The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Pretty Snow

Snow stories


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 nothing

has stayed longer than one gray Colorado afternoon,

7th grade, 8th, heads down in our usual ranks and files,

when a little hiss of notice rippled across the room

and we looked up—one row at a time, it felt like—

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 snow

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 Coleman.

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


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 for good.

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.

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 ( Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.






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