The Sandoval Signpost

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Two Grey Hills

The two grey hills, from which the Toadlena textiles take their name.

Mark Winter with Toadlena Weavers

Mark Winter stands with Toadlena weavers

Two Grey Hills Weavings

Two Grey Hills weavings in natural greys, browns, whites and blacks

Touring Toadlena

—TY BELKNAP
Last month the Signpost tagged along with a group from Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian for a day trip to the historic Toadlena Trading Post and Weaving Museum.

It’s a long drive to make twice in one day—sixty miles north of Gallup to Newcomb and then twelve miles to Toadlena, on the eastern edge of the Chuska mountains in a remote and beautiful corner of the Navajo Reservation. Luckily, the group was entertained by Mark Winter, owner of the trading post, who lectured and answered questions all the way. Winter is an antique collector specializing in Southwestern textiles; he is also a historian, and author of Dances with Wool, which celebrates one hundred years of woven images from Navajo mythology, and was the name of a 2002 exhibit at the weaving museum of particular interest to the Wheelwright Museum (www.wheelwright.org).

Winter became the third owner of the one-hundred-year-old trading post in 1997, after twenty years of collecting and trading Navajo rugs. During this time, he said that he became convinced that the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills rugs and tapestries represented the finest in Southwestern textiles. He also worried that economic pressure could reduce the quality of the rugs or even cause the tradition to be lost altogether.

Winter currently provides financial support to several master weavers who live within twelve miles of the trading post, so that they can continue the ancient tradition of raising their own sheep, gathering and washing the fleece, hand-carding and spinning the yarn, and weaving exquisite textiles.

Approaching Toadlena, the group stopped to inspect the ruins of a Chacoan out-lie, where the ground was carpeted with pottery shards. Winter said that similar ruins, some quite well preserved, can be found for many miles to the east, all the way to Chaco Canyon.

The Navajo are not particularly interested in their predecessors, but it is possible that they picked up something from the Anasazi craft of weaving cotton textiles on looms similar to those used today. Navajo mythology says that their ancestors were taught to weave by Spider Woman.

However they learned, Winter explained that the Navajo had a special talent for weaving wool blankets, probably getting their first wool from sheep stolen from the Spanish invaders. The Spanish noticed these blankets and soon started another tradition—making slaves of Navajo weavers—that continued into modern times.

Coming up the hill into Toadlena, Winter pointed out the road driven by Jim Chee when seeking instruction from Frank Nakai, a medicine man or hatalii. That was fiction, of course, but most of what the general public knows about the Navajo they learned from Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels.

The trading post commands a spectacular view of at least a hundred miles of Indian country, taking in Shiprock and much of the Four Corners.The original building was walled with rocks by the second owner in 1927. Winter said that the place was abandoned “and all the good stuff was gone” when he first arrived. Now the place is full of wagon wheels, plows, and other antiquities contributed by the community.

Half of the building has been converted to a vault containing the weaving museum, which currently houses an exhibit called “The Master Weavers.” It displays a small fortune in the best of antique and contemporary Toadlena/Two Grey Hills style weaving, featuring complex geometric designs woven from natural greys, browns, whites, and blacks from the fleece of various sheep or by combing and carding together different colors. Most of the rugs took at least a year to complete. During the museum tour several master weavers were on hand to talk about their work.

The other half of the building contains the trading post, with groceries and other supplies needed by the locals. There is also a wide selection of rugs and tapestries on sale, with prices ranging from a hundred to several thousand dollars.

Master weaver Rose Blueeyes was working on a tapestry, and ninety-two-year-old Clara Sherman, whose works of many years is featured prominently in the exhibit, was spinning yarn. Several other local weavers were there for the occasion to greet the tour group and pose for pictures with Mark Winter. They helped cook a delicious lunch of Navajo tacos. With an easygoing manner and openness to the curious outsiders, they seemed to embody the serenity and beauty of their life work.

Winter has produced a booklet for the opening of the “Master Weavers” exhibit as well as a preview for a large coffee-table book full of historic photos, complex genealogical charts, and history based on over a thousand interviews.

The tour concluded at the hogan of Virginia Deal, seventy-six. The relatively modern house stood next to two older hogans, which had been home to her eleven brothers and sisters and her own ten children. Her progress on another masterpiece that was taking shape on a large loom in the bedroom was slowed by an injured hand, but she was in fine spirits and joked about finishing it by the end of the year.

Like the other grandmothers, she seemed genuinely fond of Winter, who provides support through the long months between completion of rugs and follows in the tradition of earlier traders, helping to invigorate the art and save a treasured way of life from extinction. He has also helped set up an innovative weaving class at nearby Newcomb High School, where students are learning to carry on the tradition.

For more information, visit www.ToadlenaTradingPost.com or call (505) 789-3267.


Ojito Wilderness bill ready to be signed into law

The House of Representatives passed legislation to designate a new wilderness area on Bureau of Land Management Land in Sandoval County. The measure will now be sent to the President to be signed into law.

The bill designates the eleven-thousand-acre site just south of San Ysidro as a wilderness area. The Ojito Wilderness Act (S. 156), which Senators Bingaman and Domenici ushered through the Senate in July, recognizes that the area’s dramatic landforms and rock structures, multicolored badlands, and rare plants are worthy of permanent protection.

The Ojito area has been preserved as a wilderness study area since 1991, pending congressional action to formally designate the area as wilderness. Enactment of the Ojito Wilderness Act would add this area to the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects wild areas that have “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.” The area will remain open to hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, and rock climbing, as well as grazing and scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical uses. But it also will remain protected from development, including commercial enterprises, road building, and mining, as well as off-road vehicle use.

The Ojito Wilderness Act also would add protections to lands buffering the proposed Ojito Wilderness that are largely surrounded by the Pueblo of Zia. The pueblo will be allowed to purchase these lands for public open space, so long as they remain open to the public for continued recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, paleontological, and conservation uses, and so long as their natural characteristics are preserved. In doing so, the two separate parts of the reservation will be able to be united with aboriginal lands that have important religious, cultural, and historical value to the pueblo.


Campground refurbished in the Manzanos

The Mountainair Ranger District is pleased to announce the reopening of the Capilla Peak Campground. This campground has been closed for two years while it was being reconstructed. Originally built in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, complete with Adirondack shelters, the site has undergone a complete facelift while still keeping the design of the original shelters. Capilla Peak is located in the Manzano Mountains on Forest Road 245, about nine miles west of the community of Manzano. If you have any questions about the campground or any other forest matter, call the Mountainair Ranger District at 847-2990.

Sacred cows in the public’s paradise

—JOHN WALL
With four hours of freeways and winding mountain roads between me and San Francisco, I was finally hiking slow and easy up the first part of Disaster Creek Trail in California’s Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

I’d been waiting all summer for spring to arrive in the Sierra High Country, in a place called Paradise Valley. I’m a photographer, so I was loaded with something like 15 pounds of camera gear in addition to the camping equipment. I planned to spend a long weekend capturing backlit emerald-green leaves of corn lily and the royal hues of shooting stars and columbine.
I would lie in wait to capture sublime images of a deer feeding in the lush mountain grasses, maybe even get lucky enough to photograph a cinnamon-furred black bear feasting in ecstasy, butterflies fluttering away in its path.

From the trailhead to Paradise Valley, it’s just about all uphill, and the last mile is the steepest. A little struggle was worth it, though, to leave the hurly-burly of civilization, to get my spirit recharged in the uncontrived world of nature, in a wilderness "untrammeled by man," as it says right there in the Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964.

I’d almost reached my destination when my heart sank. There they were in the dirt: the marks of the beast, the tracks of the most feared hoofed mammal I could ever have hoped to encounter: The cow.

I looked up and saw that the steepest part of the trail still lay ahead, and I considered turning back, knowing my photography plans were a bust. It’s not that I fear cows as a danger to my life and limbs, but to a mountain meadow, they are a proverbial whirlwind: Streams get muddy, their banks slump, and everywhere, cow poop, especially on the trail. I’d called the local Forest Service district office to find out where the cattle allotments were located, intending to avoid them, but the rangers couldn’t really tell me where the cows were. They could be anywhere.

Having come this far, I decided to keep going, and soon I heard cow bells. A little farther on I came upon a clot of the well-fed ungulates, and with a few choice words and gestures, I sent them scampering and mooing for their lives.

Fresh cow flops flecked with flies festooned the forest floor. The corn lilies, shooting stars and columbine were all pounded flat. Water crossing the trail from seeps in the mountainside created a vile soup of mud and dung to walk through. I had reached Paradise Valley.

I pitched my tent on a hillside above the valley, up behind some gnarled pines where it was almost flat enough to make a good campsite. The angle of the slope was a small price to pay to be up out of the cow flops, and up out of those leave-no-trace cowboy campsites.

These are the campsites strewn with empty five-gallon buckets of dishwasher detergent and motor oil (yes, dishwasher detergent and motor oil!), Keystone Light beer cans, food and coffee tins, a six-foot-long, two-inch-thick length of foam sleeping pad, and a bright yellow rubber rain slicker dumped next to a large, blackened fire ring.

Paradise Valley was being used by people who’d come to a federally protected wilderness area that wasn’t really a wilderness, to drink beer that wasn’t really beer, and to appreciate the land as little more than cattle feed.

I tried to put myself in their position. Sitting high above the Valley of Bovine Fetor, I imagined I would be content indeed to own all that I surveyed, the public be damned. The bucolic, pastoral scene, complete with the incessant clang of cowbells, was even charming in a way. It reminded me of merry olde England or something. But this wasn’t merry olde England. This was the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness Area in the United States of America, where cows are king.

I counted 32 cows and calves in the little valley alone. There were more farther down the canyon along the edge of the creek. The government doesn’t count a calf as a cow, but the calves, no longer content with mother’s milk, were eating their fair share of paradise just like mom. A cow-calf pair are called an Animal Unit Month, or AUM—a bureaucratic chant for a sacred cow.

I know we’re not supposed to care about this trammeling of our most treasured public lands. It’s a done deal, and in many cases the continuation of grazing made wilderness politically acceptable. Old news. Cows in your wilderness? Pack up and go home, son. The land of many uses doesn’t include what you came for.

John Wall is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in San Francisco, California.


Heard Around the West

—BETSY MARSTON, WRITERS ON THE RANGE

WASHINGTON
A duck named Gooey has brought Diane Erdmann, a manager for Northwest Territorial Mint, a whole lot of attention, along with a possible charge of illegally harboring wildlife. The mallard had been attacked by a crow, and Erdmann took over its care from a friend, nursing the bird back to health and consulting a book on raising ducks, though she ignored the last two chapters on "butchering and recipes," reports the Seattle Times. She even went so far as to purchase duck diapers so Gooey could accompany her to work. There, her fellow employees gushed over the duck’s increasing girth. Then came the fateful day when a state Fish and Wildlife officer appeared, saying, "If you don’t give me the duck, I’m going to arrest you." Erdmann responded by holding fast to Gooey, and says she was struck in the chest by an officer as he grabbed the bird out of her arms. Two investigations are now going forward—the state’s against Erdmann and the Auburn Police Department’s against the two wildlife officers. As for Gooey, Fish and Wildlife returned him to Erdmann after a lot of public pressure, and now the two parties are deciding where the duck will live out his days.

CALIFORNIA
Sea lions, it is reported by people in the know, can be as obnoxious as frat boys at an out-of-control beer party, bellowing and burping loudly. But who knew they marauded in packs and could take down a 50-foot sailboat in just one weekend? Jerry Dunlap of Newport Beach, for one: He told The Associated Press that 15 "hefty sea lions" wrecked a boat he’d spent two years restoring, ruining the radios, radar and electrical system. He paid $3,500 to have the boat dragged up from the bottom of Newport Harbor, but says sadly, "I really don’t know what I’m going to do with it." Attacking a boat has been the sea lions’ most serious offense since they showed up five months ago, but residents complain that the animals bark throughout the night, and the city received a report that "a rogue sea lion tipped over a mother and her child in their kayak." The town is talking about hiring a "sea lion shooer" to chase the animals away by making noise.

UTAH
Even the developer had doubts about whether his plan would work in the sprawling downtown of Salt Lake City. But a taxpayer loan enabled Alan Wood to plow ahead this summer and begin building a high-rise apartment with 117 units in the heart of this low-rise city. Apartments will range in size from 581 square feet to 1,423 square feet, with prices starting at $100,000 and topping out at $400,000. Yet even though the units won’t be ready for occupancy until 2007, all have been spoken for, which amazed Wood. The rush to buy may not be so hard to figure out: "We’re really looking forward to being in a walking neighborhood instead of in our cars," apartment buyer Rebecca Batt told the Salt Lake Tribune.

UTAH
It’s a war of big house vs. bigger house in the Salt Lake Valley town of Holladay, population 23,000. Rebecca Conley and her husband recently razed an existing house and are now building a brand-new 11,258-square-foot home on their .68-acre lot, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Next-door neighbor Amy Blumental, whose house is nothing small at 5,765 square feet on a similarly sized lot, says she’s appalled: the Conleys’ house is going up just 10 feet from her fence line, and its 30-foot walls tower over her house. After Blumental and her husband found the city planning code couldn’t help them, the couple retaliated in a colorful way: Their storage shed faces the new neighbors, and they’ve painted it bright pink with a yellow smiley face.

OREGON
In North Portland, 14 bicyclists got so upset about a bridge continuing to exclude bike lanes that they took off their clothes and rode naked across the St. Johns Bridge. The Oregonian says their "Buff on the Bluff" manifesto proclaimed: "We ride together, en masse and undressed, to literally demonstrate the naked vulnerability with which the Oregon Department of Transportation expects us to travel this bridge." Vehicular traffic won the day, however, leaving cyclists—clothed or otherwise—to continue jockeying for room with pedestrians on a narrow sidewalk.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column (betsym@hcn.org).

 

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