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The Squirrels

Sarah McPhee (top row, second from left) a student at Bernalillo High School and the rest of the “Squirrels” are representing New Mexico in the USA Junior Olympics Girls Volleyball Championships.

New Mexico Juniors Volleyball to represent New Mexico

788 teams from across the United States will compete in the thirtieth annual USA Junior Olympic Girls Volleyball Championships held in Miami, Florida from June 26 to July 5 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

The Land of Enchantment will be represented by the New Mexico Juniors 15-1s team, called the Squirrels. The team is comprised of ten players attending high schools in the Albuquerque area. Members include Sarah McPhee, Bernalillo High School; Rachael Bradley and Rachel Hendrick, Sandia High School; Felicity Jackson and Sara Weber, St. Pius X; Angelique Keefner and Stephanie Wilson, Cibola High School; Kaira Lujan, Albuquerque Academy; and Brandi Torr and Julia Warren, La Cueva High School.

The team qualified for the invitation-only Junior Olympic tournament by finishing first in the Sun Country Bid Tournament held in Amarillo, Texas on May 11, 2009. They will participate in the National Division for fifteen-year-olds, representing Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Santa Fe counties; the State of New Mexico; and the Sun Country Region.

Steve Hendricks and Christa Faris are the coaches for the Squirrels. Hendricks, the UNM Assistant Volleyball Coach, has fourteen years of experience at the collegiate level and is currently in his second season with the UNM Lobo volleyball program. Faris played on the Canadian National Volleyball team, and both have successfully coached teams to bids for the national tournament.

The New Mexico Juniors volleyball club has quite a history. In the spring of 1977, a trio of volleyball enthusiasts started the very first Junior Olympic Volleyball Club in the state of New Mexico. With a connection to The University of New Mexico, the original name was Albuquerque Volleyball Club or AVBC. In 1992, AVBC merged with several other clubs to form Albuquerque Juniors. The club continued to grow with several more name changes: Albuquerque Prism, The Albuquerque Elite, Albuquerque All Starz, and back to Albuquerque Juniors, before making the final name change to New Mexico Juniors.

The mission statement of the club remains the same today as it was thirty-one years ago—to help New Mexico grow the sport of volleyball and specifically to help players prepare to move into the collegiate ranks as scholarship players. This year more than 140 girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen will train and compete as members of the fourteen club teams. Along with the fourteen teams, the club has twenty-eight coaches and is managed by a Board of Directors.

Tryouts for the 2010 season will be held in November. More information about the club can be found on the web at

Finding death’s middle ground

Ana Maria Spagna, High Country News

In the mountain town where I live, we often talk about the best way to die. On the trail or around the campfire, or late at night inside the house as the snow piles under the eaves, the gist is this: My friends want to die naturally. Leave me for the cougars, or let the grizzlies take me. Hypothermia is popular. Just hunker under a tree with a bottle of vodka on a winter night when the stars flicker close. Burning is not high on the list—too painful—but to be left outside, sooner or later, to feed the foxes or mulch the mushrooms, well, this is the dream.

And it is no joke. One friend keeps a scrap of paper folded in her pocket on hikes. Do not revive me, it reads. Others leave similar notes on their desks. Let nature be the boss, they say.

In theory, it sounds good. In reality, of course, it gets tricky.

Our neighbor, Wally, a crotchety bachelor in his seventies who has smoked for over fifty years, has been coughing for months, but he refuses to leave home to go see a doctor. Instead, he fabricates theories for why he feels ill—mercury in his fillings, toxicity in peanut butter—theories as good, I suppose, as any explanation save perhaps the roll-your-own cigarette that hangs like a fixture from his bottom lip. It hardly matters. The problem isn’t just what the problem is. The problem lies in what the solution may entail.

Where will Wally go? What will Wally do? Without the firewood he cuts, the tulips he tends, his home, his neighbors, his routines, Wally will surely get sicker. We are all watching, and it is excruciating. Every so often someone loses it and pleads with him. There might be an easy answer, they say. You might find some relief. For God’s sake, they cry, go see a doctor!

These are people, all of them, who have said at some point, in some way: Leave me to the grizzlies. But the truth is that so-called “natural” death—whatever that means—is a whole lot easier to consider for ourselves than for those we love.

Early this spring, out of a population of ninety in town, five of us traveled to care for ailing parents. We who’d abandoned the rat race, gone back to the land and stayed to tell the tale, we who’d rejected pension plans, commutes and cubicles in favor of long ridge walks and ramshackle outhouses, now flew back, right into the mix, to Boca Raton and Kansas City and Pasadena, to spend long days under fluorescent lights, filling prescriptions, feeding, fluffing pillows, speaking softly, sitting by the bedside of mom or dad. And then sitting some more. We were glad to do it, passionate, even, about doing it, because we could feel it in our bones: There’s something natural about giving comfort.

After all, we’ve known people who’ve drowned in mountain streams, who’ve fallen down steep switchbacks with a string of pack horses, who’ve flipped over cables into deep gorges while doing trail construction, but we’d never in a million years wish these deaths on our parents or our children or our friends or even dear crotchety Wally because, frankly, we cannot wish it on ourselves, we who are left behind. Not again. Not ever.

In March, I camped in the parking lot of the cancer hospital where my mother was having yet another surgery. It was neither the first time, nor the worst time, for either of us. For days following the operation, Mom had been nauseous with sharp gut-twisting pain, despite the fact that she hadn’t taken so much as a sip of water in two weeks. The doctors tried more morphine. No improvement. They tried tough love, urging her out of bed, sick or not, to shuffle around the halls clutching the IV pole. She got out of bed, tried to do what they told her: No change.

At last, a technician arrived with a tube. Once it was in place, up her nose and down her throat, my mother was immediately, well, flooded with relief. Green bile rested in the tube. A half-finished crossword puzzle sat in my lap. There was no place on earth I’d rather have been.

Truth is, there is middle ground between the hungry griz and the flashing lights of the ICU. Hospice workers have known this forever. Those of us who have staked our lives in the wilds take longer to catch on. We thought we were Robinson Jeffers, who said he would rather kill a man than a hawk. (Although Jeffers never specified which man.) It is humbling to discover that, in the end, we’re all Dylan Thomas, pleading with those we love to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

When I returned home in April, to the green needly woods, the glacier-fed river running low, robins pecking at the ground, I seeped, grateful, into that other comfort, nature narrowly defined. One morning out jogging alone, I glimpsed the quick blond flash of a cougar tail, disappearing into the woods. If it happens that way, I told myself, so be it. But I won’t lobby for it, not anymore.

When I die, I’d just as soon die surrounded by those I love. And while I live, I’d just as soon live like my fellow springtime travelers, all those the familiar faces bleary-eyed in the elevators of the cancer hospital, those who face the gentle night with agonized patience and those brave enough to usher them through, rather than champion one quick cold night in the forest. I’ll offer comfort. And, when the time comes, I’ll take it.

Navajo Girls

Navajo Girls

Kit Carson group

Carson Group

The long walk of the Navajo and Mescalero Indians and its enduring mark on Western history

One of the least-told and darkest chapters in the history of the American West

The story was born in one man’s misguided notion of a utopia for Native Americans. It ended with one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the American West—the Long Walk.

More than a century after the disastrous relocation of Navajo and Mescalero Apache Indians to Bosque Redondo, its scars still haunt the memories of the Navajo and Mescalero people, and the history of Kit Carson—who he was and what his rightful legacy might have been. The stories of Carson and of the Long Walk are among the many told at the New Mexico History Museum, now open at 113 Lincoln Avenue on the historic Santa Fe Plaza.

In 1862, Colonel James H. Carleton, then in charge of the U.S. “Department of New Mexico,” perceived a threat to settlers from the Native Americans who had long called this place their home. Clothing his solution in the form of a benevolent future, he created a vision of an agricultural reservation in eastern New Mexico, a sparsely populated area fed by the slender Pecos River. His intent, now seen through the darker lens of history, was to force the tribes “to give way to the insatiable progress of our race.”

To carry it out, Carleton turned to Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson, a Kentucky-born frontiersman and ally of the near-mythical John C. Frémont. At first, Carson resisted the order, which read in part: “All Indian men of that tribe (the Mescalero Apache) are to be killed whenever and wherever you can find them. The women and children will not be harmed, but you will take them prisoners.”

Carson could not bring himself to abide in full. Instead, he took Apache men prisoner and eventually persuaded the tribe to surrender and move from their southwestern New Mexico homelands to Bosque Redondo. In 1863, more than four hundred arrived at an incomplete military fort and were put to work.

Carleton then issued a similar order for the Navajo, but had to play upon Carson’s duty to country. He complied—again, in part. In the siege of Canyon de Chelly, the spiritual heartland of the Navajo people, Carson burned the tribe’s crops and peach orchards, shot their livestock, and destroyed wells. Eventually, the Navajo surrendered and ten thousand of them began the 350-mile walk from northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo. Marched at a constant pace, the people were poorly clothed and fed. One in five died. One account says a woman in labor was shot to death because she could not keep up.

Once at the four-hundred-square-mile Bosque Redondo, the futility of Carleton’s utopia was exposed. The two tribes had longstanding rivalries and different languages. Little firewood was available, there were no tents, and the only water source, the Pecos River, was laden with salt that weakened the soil and caused intestinal trouble. Comanche raids cost the tribes what little they had. Smallpox infected them. An estimated fifteen hundred perished in the winter of 1863-64 alone.

Carleton’s own soldiers, perhaps sensing this last gasp of Manifest Destiny, dubbed the place “Carletonia.”

In 1865, all of the Mescalero Apache escaped, despite the death warrant it carried. The Navajo remained until 1868, when General William T. Sherman crafted a treaty granting both tribes permanent rights to a portion of their ancestral lands. On June 18, 1868, freedom in hand, the Navajo people began yet another long walk, this time home.

Today, the Bosque Redondo Memorial at the Fort Sumner State Monument southeast of Santa Rosa, New Mexico recounts the suffering—and the resilience—of the people who endured Carleton’s “utopia.” The National Park Service is exploring the creation of a National Historic Trail commemorating the Long Walk. And on the Mescalero and Navajo reservations, people continue to practice their traditional ways and speak their traditional languages, while fully engaging in twenty-first-century life.

As for Carson, the debate over his legacy continues. In the 2006 book Blood and Thunder, award-winning author Hampton Sides examines the many sides of the story, which continue to confound. Of Carson, he writes: “He was the prototype of the Western hero. Before there were Stetson hats and barbed-wire fences, before there were Wild West shows or Colt six-shooters to be slung at the O.K. Corral, there was Nature’s Gentleman, the original purple cliché of the purple sage. Carson hated it all. Without his consent, and without receiving a single dollar, he was becoming a caricature.”

Without resorting to caricatures, the New Mexico History Museum aims to lay out the facts and let visitors come to their own conclusions. In its ninety-six thousand square feet, the Museum shares more than four hundred centuries of cultural interactions among Native Americans; Spanish colonists; frontier settlers; nuclear scientists; and the artists, writers and photographers who continue to plant new and fruitful roots.






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