“Alpacas are like teenagers, they herd together and they follow one another. You can’t force things with alpacas any more than you would with teenagers and they don’t like being closed in. Just like many teenagers, they have a gentle, sensitive nature.”
Alpaca yarn is used to make soft sweaters, hats, and gloves.
Evelyn Simons and Mickey Wright of Jemez give a warm smile on a cold day.
Aspen Ridge Alpacas
—Margaret M. Nava, Signpost
For many, retirement is a time to quit working, move to a warmer climate and take up golf. Not so for half-sisters Mickey Wright and Evelyn Simons. In fact, they did just the opposite. After spending most of their adult years as teachers, they built a cabin, bought some alpacas, and started a whole new life high in the Jemez Mountains at a place they call Aspen Ridge Alpacas.
It all began in 1997 when the sisters heard about a weekend seminar about alpacas being held near their home in southern California. Evelyn, a retired Special Olympics coach, recalls the experience. “We spent a weekend camping and learning about alpacas. We had lunch in the middle of a pasture with alpacas all around us. It was intoxicating, to say the least. We said, ‘we could do this,‘ so we decided to retire in two years and start an alpaca ranch.”
Having grown up in Los Alamos, Mickey was familiar with the Jemez area. “My stepdad built the first house on Thompson Ridge in 1969. He and my mom commuted for three years to Los Alamos. The roads were not maintained, there was no telephone, just CB, and when it snowed, they had to plow their way across Valle Grande to get to work at LANL. I spent my summers and Christmases here.”
Once a high school teacher, Mickey started building a small cabin in 1979. Her sister Evelyn joined the effort in 1981. Every summer, they spent at least a month working on the cabin. Although they hired people and recruited friends to help, the sisters did a lot of the work themselves. Following the seminar, they bought some extra property. “It was all virgin forest. We knew it would have to be cleared for the animals, so we got to work cutting trees, clearing slash, and loading everything onto a trailer. When that first tree went down I said, ‘What are we getting into?’ I was doing the Die Deutsche Sommerschule (German Summer School) in Taos and when that was over, my fellow students and friends helped dig and get boulders out of the way. A friend of mine from the Sierra Club came out from California and worked on the cabin foundation. It just kind of grew each summer until the cabin was finally finished. In January of 1998, we purchased our first alpaca, a pregnant female named Cariñosa. Now we have fourteen.”
Smaller than llamas but larger than wild vicuñas, alpacas are a domesticated species of South American camelid. There are two types: Suri alpacas have long, silky hair that bunches into dreadlocks and Huacaya alpacas have short, crimpy hair that gives them a fluffy look. Unlike llamas, they are not bred as beasts of burden but for their fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, alpaca fiber is warm, not prickly, and contains no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Often mistakenly referred to as wool, it is sorted into twenty-two distinct colors, ranging from blacks and browns, to whites, fawns, and subtle shades of maroon, peach, and gray. Alpacas are generally sheered once a year and can provide as much as twelve pounds of fiber per animal. The carding, spinning, and weaving of alpaca fiber is similar to the process used for wool and the finished yarn is used to make everything from sweaters, ponchos, and scarves to hats, gloves, and socks.
Mickey thinks there are a lot of similarities between alpacas and teenagers. “I probably would have been a better teacher if I’d have had alpacas earlier. Alpacas are like teenagers, they herd together and they follow one another. You can’t force things with alpacas any more than you would with teenagers and they don’t like being closed in. Just like many teenagers, they have a gentle, sensitive nature. They make sweet humming sounds and have cute little smiles and big, brown eyes. They are so gentle, a two-year-old could run around and not get hurt. Our Anatolian Shepherd dogs might lean against someone or knock them over but the alpacas would never hurt anyone.”
Aspen Ridge Alpacas is located in a remote area of Sandoval County. Aside from experiencing the animals, visitors can hike or cross-country ski at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, fish at Fenton Lake State Park, or soak in the nearby hot springs. Mickey believes there’s an almost spiritual feel about the place. “We’re off a scenic byway and in a national forest. We have a lot of artists, writers, and knitters stay overnight in the rental cabin we call the Alpaca Barnhaus. There’s no telephone or cell phone service, and there are no distractions from the outside world. We get a lot of snow up here in the winter but visitors can go down the road a mile or two and get out of it. And our summers are absolutely beautiful. It’s cooler up here than in Albuquerque or Santa Fe and we don’t get a lot of bugs. We’ll have four new crias (babies) in May and we’ll be shearing in either late May or early June.
We would love to have everyone come up to meet our wonderful animals and learn a little bit about farm life.”
For further information and directions to Aspen Ridge Alpacas, call Mickey and Evelyn at (575) 829-3312 or visit aspenridgealpacas.com. For information about renting the Alpaca Barnhaus, visit www.vrbo.com/21722
Hunger increases across nation and in Placitas
—Charlotte Lough, Chair, Casa Rosa Food Bank
The organization Feeding America has just released the results of an extensive nationwide study of hunger, entitled “Hunger in America 2010.“ Roadrunner Food Bank is in partnership with Feeding America and Casa Rosa Food Bank is a partner agency with Roadrunner Food Bank.
The study confirms what we already expected: America’s economic recession is taking a terrible toll on Americans and their ability to feed their families. Some of the startling statistics follow:
Nearly thirty-seven million families were served by Feeding America’s food bank network in 2009, including fourteen million children. That means one in eight Americans turn to food banks for food assistance.
Since 2006, there has been a fifty percent increase in the number of children served by the network.
Many Americans are being forced to choose between providing food for their families and other basic necessities of life. Some have to choose between buying food versus paying their rent, purchasing medication, or paying utility bills.
Clearly, the problem of hunger all across America is growing as our economic recession continues. At Casa Rosa Food Bank each week, we have between one and three new families signing up for food assistance. There are now over 130 families signed up for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) at Casa Rosa. This includes 205 adults and 113 children, for a total of 318 people who are now being served at the food bank. Thirty-five percent of our clients are children. Some of the consumers are retired; some are on disability; and others are waiting for jobs to return, new opportunities to become available, or for their economic status to improve. As the recession continues, things are not coming around as quickly as hoped and bread winners are not able to feed their families and meet other life needs, so they decide to come and partake of what is offered at the food bank.
Casa Rosa has been very fortunate to continue receiving the support of members and friends of Las Placitas Presbyterian Church (LPCC) as well as individuals and businesses from the larger Placitas community. Deborah at YogaCrossroads offered yoga sessions in January for a fee of five nonperishable items donated to Casa Rosa; Jardineros de Placitas collected nonperishable goods for Casa Rosa at their February meeting and participated in the “rubber band project,” attaching money to many of the donated items; and La Puerta Realty held a flea market February 27 with the proceeds going to Casa Rosa. Jardineros also decided to donate their “happy dollars” to sponsor a Mobile Food Pantry. If Jardineros members want to celebrate a happy event in their lives, they put a dollar in the pot and make their announcement to the entire group.
Individuals have also donated comforters, afghans, blankets, and quilts in response to previous requests to keep Placitans warm through the winter months. Household goods and some furniture have been donated for the benefit of our clients. Thank you to all Placitas residents and businesses that have stepped up to address hunger and other needs in the Village and our community.
The February monthly Mobile Food Pantry (MFP) was held on February 11, and forty-eight families participated. All subsequently scheduled Mobile Food Pantries (March through July) are scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month with distribution from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. March 10 is the next scheduled Pantry. These monthly MFPs are open to all eligible Sandoval County residents and are held in the Fellowship Hall of Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. If you are interested in sponsoring one of these events, please contact Charlotte Lough at firstname.lastname@example.org or the LPPC office administrator at 867-5718. The cost to sponsor a Mobile Food Pantry is $100 for 2,500 pounds of food, which is an incredible bargain!
As we move into spring, Casa Rosa is offering more Pins by Lucinda as an ongoing fundraiser. The majority of this order will be ‘women pins,‘ which many people requested in the fall; there will also be more adobe house pins available. The pins will be offered again for $20 per pin and $22 for a pin and bail. (The bail is added so the pin may be worn on a chain as a necklace.) Pins will be available after the church service on Sunday prior to Easter, prior to Mother’s Day, and during the Mother’s Day Studio Tour at the Chili Pepper Café (in the kitchen of the church). The proceeds from each pin purchased provide approximately thirteen meals for consumers at the food bank. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to Casa Rosa Food Bank.
Thank you to all for your generosity and dedication in fighting hunger in Placitas and helping Casa Rosa remain sustainable. Just know that your commitment is gratefully accepted and greatly appreciated.
Town of Bernalillo historical trade and travel route monument
The Town of Bernalillo dedicated its new historical monument on February 12. The 15’ x 5’ x 8’ structure is centrally located downtown at 739 Camino del Pueblo and commemorates the Bernalillo area as one of the oldest sites of trade and travel on the American continent. In hand-carved text and maps, the monument provides residents, visitors, and historians an excellent example of the culture, craft, and architecture of the period.
The sign was constructed and hand-carved by Town of Bernalillo Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) members under the tutelage of renowned master craftsman Rick Catanach. Other examples of the YCC‘s and Rick‘s excellent work can seen in the Southwest Reading Room in the Bernalillo library, the restored and repurposed adobe New Mexico Wine Museum, and the Peanut Butter & Jelly center signage.
Reminiscent of pre-Columbian market stalls in the region, the monument is made of adobe with a lime plaster and native pine vigas and latillas. An adobe banco provides seating and the latilla roof adds protection from the weather and sun.
As noted on the hand-carved monument text and map, Bernalillo is situated on one of the oldest sites of trade and travel on the American continent. Scientific evidence and ongoing research of prehistoric Indian trade routes have identified this route as key for prehistoric trade and travel between Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City) and the ancient cultures of Chaco Canyon. This trade region was well-known and well-traveled long before the arrival of the first European explorers such as Coronado (1540), Oñate (1598), and De Vargas (1692).
As the Oñate expedition brought northward expansion, Spanish colonists built a roadbed which became El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road to the Interior). For three hundred years, this fifteen hundred mile trail was the only roadway leading into Nuevo Mexico, bringing settlers to the Rio Grande Valley and further north.
The El Camino Real road network included the Chihuahua Trail, which was an extension of the Santa Fe Trail, passing through Bernalillo. With the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s, use of El Camino Real began to diminish and by the early 1900s, automobiles started traveling these trails, establishing the first international U.S. highway linking Mexico to Canada. Subsequently, U.S. Highway 85 was established, along with the original placement of Historic Route 66 (pre-1937), making Bernalillo a scenic stop on the route between Chicago and Los Angeles.
County delays library opening... again
—Anne Frost, Co-Director
Sandoval County has experienced more delays in finishing necessary work and in obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) from the State for the new library building. This CO is a ‘must have’ in order for the Placitas Library Board to be given possession of the building. Once the CO is in hand, we will begin furnishing and moving into our beautiful new Library with all deliberate speed. The PCL Board would like to offer special thanks to Building Chair Gail DellaPelle for her unending attention to each task and detail as she continues to keep this, often frustrating, process always moving forward.
Looking ahead, the plan now is for the Library to close its Tierra Madre location as of April 1, 2010 (no fooling), and reopen in its new location at 453 Rte 165 on Tuesday APRIL 27, 2010, at 10 a.m. At least that is what we fervently hope! These dates are not yet certain, but the Library will be closed during most of April. We will post updates on our website: www.placitaslibrary.com and on our phone message: 867-3355. We are all frustrated and challenged by these constant changes and appreciate your patience and understanding during these times.
There will be no Children’s programs during March or April and no Library services of any kind during April. Please hold all donations from March 1 until mid May to give us time to get moved and settled. Books currently checked out are not due until May 1 (Happy May Day), regardless of what is stamped in the book. If you wish to make returns during March and April, please use the usual returns bin at the Tierra Madre location. Please do NOT attempt to use the book drop at the new location until after the Library reopens. Upon reopening, the PC Library will continue with its current operating hours, at least for the time being. This means the Library will be open Tuesdays: 10-7, and Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays: 10-4.
For all those who have generously offered to help with the move, the time has finally come — you will hear from me sometime in March to schedule shifts for trucks, drivers, loaders and un-loaders. The plan is to move the collection on a weekend in early April. We will have two, two-hour shifts each day: 10-12 and 1-3. During each shift we will need 2 trucks and drivers, 3 loaders and 3 un-loaders. I will be sending out an email schedule so you can choose a shift; the information will also be on our website: www.placitaslibrary.com. Those without email will receive phone calls. Please only choose one shift, many Placiteños have offered to help and we want as many as possible to be part of this historic and fun event. If there are shifts remaining after all have had a chance I will let you know. If you need to contact me directly, my phone is 867-5340 and email is email@example.com. Remember, the move-in dates are not yet certain; please check the website for updates. Thanks again for offering to help!