
the East Fork Trailhead and Las Conchas Trailhead. In some instances,
the East Fork Trail may need to be closed on weekends as well.
To find out the status of this trail or more information about
the project, please contact Mike Dechter at the Jemez Ranger District
at (575) 829-3535.
Heard around the West
—BETSY MARSTON, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
Five years ago, Douglas Hoffman and his wife, Debbie,
bought a house in an upscale retirement community outside of Las
Vegas. The spectacular neon lights of the Strip at night were
what passed for a view, and the just-planted trees were small.
But as Sun City Anthem in Henderson grew to 7,000 homes, the trees
also flourished, causing Hoffman to complain to a homeowners’
committee that all that greenery obscured his view. Stymied by
restrictions on cutting trees, Douglas took matters into his own
handsaw, so to speak, sneaking through neighborhoods at night
to lop off tree tops or slash tree trunks. A $10,000 reward was
posted for the capture of the person or persons committing “arborcide,”
reports the Los Angeles Times, and a private security firm was
hired to ferret out the mystery man. But Hoffman, though described
as stout, was elusive. It took a fellow Sun City resident, a former
deputy sheriff, to give chase and capture the sixty-year-old man,
who was carrying a single-blade saw. Hoffman lives most of the
year in a “first” home in Goodyear, Arizona, but he
managed to do a lot of damage while in Nevada: He is accused of
killing five hundred trees valued at close to $250,000. His attorney
plans to ask for probation.
As soon as a dad dashed into a grocery store in Spokane,
Washington, to pick up doughnuts, a “repo” man drove
off in his car, without noticing he’d repossessed a family
as well: inside the car were the man’s five- and seven-year-old
children. Police returned the kids calm and unharmed, reports
the Oregonian, but the father’s 1996 Ford Explorer was gone
A moose delighted Christmas shoppers in downtown Anchorage
by lighting up the night. He’d gotten his big antlers enmeshed
in expensive LED lights, and trailed the holiday strand right
through traffic. At times, though, the moose appeared disoriented
and glassy-eyed, reports the Anchorage Daily News. A Fish and
Game biologist guessed why: The animal was “either drunk
or in gastric distress,” after gorging on fermented apples
in Town Square Park. The Alaska biologist said he’d wait
for the “juiced moose” to sober up before urging him
to leave town.
From the top of windswept Red Mountain Pass in western
Colorado, Kathy Daniels has spent 22 winters pushing snow from
the helm of a huge plow equipped with 12-foot blades. “It’s
like driving a car,” she told the Ouray County Winter Guide.
“It’s just bigger.” Well, sort of. Her stretch
of two-lane highway down to the Ouray Hot Springs happens to be
one of the most avalanche-prone in the Lower 48 states. Daniels
said her least-favorite spot on this narrow road with no guardrails
is Ruby Walls, a place that features a big drop-off, scared people
driving up the middle of the road, bad drainage, and falling icicles:
“I know a plow driver who had an icicle come right through
the roof of his truck.” Ever since a snowplow driver was
killed by an avalanche in 1992, the state highway department has
leaned toward closing the highway during dicey conditions rather
than clearing it of snow. Daniels has one trick up her sleeve
to make plowing safer and more predictable — a howitzer
cannon that she calls her “big gun.” When she shoots
it, the explosion knocks avalanches loose, preventing dangerous
surprises. Daniels holds the distinction of being the first woman
snowplow driver on both Red Mountain and Molas passes, and over
the years she has become a devotee of springtime avalanches. When
they whooshed by her former residence near Silverton —which
is also pretty remote and cold at 9,318 feet—she says they
sounded just like a waterfall.
NEW YORK AND THE WEST
Perhaps only in the Big Apple would a room full of bare
dirt elicit raves—lots and lots of them for the indoor earthworks
of artist Urs Fischer. New York magazine called the chaotic mounds
“brimming with meaning and mojo,” and said that the
gallery—its concrete floor cracked open by jackhammers to
free the dirt beneath—“pulsates with erotic energy.”
There is a downside: Fischer’s artwork, which he calls You
and which cost $250,000 to create, is a mite dangerous. A chasm
of jagged concrete lies at the bottom of a steep slope, and a
daunting sign warns visitors that walking on the loose dirt —preferably
not in high heels — “is physically dangerous and inherently
involves the risk of serious injury or death.” While Westerners
familiar with backhoes might scoff at the notion of contained
dirt as art, critic Jerry Saltz found himself entranced. You,
he said, is “a bold act that brings on claustrophobia and
agoraphobia at the same time, makes you look at galleries in a
new way and serves as a bracing palate cleanser.”
Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range,
a service of High Country News (email@example.com).
Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared
in the column, Heard around the West.