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Community Calendar

Placitas water system judged best in state

The Placitas Village Water Board visited the New Mexico Rural Water Conference in March. They entered several contests, including one for the best water in New Mexico. The Placitas system won first place in the category of small water systems. Board member Vivian DeLara said that water was judged on the basis of taste, clarity, and texture, and that “the system operator is doing such a good job that you could hardly taste the chlorine.”

The prize for first place was an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the National Water Contest. Dean DeLara, water system operator, was selected to represent Placitas and new Mexico. He carried a water sample to the contest, which took place on April 22-23. Unfortunately, Placitas did not win the national championship, but DeLara did meet with our congressional delegation and senators.

Off the beaten path

—Ty Belknap

One of the best things about living in this area is our proximity to the Jemez Mountains. Just an hour’s drive and you’ll find yourself deep into Jemez Canyon, surrounded by mountains, rivers, and hot springs, as well as the thousands of historical ruins that are hidden throughout these natural wonders. I hesitate to describe it as a kind of paradise, knowing just how quickly a place can be lost under this weighty designation.How special places suffer at the hands of reporters is not well documented because we prefer to think of our literary celebrations as tributes rather that epitaphs (besides, they’re fun to write). Some day we’ll read follow-ups on the damage caused by Outside’s “World’s Ten Most Secret Places” or Men’s Journal’s list of the ten best places to live. Our Signpost story “Ruby Goes Rafting” probably made it a lot harder to get a river permit for the Rio Chama.

But let me tell you about a great hike in the Jemez we took last month. I read about it a couple of years ago in the Albuquerque Journal. It’s not like it’s a secret or anything. A ranger told me that the forest service is taking steps to remove Indian ruins from maps and close the old roads leading to them in order to discourage pot hunters and vandals. She made me promise to be vague about the location before providing details of the route to a series of extensive ruins on the mesa above the entrance to Jemez Canyon.

A concise source of reference for the area’s history is Jémez, by Michael L. Elliott, who really spills the beans, and even provides a vague map of important sites. Let’s face it, pot hunters know the way, and they probably hauled most of the good stuff away years ago. Some of us (not just the criminals) like to get off the beaten path.There was no trailhead as such, and my wife and I had to bushwhack through the bosque and wade across the Jemez River. It’s a fairly strenuous hike up the toe of the Guadalupe (or is it the Virgin?) Mesa through loose gravel and piles of rock that the ranger said were thrown down on the Spanish invaders by Indians defending themselves. It’s hard to imagine making the climb with horses, guns, and armor. Elliott says that the Jemez were among the leaders of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and that during the period from 1680 to 1692, the people abandoned the pueblos at Walatowa and Giusewa (the state monument) and moved back to the villages of refuge known as Astialakwa and Boletsakwa, which are on narrow, steep-sided, defensible mesa tops, suggesting that they feared retribution from the Spanish. Excerpting from Jémez:In 1692, Don Diego de Vargas reconquered most of New Mexico. The Jemez people were still living in relative freedom high atop their mesas until July 24, 1694, when, in a fierce and bloody battle, Vargas attacked the Jemez and removed them from Astialakwa. Eighty-four Jemez warriors were killed, some leaping off the twelve hundred-foot-high cliffs to their deaths rather than be captured. Vargas took 361 Jemez prisoner, and all the stored food and a wealth of the village was stolen and distributed among the Spaniards’ allies. The village was burned to the ground.

A sign at the top of the trail reminds hikers of stiff penalties for trashing the ruins or stealing artifacts provided by the Antiquities Act of 1906. One would hope that the sacred feeling of the place would make such a sign unnecessary for most people who had the spirit to make the climb. On the other hand, there is probably an easier way to get up there.

The awe-inspiring view down the Jemez and Virgin Valleys is said to be most spectacular in the fall when the cottonwood leaves have turned to gold. Mud and rock pueblo structures, some still high enough to include windows, extend all along the mesa. Pottery shards are pretty well picked over, but there are still indentations in the larger rocks that were probably used to grind grain. Water was obviously available during parts of the year in a narrow draw that spills over the cliff to a ledge below it that just had to be the village swimming hole. There is probably plenty more to see if you know what you’re looking for, but it doesn’t take an archeologist to sit among these ruins and let your imagination run wild. I prefer to think that the ancient people of the Southwest sought out these lofty homes for aesthetic and spiritual reasons and not just for self-defense.

Good luck finding the way, but look out for rattlesnakes, ghosts, and flash floods. Above all, save this place for future generations by not telling anybody how you got there!

Campbell Ranch plans challenged in court

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center took on some new clients earlier this year. They are three individuals who are  challenging Edgewood’s annexation of approximately eighteen thousand acres for a new development. The proposed development, known as Campbell Ranch, the brainchild of the Campbell Farming Corporation, would effectively triple Edgewood’s population, adding approximately four thousand homes. Additionally, the final draft of the Campbell Ranch Master Plan (which no member of the public has had the opportunity to see yet) includes a resort with two golf courses. If Campbell Ranch becomes a reality, it will increase traffic in the area, destroy the community’s rural character, and put a strain on already scarce community resources such as fire and police service, snow removal, emergency medical service, and, above all, water. Clients of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center contend that the annexation, zoning, and development agreement constituted an unlawful delegation of Edgewood’s legislative authority, was procedurally inadequate, was an unlawful “shoestring” annexation, and unconstitutionally deprived its clients of their due process rights.

Winter drought causes fire and firework restrictions

Governor Johnson has declared a drought emergency because of early-season wildfires related to the drought that has extended through the winter. Statewide, rain and snowfall were recorded at only about half of normal levels at the end of March.

The Sandoval County Commission passed an emergency ordinance in April that prohibits fireworks, campfires, open fires, open burning of vegetation and rubbish, and any other smoke-producing substance that creates a fire safety hazard. Any violation of this ordinance will be deemed a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300 and/or up to ninety days in jail.

The Albuquerque district of the Bureau of Land Management has joined other agencies in issuing fire restriction orders for the public lands it manages. These restrictions add the prohibition of smoking in outdoor fire-prone areas, and operating engines without spark-arresting devices that are properly installed and in effective working order. Burning of any solid fuel is allowed only in designated campgrounds and picnic grounds where grills are provided, or with a permit. Violation of these restrictions can result in a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to twelve months. For additional information, call John Kwalt at 761-8732.

The U. S. Forest Service has also ordered the above restrictions. Violations in the Cibola National Forest can result in fines up to $5,000 and/or six months in prison. For more information, contact Mark Chavez or Karen Carter at 346-3900.Sandoval County still has no hazardous-waste program

Sandoval County has yet to create a program
for the safe disposal of household hazardous waste.

It’s doable. Keep Rio Rancho Beautiful hosted another of its biannual household hazardous waste collection on April 20. Rio Rancho residents (with proof of residency) got rid of unwanted pesticides, herbicides, firearms, gasoline, ammunition, paint, cleaning chemicals, refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, and tires. The service was free. Residents of unincorporated areas of Sandoval County must do what they have always done with these dangerous materials. They can keep them in their garages, sneak them into the trash pickup, or find an illegal dump site where poisons can find an unregulated way into the environment.

County Clerk fires another deputy

On April 11, Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap made headlines by firing another deputy, once again for “personal reasons.” Headlines appeared again on April 13 announcing that she had hired her friend Arthur Hinds. The deputy clerk position is exempt from state personnel regulations. He serves at the pleasure of the county clerk and earns about $33,000 a year.Judging from the variety of experience brought to the position by Hinds’s three predecessors over the last year and a half, the deputy clerk position requires no particular qualifications. Dunlap was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal, “The clerk’s job is nothing I can’t do, but I need exceptional people who are willing to give their all and not let personal issues get in their way. I have to have total commitment and loyalty.”

Outgoing deputy clerk Deborah Todd expressed total shock, “I have no idea why she fired me. I gave 200 percent to this job.”Incoming Deputy Hinds, who was laid off from his job at the Gateway call center in January, vows to be the last deputy clerk in the current administration. He was identifiable on his first day of work as the only guy in the courthouse wearing a coat and tie. He brings his experience as a scuba diver with some managerial background to the county’s most demanding and least secure position.County clerk Dunlap is an elected official with no prior experience in public-record keeping. Her first two years of office have been marked by petty and well-publicized controversy. Most recently she complained publicly that other elected officials and staff members have harassed, isolated, and denied her unlimited access to the county’s computer system and a $37,000 plotter-scanner.

On April 24, Dunlap walked out of a meeting in which she was denied the secret code by the county’s information systems manager and told the Journal, “I do not have time for nonproductive conversations. I don’t understand why I can’t be trusted with the code to the office that houses the equipment I need. I’m an elected official, aren’t I.

”Bernalillo sewage plant to begin upgrades soon

Bernalillo residents who live near the sewage treatment plant are hoping that the upgrades that have been in the works for the last year and a half will begin before the monsoon season slows the drying process of solid waste. With federal funding, the Army Corps of Engineers is providing $900,000 and labor to begin the process of eliminating odors and making the plant comply more efficiently with new standards.One reason that the plant smells so bad is that the solid waste must remain on site until it dries sufficiently to be shipped to the landfill. Rainfall slows the process. A belt press will be installed to squeeze the water out of the sludge so it can be trucked out before the stench takes over an otherwise beautiful neighborhood. The town is prepared to come up with $300,000 for the first part of the upgrades. The entire project will cost $6 million. Town administrator Ron Abousleman says that about half of the funding has already been secured. County commission backs Sandia Pueblo land claim

On April 18, after listening to a plea from Sandia governor Stuwart Paisano, the Sandoval County Commission unanimously pledged support for Sandia Pueblo’s long-standing claim to the west face of Sandia Peak. The commission joined most concerned parties in backing proposed legislation that guarantees continued wilderness preservation and public access for recreation. The proposed legislation also protects existing private claims while prohibiting further development. It would ratify a slightly altered version of an agreement that was arrived at two years ago between the pueblo, the U. S. Forest Service, and the Sandia Peak Tramway.

The University of New Mexico Law School hosted a forum on April 20, several days before the legislation went before a U. S. Senate committee. After the forum, Anita Miller of the Sandia Mountain Coalition said that she generally endorses the bill. Her coalition of private landowners in the affected area was originally among the most vocal opponents of the initial agreement.

In spite of all the local support, Senator Pete Domenici made it clear that he would oppose the bill unless it was modified. He outlined major areas of concern dealing with the following:~ conferring veto powers over federal land management, and giving the pueblo and Bernalillo and Sandoval counties veto powers over future uses of the land in question;~ legitimacy of the claim itself;~ giving Sandia Pueblo exclusive criminal and civil jurisdiction over non-tribal federal land; and~ selective application of federal environmental laws, such as the Wilderness Act.

In his opening statement at the hearing, Domenici said, “In 1978, during my first term, we were able to pass the wilderness designation even though it is easily accessible by a very short walk from the city limits of Albuquerque. Indeed, its proximity demanded wilderness designation and without it, this land was facing potentially severe degradation. I consider designation of this wilderness area one of the most important legacies I will leave as a senator from New Mexico.” Perhaps there’s the rub. It is generally accepted that without Senator Domenici’s support, the bill has little chance of passage. Representative Wilson has voiced her opposition to the agreement upon which the bill is based. Her support would also be crucial if the legislation goes to the House. The agreement must be ratified by Congress by November 15; otherwise, the issue will probably end up back in the courts.

The pueblo’s claim is based on the contention that the west face of the mountain was included in its 1748 Spanish land grant and that an erroneous survey dropped the eastern boundary when New Mexico was annexed into United States territory. Governor Paisano stated, “The claim is approaching the twenty-year mark. Much has changed for us; however, throughout that period, and today, it is the single most important issue to my community.

Heard around the West

—Betsy Marston
High Country News

Who would have thought it? The sun can heat water, power a railroad-crossing gate and even pay a printing bill for President Bush's 170-page national energy plan. But nobody knew this until a court order forced the Energy Department to open its files and come clean. Records reveal that the Bush administration plucked $135,615 from the agency's solar and energy conservation budget last May, then used the money to produce ten thousand copies of the White House plan, which ballyhooed oil and gas. At the same time, the White House tapped the renewable budget for funds to print the energy plan," reports Reuters, "the administration was urging Congress to cut the renewable and energy efficiency research budgets by more than 50 percent." The president's men did do a tiny bit of borrowing from the Energy Department's fossil-fuels program. They dipped into that fund to repay a staffer $100.92 for a hotel room, occupied when the Government Printing Office ran out copies of the president's energy policy.Volunteers make a difference

Here's some good news: So many people turned out to work for free at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City that the Games will probably turn a profit. That's a rare event, reports the Wall Street Journal, and it's all due to the "kindness and good cheer" of 20,000 unpaid staffers. They took on jobs as traffic cops, ticket-takers, bag-searchers and even referees on both the downhill and cross-country ski slopes. A check for $100 million in promised reimbursements has already gone to the state of Utah, and "an actual profit" is expected to emerge soon. Wayne Klein, an assistant Utah attorney general who took three weeks off work to drive VIPs around, says the Olympics gave Mormons like him a chance to "eliminate a lot of paranoia." Adds Finn Hansen, a Mormon who helped organize volunteers, "I'd just like America to stop treating us like we're a stepchild. How many polygamists do you see here?"

Coyote ugly

Coyotes have been turning up on the streets of downtown Denver, inside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and even riding on public transportation in Portland, Oregon. A bushy-tailed coyote was first chased off the tarmac at Portland International Airport, reports the Idaho Statesman. Then the critter ran onto a light-rail train just arriving from downtown Portland. A lasso wielded by a wildlife officer captured the animal, which was "really sweet," said a Port of Portland spokeswoman. "It didn't growl or anything."Animals have bad days, too

Then there's ornery moose. In Anchorage, Alaska, a 400-pound cow moose recently took a stroll onto the roof of a plant nursery, getting stuck eight feet above the floor. A backhoe rescued the animal after a tranquilizer dart calmed it down. But elsewhere, moose grown testy by winter's end have gone on the warpath.

Rancher Sue Wells of Boulder, Wyoming, said she'd been driving her car around a big haystack every day to halt hungry moose from feeding. When one moose suddenly refused to move, not even "laying on the horn" helped, reports the Pinedale Roundup. In fact, the noise irritated the animal—this one a 1,500-pounder—and it jumped onto the front bumper of her car. After removing one of its legs from the broken windshield, the moose retreated only to begin to charge again. "Sue, her heart in her mouth, turned the vehicle toward the house." But the moose kept on coming. It was a Buick-moose standoff for a few minutes until the animal turned and trotted off. An encounter in St. Maries, Idaho, ended less happily for Jim Kirkland, who now has 18 stitches in his face. A cow moose and her 2-year-old calf had been living in his backyard for weeks, though usually just a wave of the arm from him or his wife, Penny, would send the animals trotting into a wooded area, says the Idaho Statesman. Then one day the 750-pound cow charged him "like a mad dog," said Jim Kirkland. He blamed the animal's bad disposition on the 100 inches of snow the area received this winter. In any case, he said forgivingly, "I think animals just have bad days."Alligator Wrestling

It's no longer uncommon in the West to see llamas, bison, emus, ostriches, and even yaks sharing the range with blocky cows and their calves. But alligators? Jay Young in Alamosa told the Denver Post he didn't start Colorado Gators to sell meat or pricey alligator leather. He's in it for the wrestling. He's convinced that some people are dying to test their derring-do against the 5-foot reptiles, even though "participants aren't guaranteed that they will leave with all their limbs intact." Humans will have the advantage. They'll face a 'gator in three feet of water, making it hard for the animals to employ their major weapon, which is grabbing a victim and holding it under water until it drowns.

    Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ( She welcomes tidbits of strange or humorous Western doings—the definition remains loose.

Trustees reject mayor’s choice to fill council vacancy

On April 2, Bernalillo mayor Charles Aquilar nominated former trustee Dale Prairie to fill the council seat held by Sharkie Chavez, who died in March. Aquilar said that he made the appointment because Prairie had narrowly lost his position on the town council in the March election, and therefore his nomination reflected the will of the people. Trustee Serafin Dominguez nominated Prairie for the post, but neither of the other trustees, Helen Sandoval and Edward Torres, seconded the motion. They remained silent through two calls for a second, so the mayor adjourned the meeting. He was quoted by the Albuquerque Journal as saying “I did what I thought was best. I did what the community wanted. The whole thing centers around who has control of the council. They won’t appoint who I nominate, and I won’t nominate their people. A special election is the only way to resolve this.”

Sandoval said, “I didn’t see any reason to comment. Some things are better left unsaid.” Torres said only that this inaction was “for the betterment of the town.” Dominguez remarked that the other trustees were promoting their own agendas, and that “I’ve sat on the council for twenty years, and I haven’t seen anything close to the amount of dissension that’s been present for the last two years.”

It appears that some kind of power struggle is going on, but it hardly amounts to a coup d’état. Sandoval said that she was just asserting her right as a trustee to have some say in the nomination as provided by the state statutes governing this procedure. She said that she had no particular problems with Dale Prairie.In the ensuing weeks, the town council saw little activity due to illness and excused absence. A special election has apparently been avoided, however, as the mayor has reportedly asked the trustees to submit nominations for the vacant post.