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Valles CalderaValles Caldera

Crown jewel of the Jemez Mountains

—Margaret M. Nava

Driving north from La Cueva on NM Highway 4, you may have noticed elk, coyote, lots of birds, some cattle, and maybe even a cowboy or two. Depending on the season, you might have experienced snow, pine-scented breezes, or ominous storm clouds. And, of course, everywhere you turned, you saw rocks, grasslands, meadows, streams, and forest. Each time you drove through this pristine bowl-like area, you were probably tempted to stop and explore, but reluctantly abandoned the idea, thinking it was open only to ranchers, scientists, and researchers.

Back in the days when the 89,000 acres that make up what most people call the Valles Caldera was a working ranch, that kind of thinking was accurate. However, with the passing of the Valles Caldera Preservation Act in 2000, the land was purchased by the federal government and given over to a 15-year nonprofit trust as an experiment in public land management. Operating under the Valles Caldera Trust, roads were opened for public access, winter and summer recreational programs were initiated, and a comprehensive land management program was begun. In 2002, the preserve hosted a mere 700 visitors; in 2010, the number exceeded 24,000.

Nowadays, visitors to the preserve, often referred to as the crown jewel of the Jemez Mountains, can hike any of several trails ranging from short two-mile treks to longer 15- or 16-mile long excursions; ride their horses down old logging roads; take part in three-day photo excursions; enjoy horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides; learn to fly-fish; gaze at the stars; monitor forest restoration efforts; attend a conference at the Science and Education Center; try out the stereomicroscopes and digital compound microscopes in the fully-equipped teaching laboratory; stay overnight in the newly renovated sleeping quarters; or just kick back, relax, and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

Unlike a national park, the Valles Caldera National Preserve is open to ranching, elk and turkey hunting, and geothermal exploration for facility utilization. While this might seem contradictory to the concept of a preserve, all such endeavors are strictly controlled and monitored in order to insure that the preserve’s scenic, scientific, historic, cultural, and natural features are preserved and protected, thereby allowing future generations to enjoy and learn from this dynamic and awe-inspiring natural treasure.

In the months to come, this column will explore some of the recreational and learning opportunities available at the preserve. While many programs are free and open to the public, others require nominal fees and/or registration. Either way, the possibilities for recreation and exploration are virtually unlimited. For a complete calendar of upcoming events and programs, log on to www.vallescaldera.gov, or call (505) 661-3333.


Strange, but true

—Bill Sones and Rich Sones, Ph.D.

Q. How did the crazy new language of cell phone texting get its start anyway? "I don't understand a word of it," said one observer.

A. Textisms may seem hip, streamlined, and clever, but they're hardly new, says David Crystal in A Little Book of Language. This surprises people, but such forms as "u" for "you" and "gr8" for "great" weren't just created for mobile phones, but were actually used over 200 years ago! They were called "rebuses" (pronounced "ree-buses") and were a popular kind of puzzle. Queen Victoria used to play rebus games. So did Lewis Carroll. "When I was a boy," says Crystal, "I used to get Christmas annuals which had rebus games, such as this row of symbols: YY U R YY U B I C U R YY 4 ME. Many adults will remember that one. It reads: 'Too wise you are, too wise you be, I see you are too wise for me.'" 

Another surprise about textisms is how uncrazy many of them really are, with only about 10-20 percent of words being abbreviated. Of course, you can find youngsters texting "what r u saying?" Or "i'll b there by 7." Or "u 2. Glad journey went OK." But there are more like the following: "Tropical Storm Barry has formed, located 320 miles (520 km) southwest of Tampa Florida." Or "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee." Most of the text messages flying around the world right now are sent by businesses, organizations, schools, and colleges to transmit useful information—and they're meant to be readily understood.

Q. Which are you... A carefree carnivore? A vegetarian? A fruitarian? A pescatarian? A WHAT? 

A. The word "vegetarian" sprouted up in 1839, and "fruitarian" ("a person who lives on fruit") ripened in 1893, says The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary Online. Then in 1993, those who eat fish but no other meat chose "pesce," Italian for "fish," to create the designation "pescatarian." Because it's still relatively new, the word isn't familiar to many, meaning you just may have some of your listeners hungry for more (explanation).

Q. From a Brecksville, Ohio reader: "If the one-child-per-couple rule is strictly enforced in China, how long would it take before its population goes to zero?"

A. Under ideal assumptions—such as all Chinese marrying exactly once, each couple having exactly one child, there being no immigration or emigration—the one-child-per- couple rule would cut the population in half every generation. Since China numbers approximately 1.3 billion people, which is roughly two doubled 30 times, it would take some 30 generations to approach zero population. Figuring about 20 years per generation, the time for this to happen is 20 x 30, or 600 years!

Q. It's known as the "head-up illusion," the "somatogravic illusion," or the "false-climb illusion" and is all too familiar to aircraft carrier pilots. What exactly is it?

A. A jet plane taking off from a carrier is propelled by its powerful engine while also being catapulted forward, reaching takeoff speed after only a short distance on the deck, says Jearl Walker in The Flying Circus of Physics. This acceleration acts like a gravitational force on the tiny hair cells of the inner ear, which the brain interprets as the head being tilted back. The erroneous signal is ignored if visual clues clearly indicate no tilt, such as when you are accelerated in a car. But for a pilot being hurled along the deck of an aircraft carrier at night, the illusion of tilt can be so strong and convincing that the pilot believes the plane is heading upward too sharply. "Without proper training, a pilot will attempt to level the plane by bringing its nose sharply down, tragically sending the plane into the ocean."

Q. Spend weeks on a submarine, and what surprising eye difficulty might arise, and what unusual prophylactic might help avert it?

A. When a young college, Navy-ROTC cadet spent some time aboard a sub, he noticed on disembarking that his vision was blurred and was told this was common, due to the limited confines and not being able to look off at a distance. This is similar to being at your computer for hours, making it tough for your focusing muscles to relax enough, which brings on blurry distance vision, says University of Minnesota ophthalmologist Stephen C. Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D. Another effect of prolonged near-vision work is the eyes turning inward (called cross-eyed by kids), causing "double vision."

Various military Web sites have cited the prophylactic of the crew utilizing virtual-reality simulations or playing specialized computer games. Such periodic exercises, with a virtual far point, can help alleviate problems, concurs Dr. Kaufman.

Also, a low-oxygen environment on the submarine could come into play, as it does at higher altitudes. For example, a mountain climber who had eye surgery shortly before attempting to climb Mt. Everest suffered swollen corneas in the thin oxygen, causing blurred vision that almost resulted in his death. (See John Krakauer's Into Thin Air.)

Q. While you've likely used the word "fraternal" many times, its female equivalent may not be so familiar. Gender aside, are you one of the small fraternity of knowers?

A. "Fraternity" is "a male student society in a university," and by that clue, "sorority"—from Latin "soror" for "sister"—suggests the female counterpart "sororal." Yet this word is so rare, says Oxford Dictionaries Online, that just 15 examples of it occur amid the BILLIONS of words in the Oxford English Corpus. Our own quick Google turned up roughly 30 million hits for "fraternal," compared to only 318,000 for "sororal."

     

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