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Department of Transportation field staff bore into State Road 165 in the S-curve where the pavement continues to dip into the adjacent canyon. Photo credit: —Bill Diven

NMDOT drills into sinking highway

—Bill Diven

Technicians from the New Mexico Department of Transportation are taking another hard look at the main road into Placitas as part of one lane is sinking slowly down a hillside.

NMDOT last leveled and patched the dip in the eastbound lane of State Road 165 in 2005, said department spokesman Phil Gallegos. After a maintenance engineer noticed fresh cracks in the pavement, a new investigation began. “They’re investigating slope stability,” Gallegos said. “It appears not to be a big problem at this point.”

The location is about halfway between mile markers three and four in the S-curve cutting through a thumb of the Sandia Mountains beneath the Vista de Oro subdivision. Travelers can spot a sag in the guardrail above the arroyo, feel a shallow drop and may spot freshly plugged drill holes in the pavement.

In mid February, a department geotechnical crew from Santa Fe drilled down from both lanes taking soil samples to identify a culprit in the slippage. They also planted an inclinometer to determine how much and how fast the ground is moving. There are no test results yet, but early suspicions fall on a band of clay layered between other sediments, Gallegos said.

After a similar study in 2005, NMDOT removed a short stretch of pavement, brought the roadbed back up to grade and put down new pavement in a project lasting a few days.

Adobe “dust”

—Bob Gajkowski, Placitas History Project

On a recent February evening, twenty or so members of the San Jose Catholic Mission in Algodones gathered at their church to hear a presentation by Antonio Martinez, a preservation consultant for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Martinez had been invited by Pastor Father Clarence Maes and Mayordomo Will Jackson to discuss newly discovered deterioration in the Mission’s adobe walls.

Horizontal cracking on the walls indicated that unseen damage beneath the stucco coating might exist. After completing his survey, Martinez reported that a concrete “apron” at the base of the walls, as well as several coats of stucco applied to the walls over the years, was trapping moisture behind the non-porous stucco causing the adobe bricks to revert to their original state—“dust”—or as Martinez says “dead earth.”

Over many years moisture has been wicked up from the ground to a height of about three or four feet on the walls and some leakage from the roof may have worked its way down.

Adobe, by nature, is very susceptible to the elements. Heat and cold, freeze and thaw, wind and rain combine in adobe to cause expansion and contraction, cracking, and eventual deterioration. The proven method to counteract this is to allow moisture to dissipate by coating the adobes with porous materials such as the time-proven limestone or mud plasters that have been used for centuries. These “sacrificial coats,” which have to be re-applied periodically, breathe and disperse the moisture. Martinez estimates that a properly maintained adobe wall will lose only about one inch in about twenty years. Martinez explained that in his many years of working with adobe restorations, he has learned that the good intentions of those seeking to preserve adobe structures with “modern” materials such as stucco and concrete have, in fact, set them up for a terrible demise.

With guidance from Martinez, Jackson hopes that he and his volunteers will complete repairs in the next several months. Already concrete saws and sledgehammers are hard at work.

O’Keefe to speak on Libby Custer at PCL

—Elaine Sullivan

Michael O’Keefe is the author of the two-volume set, Custer, the Seventh Cavalry and the Little Big Horn; A Bibliography, and a well-recognized authority on the life of George Armstrong Custer. In May of 2013, Mr. O’Keefe received the US Army Historic Foundation’s “Distinguished Writer of 2012 Award.” He has also received the Little Big Horn Associates John M. Carrol Book of the Year Award.

Placitas Community Library was delighted to have Mr. O’keefe speak last year on Custer. He spoke about Elizabeth (Libby) Bacon Custer, Custer’s wife, who lived an extraordinary life and became a passionate advocate and defender of her husband for the remainder of her life. Libby wrote three best selling memoirs and traveled the world as a public speaker, recounting her travels with her husband during his battles during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Indian Wars.

Placitas Community Library will host this free event on March 22, at 2:00 p.m.

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