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Thank you Silvery Minnow

Ty and Barb Belknap

The recreational river season looks grim this year. There is very little water coming down the Rio Grande through Pilar where many boaters go to play.

People flocked to the Rio Chama during the first week of May when the word spread that nine hundred cfm was being released via the San Juan Chama Diversion to supplement downstream demand for irrigation, interstate compacts, or endangered silvery minnows.

Whatever the reason, we only knew that there was water in the river for a change. As soon the gear was thrown in the trucks or strapped on top, we drove the two and a half hours to the put-in north of Abiqui, dumped the tents to reserve our favorite campsite, and set off downriver.

It was glorious cool breeze, cold, fast-flowing water, and clear blue skies. Drought? What drought? For the moment, it looked just like the wetter days that seem now to be a thing of the past. The lower section of the Chama passes through five miles of some of the most beautiful landscape in New Mexico. It has 360-degree views all the way—a kaleidoscope of mountains, mesas, buttes, and canyons. There are plenty of interesting rapids along the way, so the trip is like a carnival ride through paradise.

From the takeout at Big Eddy, we hitched a ride back to camp, cooked dinner, and watched the sunset while the nine-to-fivers and students in our party straggled in. The convergence of planets to the west highlighted the brilliance of the night sky.

A number of river friends showed up as as the weekend progressed, bringing with them a fine assortment of toys. There were solo and tandem canoes, kayaks, and inflatable rafts.

Despite the morning chill, we managed to shuttle vehicles and get back on the river in time to run it twice. Another perfect New Mexico day, the breeze warm while the river filled with other boaters, mostly in kayaks. They said that the confluence below an island near Big Eddy had the only surfing wave in the state. Surfing in a favorite trick for kayaks. It involves paddling upstream into a wave or hole—a hydraulic condition that grabs a boat and holds on. Larger hydraulics can be dangerous if they don’t let go. One grey-bearded solo canoeist had come just to surf the wave, taking turns with a dozen hot-dogging kayakers.

The most hard-core fun hogs in our group put on in late afternoon with a couple of newlyweds novices in kayaks. We enjoyed coaching a fifty-something-year-old from Long Island who wondered all the way, “What am I doing here?” She did okay through Skull Bridge and Gauging Station, but ran into trouble at the last big rapid, called Bank Shot (also known as Screaming Left Hand Turn), where the river takes a hard left into a rock wall. She was flipped by the eddy line and moments later was spit out below the wall, sputtering something that sounded like, “Baba Ba Ba.”

Now the rescue was on, some of us going for her, others chasing her boat and paddle downstream. There was hypothermia to deal with, and getting her across a riffle tandem in a tippy solo canoe to a camp on the other side was a little bit of a challenge. Fortune smiled when the camp we headed to turned out to be the solo canoe surfer’s. After assisting with the rescue and fixing the shivering novice a hot cup of tea, he was exultant: “Thank God for this river, and thank you, Silvery Minnow.”

The next day, we ran the river one more time. At the take-out, word came down from the ranger to the happy boaters that access to the Santa Fe National Forest and Rio Chama would close the next day because of the drought-related fire hazard.


Technical panel formed to assist BLM with pipeline EIS

The Albuquerque Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management has announced the creation of a panel of technical experts to assist in the preparation of an environmental impact statement for the New Mexico Products Pipeline project.

 The panel was formed in response to comments received from the public, local governments, and other groups during the official scoping period. The primary issue raised through scoping was safety concerns. The technical panel is specifically designed to address this issue by providing the BLM with additional expertise on pipeline safety and integrity. The members of the panel are the following:

Don Keyes, chief engineer with the Anchorage Joint Pipeline Office, began work with the BLM in 1970 as a field engineer for preconstruction activities for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, and has since remained involved in Alaskan pipeline safety. Mr. Keyes will provide the BLM with valuable practical expertise environmental and safety compliance.

Joe Dygas, technical design and review specialist with the Anchorage Joint Pipeline Office, has worked in geology and physical sciences for the federal government since 1976. Mr. Dygas will advise the BLM on slope stability and other geologic safety concerns.

David Rudland, principal research engineer with Engineering Mechanic Corporation of Columbus, has extensive experience in fatigue and fracture mechanics of pipeline engineering materials. Mr. Rudland will serve as the materials expert on the technical panel.

Rodrick Seeley, director of the southwest region of the Office of Pipeline Safet, also brings his expertise.

The technical panel met April 23-25 in Albuquerque to discuss pipeline safety and risk factors associated with the New Mexico Products Pipeline Project. The panel will continue to meet as the EIS process proceeds.

The next opportunity for public input will be after the publication of the draft environmental impact statement this coming fall. A second series of public meetings will be held at that time. Comments received on the draft EIS will be considered in the preparation of the final environmental impact statement.


Heard around the West

Betsy Marston
High Country News

 Nevada has found a new way to get more bang for the truck. In just a few months, residents can pay extra for a license plate that features a rising mushroom cloud from the explosion of a nuclear bomb. The startling design might not have been popular during the 1950s and early 1960s, when tests of atomic bombs were routine in the air above the Nevada desert. But these days the words A-bomb and "collectible" somehow share the same sentence. The contest for a nuclear-themed license plate was sponsored by the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation, and winning sure surprised the first-time designer, Rick Bibbero. "I thought they would choose something that was not so aggressive," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal. The license plate is already proving popular: More than 250 people have signed up as buyers.

There's yet another use for duct tape, one more innovative than the last one you might have thought of — such as wrapping up like a bullet for Halloween. Duct tape came in handy at a Montana airport after a botched takeoff knocked "stewardesses on their butts" and busted the lens on a navigational light, reports the Hungry Horse News. Not a problem after the crew duct-taped the damaged light and arrived at Minneapolis before dark. Passenger Howard Steel, who kept an eye on the taped light while in the air, said the duct tape "held spectacularly" despite high-altitude cold and the 563-mph speed of the plane. "Only in Montana," Steel mused afterward.

Someone at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in western Colorado had fun writing a headline for a column about what some call The People's Republic of Boulder. Boulder is the town where some citizens lambasted a production of the play Grand Hotel, because actors playing Roaring Twenties types smoked on stage, and the town bans smoking in all public places. Now, the Boulder City Council is considering a ban on outdoor couches near the University of Colorado, because sometimes students torch the furniture after football games. Meanwhile, state legislators have gone gung-ho for guns: The Colorado House approved a bill requiring sheriffs to issue a concealed-weapon permit to anyone who already owns a gun and who can pass a background check. The headline on the column: "When couches are outlawed, only outlaws will be couch potatoes." In his spoof of Boulder debating the weighty issue of "upholstery-related violence," columnist Gary Harmon says, "Industry officials … noted that most of the furniture involved in the victory conflagration was cheaply made, hard-to-regulate love seats. We call them Saturday Night Specials … Many didn't even have consumer-warning tags."

Ernie Franke of Krazy Ernie's Emporium in Thompson Falls, Mont., blasted his computer monitor with a 20-gauge shotgun recently, explaining: "Fish and Game has taken all the fun out of this job." The job was issuing hunting licenses, but the state's automated system was so screwed up, he told the Livingston Enterprise, it wouldn't print a license. At the same time it would debit his account to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Franke said he plans to sell his store.

When is a clear-cut not a clear-cut? Perhaps when you can disguise the logging or even make it pretty. That's what Washington state foresters have concluded after a two-year study found that "people don't like clear-cuts." Peter Goldman, with the Washington Forest Law Center, said that what the Washington Department of Natural Resources needs isn't "aesthetic logging" but stricter regulation.

Here's another nifty mnemonic for remembering the names of the rock layers of Grand Canyon. This one describes what you would see when going up the river from Lee’s Ferry, says Bill Wolverton of Escalante, Utah. "Many Canyon Walls Know No Capitalist Exploitation," which stands for Moenkopi, Chinle, Wingate, Kayenta, Navajo, Carmel and Entrada. Unfortunately, you can't do that, he says, "because the best canyon walls have been the victim of capitalist exploitation."

Commissioners in Catron County, N.M., who have always favored livestock over wolves or mountain lions, now have a new villain: goldfish. Commissioners recently told the state they approved the poisoning of Quemado Lake, whose prolific goldfish are outcompeting trout. No one knows how the goldfish got into the lake decades ago, and theories range from a dumped goldfish bowl to anglers using goldfish as bait. Reporter Janis Marston says it is known why the tiny fish are flourishing. The string of mild winters throughout the Southwest has kept goldfish from freezing back during the winter, she says, and starting in the late 1990s, "Quemado Lake's water began turning bright orange." New Mexico's Game and Fish Department plans to poison the goldfish with rotenone and then restock with trout.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Bizarre, quirky or quintessentially Western stories can be sent to her at


County line—Fire and drought

Elizabeth Johnson
Sandoval County Commission Chairman

You don’t have to be a firefighter or a weatherman to know that drought conditions are making our forests and grasslands explosive. We have suffered dry spells and drought before, but it has been a very long time since it has been this dry. With the approach of summer vacations and even warmer, potentially drier conditions, all of us need to be extra careful when working or playing around our homes, and, especially, as we enjoy the mountains and fields that Sandoval County offers residents and visitors alike. We don’t need another Cerro Grande!

New Mexico’s mesas, grasslands, and forests are a tinderbox that can be easily ignited by one mistake, no matter how innocent or unintentional. Fire conditions are so hazardous that the U.S. Forest Service has limited access to both the sprawling Santa Fe and Cibola National Forests. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District has limited access to levee roads and paved trails in the four-county area of the Rio Grande bosque, including the portion in Sandoval County.

The Sandoval County Commission has imposed a strict ban on open burning and certain types of fireworks since April 4, when we enacted a no-burn ordnance. The law cites emergency conditions and took effect immediately upon passage. It will remain in effect until precipitation is sufficient to ease drought conditions and quell fire dangers.

The county ordinance carries the weight—and penalty—of law. Violators will be prosecuted and, once convicted, will be fined up to $300 and jailed up to ninety days.

The county law is quite clear. No open fires of any kind are allowed in the unincorporated, non-tribal areas of Sandoval County. The ban includes agricultural or weed burning, campfires, and all other types of open fires. Even woodstoves and charcoal briquette barbecues are prohibited, although outside propane stoves and grills are allowed.

Most municipalities in Sandoval County have followed the county’s action and have enacted similar bans. Tribal governments within Sandoval County, at the request of the county fire marshal’s office, also have taken similar steps to protect their sovereign pueblo and tribal areas.

The county’s ban also prohibits the use of all types of fireworks other than the "safe and sane" variety that are generally available at established retail stores. Such explosive devices as M-80s or firecrackers, and aerial displays such as so-called Roman candles, bottle rockets or aerial spinners are strictly prohibited. Even then, use of approved fireworks is restricted to areas that are paved or otherwise barren of vegetation, and which have a readily accessible source of water available in the event of an emergency.

The use of all fireworks, including even the "safe and sane" type, is strictly prohibited in the county’s wildlands areas where timber, brush, or native grasses increase fire danger.

Homeowners, too, need to take simple precautions. Household fire extinguishers should be charged and readily available. Hoses should be hooked up to exterior faucets. Keep a thirty-foot safety circle around homes by thinning trees and bushes, mowing grass and weeds, and stacking firewood away from the home. Above all, make sure there is adequate access for emergency vehicles.

Fire conditions this year are the worst residents in some parts of Sandoval County have ever experienced. It’s the responsibility of all of us to exercise caution in order to protect lives and property, as well as the scenic wonders that make Sandoval County unique. Call 911 to report anyone who may be violating the county’s no-burn ordinance or if you see a fire that appears out of control.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Johnson can be mailed to her in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P. O. Box 40, Bernalillo.


A short history of the Placitas Post Office

—Placitas Post Office and Signpost staff

The farming community of Placitas was built on the site of an ancient Indian Pueblo eight miles east of Bernalillo. The Indians selected the site because of the water sources near the north end of the Sandia Mountains. The Spanish word placitas means “little plazas.” The Spanish settled the area in the 1760s as part of the San Antonio de las Huertas Grant but were forced by the Apaches to abandon the site in the 1820s. They returned in 1840 and again established their settlement.

The first Placitas Post Office was opened by its first postmaster, Hermenegildo Chavez, on April 18, 1901. The mail was received from a star route out of the Bernalillo Post Office. Teodocio Chavez became the second postmaster on February 15, 1904. After ten years in the postmaster position, he transferred the post office to Juan Baros on February 6, 1914. Juan lasted only ten months, and Teodocio Chavez started his second term as the postmaster on December 5, 1914.

When Teodocio resigned his second appointment on September 15, 1930, an eligible replacement could not be found. The office was discontinued and the mail forwarded to the Bernalillo Post Office. Then, when a petition was sent to reestablish the office, Griselda Duran agreed to accept the postmaster position. The petition was approved and Postmaster Duran reopened the office on December 23, 1932. Griselda resigned on March 31, 1934, and the office was again closed. The residents of Placitas and the nearby settlement of Tecolote were allowed to put up rural-type mailboxes and the route was left in place for mail delivery.

On November 3, 1939, a new postmaster, Ernesto Amador, reopened the Placitas Post Office, and mail delivery was again placed on the route from the Bernalillo Post Office. In 1940, Amador was providing service to about three hundred residents. Ernesto vacated the office on April 8, 1944, and was replaced by his wife, Euphemia, who served until March 21, 1946, when Adela Garcia was appointed. Adela remained as postmaster for eight years until she was replaced by Frances Perea on June 21, 1954.

ZIP codes were introduced in 1964 and the Albuquerque Post Office became the sectional center facility, responsible for the transportation of the mail within the 870 ZIP code area. The route out of Bernalillo was then abolished, and mail was received out of Albuquerque.

Frances Perea, the longest-serving postmaster for the Placitas community, served for over twenty-two years—from her appointment in 1954 until her death on December 2, 1976. Her replacement, Orcelia Morris, assumed the duties as the officer in charge and was then appointed postmaster on July 2, 1977. Orcelia had the pleasure of moving the postal operations into a new facility in May of 1983. The new building provided 1,400 square feet of floor space and better parking for customers. She resigned her commission on February 10, 1995, and was replaced by OIC Mary Ann Gonzales. Joyce Goodin and Vicki Voyles also served OIC assignments at the Placitas Post Office before Deborah Weisberg was appointed to the position on September 2, 1995. Debbie had been an account representative at the Albuquerque district offices prior to her appointment as the tenth postmaster for Placitas.

In 1995, the office ended the year with a revenue of $131,695.40. This was a 125 percent increase over the 1990 revenue of $58,594.48. Even after taking into account the 28-percent postage-rate increase during those five years, the office almost doubled its business.

When Debbie needed elsewhere, three officers in charge were detailed to the Placitas Post Office. They were Anthony Perez, an intern from Albuquerque; Bernie Martinez, the postmaster of Cuba, New Mexico; and Raffie Martinez, an intern and postal clerk from Albuquerque. On August 10, 2001, the current postmaster, Dannette Salazar, was assigned duty.

Dannette Salazar has worked for the postal service since 1978, when she started on the graveyard shift operating the old LSMs (letter-sorting machines) in Albuquerque. She also worked in the vehicle maintenance facility (the division in charge of postal jeeps, etc.), and, after other postal appointments, advanced to become the postmaster of San Ysidro, Jemez Springs, and Cedar Crest successively.

She said, “I’ve always wanted to work in Placitas. It was my goal. My mother was brought up in Placitas and we used go up there from Albuquerque to visit my uncle when I was growing up. This was my career goal. This is where my family is.”

Dannette now operates the new and expanded Placitas Post Office, which opened in the summer of 1996. Today it services 2,100 post-office and route boxes, and has two thousand empty boxes at the post office available for new growth.

On June 30 letter rates will go up to thirty-seven cents for first class.


Ignacio Chavez area closed to vehicular traffic

Because of growing fire concerns in the area, the Bureau of Land Management closed the Ignacio Chavez Special Management Area road on May 13. This area in the Rio Puerco is still open to the public but the road was closed six weeks earlier than usual. During the road closure large vehicles and horse trailers are encouraged to use the area marked Hunters Camp at the junction of County Road 25 and BLM Road 1103. The road is expected to reopen on September 16.

This action is in concert with the continuing high-to-extreme fire-hazard conditions that prompted the bureau to prohibit the following activities on all public lands managed by the Albuquerque field office until further notice: burning of solid fuels except in designated campgrounds or developed recreation sites, or when authorized by permit; smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material; possessing, discharging, or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic device; using explosives requiring fuse blasting caps; and operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order.

The Ignacio Chavez SMA lies amid the remains of an array of cultural periods. There are Chacoan-era ruins and evidence of Spanish habitation in the adobe ranchos that dot the area.


Dry conditions force National Forest closures,
bring back fire restrictions

On May 17 many portions of the Cibola National Forest were closed, as fire danger remains very high. Forest supervisor Liz Agpaoa explained, “Closures are a last resort and they are not taken lightly. We all must work together to keep our forest as safe as possible, and this includes staying away from areas that have been closed.”

The following fire restrictions remain in effect on all portions of the Cibola National Forest and the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands. Campfires, charcoal grills, and stove fires are prohibited. Smoking is not allowed. Personal-use firewood cutting is not allowed until further notice. As always, fireworks are prohibited on all national forest lands.

Open Sandia Ranger District sites include La Cueva, Juan Tabo, Las Huertas, Cienega Canyon, Sulphur Canyon, Doc Long, Dry Camp, Balsam Glade, Capulin Spring, Nine Mile, Pine Flat, and Oak Flat recreational day-use sites. Cedro and Deadman campgrounds are open. Sandia Peak Ski Area, Sandia Crest Electronic Site, Sandia Crest Observation Area, Sandia Peak Tram, High Finance Restaurant and associated facilities, and Sandia Crest House are open. Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway (State Highway 536) is open. All roads on the district remain open.

For specific information on open and closed sites and trails in the Sandia Ranger District and open and closed sites and trails in the Mountainair Ranger District, Magdalena Ranger District, and the Mt. Taylor Ranger District, call Karen Carter or Mark Chavez at the Cibola National Forest Supervisor’s Office at 346-3900 or call one of the following district offices: Sandia, 281-3304; Mountainair, 847-2990; Magdalena, 854-2281; Mt. Taylor, 287-8833; Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands, 374-9652. Additional fire information for the southwest area is available at


Bernalillo Town Manager asks for 911 clarification

A firm operating on behalf of the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department sent a mailing to every resident and business in the town of Bernalillo announcing the closure of the South Bernalillo Interchange. In that mailing, Proof Positive Inc. meant to remind motorists using cell phones that 911 calls are answered in Albuquerque and that calls for Bernalillo emergency services are answered at 867-2304. Unfortunately, the word “cell” was inadvertently omitted from the message.

Residents were understandably confused, since the mailing seemed to indicate that dialing 911 from any telephone would not work in Bernalillo. Town Manager Ron Abousleman asked Proof Positive to clarify the matter, so Proof Positive sent a press release to local media stating that

“Emergency calls to 911 in the town of Bernalillo from regular land lines are answered in Bernalillo. It is only cell phone 911 calls that are answered in Albuquerque. This point is critical because when 911 is dialed, the caller’s name and address appear on the 911 operator’s screen, enabling crews to immediately know where to send the emergency crew, even if the caller is unable to cite the location.”

Is that clear? Proof Positive asked the news media to assist them in clarifying “this critical point,” so the Signpost called Bernalillo Police chief Relyea. The chief said that all 911 calls are routed to a 911 operator. Landline calls appear automatically on the operator’s screen with the caller’s address (cell phones do not provide an address). The first thing a 911 operator asks for is the location of the caller. If the call is from outside his response center, the operator pushes a button that immediately switches the call to the appropriate center where another operator again asks for the caller’s location. Emergency response is then initiated.

This sounds complicated, but Chief Relyea says it only takes a few seconds. It’s a lot quicker than looking up the nonemergency number for the local police department while driving down the road in the middle of an emergency, explaining to the operator that it really is an emergency, and waiting to be connected to 911.

Still confused? Just remember: in case of an emergency, dial 911.


South Bernalillo Interchange to close for five months

Local businesses voice concern about traffic flow

For a period of five months, starting in June and continuing into November, Bernalillo and Rio Rancho commuters will only be able to access Interstate 25 at the Exit 242 exchange. The two bridges at the Exit 240 exchange are going to be completely rebuilt. The bridges are over forty-five years old and the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department has determined that they must be replaced now to ensure the continued safety of the motoring public.

The contractor on the job, David Montoya Construction, has 150 calender days to perform the $2.08 million reconstruction project. The contract involves the complete reconstruction of the northbound and southbound bridges, detour embankments, retaining walls, concrete wall-barrier installation, and erosion-control measures.

The contractor plans to work Mondays through Sundays, twenty-four hours a day. Two lanes will remain open on I-25 in both directions when possible (expect delays). When work is in progress on one side of the road, traffic will be moved to the opposite side.

Meanwhile, some businesses on the south side of Bernalillo which depend on the usual traffic flow are facing possible loss of revenue during the project. A proposal to erect signs at Tramway suggesting that motorists bypass possible delays by taking SR 313 through Bernalillo was dropped due to lack of funding. It’s possible, however, that southbound traffic will opt for SR 313. The flow will eventually find the fastest route.

Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce president Fawn Dolan encourages residents to shop locally at the many fine establishments on South Camino del Pueblo during the difficult months ahead.