Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Up Front


The Valles Caldera National Preserve was a private ranch until 2000, when Congress created it from “the Baca Ranch.” This 89,000 acre property is situated inside a collapsed crater. The old ranch property is now being developed to explore a new way of managing public lands.

Valles Caldera: A gift to future generations

—Bill Dunmire, Signpost

Some of New Mexico’s most dramatic mountain scenery can be enjoyed by driving State Highway 4 from San Isidro to Los Alamos. On its upper reaches, the road skirts a magnificent grassy valley to the north known as Valle Grande. Less than a two-hour drive from Bernalillo, that valley is just one of many noteworthy features within a twelve-mile wide collapsed volcanic crater—the Valles Caldera.

The caldera was formed when the earth collapsed after a catastrophic volcanic eruption took place in the Jemez Mountains 1.2 million years ago. Today, the caldera is a place of numerous high-elevation grassland valleys, towering mountain domes, verdant forests, natural hot springs, and some of the most stunning and isolated scenic beauty and wildlife in the Southwest. It is prowled by eagles and peregrine falcons and grazed by some 3,500 elk—New Mexico’s largest herd, having about the same number of animals as in all of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Valles Caldera Becomes Public Land

Until recently, the Valles Caldera was part of the huge Baca Ranch and was closed to the public. Then in 2000, the land was put up for sale, and with crucial support from New Mexico’s congressional delegation, it was purchased by the federal government. Designated as the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the ninety-thousand-acre property would be managed by the Valles Caldera Trust with the stipulation that the preserve must be run as a working cattle ranch and be financially self-sufficient by 2015.

And there’s the rub, for there is no way that this land can become self-sustaining without heavy commercialization. In fact, a recent recommendation was that a “high-end” luxury hotel for the wealthy be constructed—hardly in keeping with the concept of a public preserve.

Furthermore, under Trust management, public access has been very limited, with only about fifteen thousand visitors per year willing to put up with the confusing regulations and cost of entering the preserve. Nearby Bandelier National Monument can record nearly half that many during a good week in summer.

New Public Input

Two years ago, a round of public meetings was held throughout our state to gather public opinion on how the preserve should eventually be developed. It turns out that ninety-five percent of the comments favored maintaining natural, undeveloped, wild conditions on the preserve and that it should be managed to preserve its natural state as it exists today.

Doesn’t that sound more like a national park? Such a thought clearly had occurred to many others, and so four months ago on June 25, our U.S. Senators, Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, issued a press release asking the National Park Service to study the feasibility of converting the Valles Caldera into a National Park Service Preserve. And now that idea is buzzing.

Management Under the National Park Service?

If this were to happen, it would eliminate the experimental trustee system and replace it with professional management: the National Park Service which oversees our most scenic, culturally important, and sensitive public lands in the country. Those of us who recently watched the splendid Ken Burns PBS documentary, “National Parks—America’s Best Idea,” surely have the picture.

Looking back over my own twenty-eight years of experience in the National Park Service that culminated with my superintendency of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the mid-‘80s, I can attest to the professionalism of that agency. So today, I’m urging that we all get behind Senators Bingaman and Udall’s leadership and heartily endorse the proposition of the Park Service taking over and giving this national treasure back to the citizens who own it. We of Sandoval County owe it to ourselves.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

I-25 GRIP project from Tramway to Bernalillo

In August 2009, crews with FNF Construction began work on the first phase of the project that spans from the Tramway Interchange up to NM 437 in Bernalillo. The construction consists of roadway reconstruction and widening, drainage structure extension, a concrete box culvert in Sandia Pueblo, and a full replacement of the Sandia Wash Bridge. The $28.4 million project is expected to take approximately a year to complete.

“This is one of the most highly traveled stretches of interstate in New Mexico and with the population of the Greater Albuquerque Area expected to grow by a quarter-of-a-million people by 2030, this project is vital to improving the traffic flow and increasing safety along this corridor,” Governor Bill Richardson said. “While crews will complete this major project with as little inconvenience to drivers as possible, I strongly encourage drivers to take the Rail Runner during construction and bypass the orange barrels altogether.”

The project will be phased so that two lanes northbound and two lanes southbound will be maintained at all times, with temporary lane closures kept to a minimum between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Speed will be reduced to fifty-five mph throughout the project limits. Motorists are encouraged to use emergency turnouts that will be marked and maintained throughout the duration of the project.

A 2008 study estimated the average weekday traffic flow through this segment of I-25 at 64,300. “The towns of Bernalillo and Rio Rancho have long-awaited this widening for easier access to Albuquerque, and vice versa for people further south who are traveling north,” said District Three State Transportation Commissioner Norman Assed. “This project, coupled with the Rail Runner, will greatly enhance traffic flow while reducing vehicle miles on our roadways.”

Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership (GRIP) is a $1.6 billion transportation initiative aimed at expanding and improving New Mexico highways, while creating thousands of local jobs. “One of our top priorities at the Department of Transportation is making sure that New Mexicans and those traveling through our state have safe and efficient roadways they can rely on,” said Transportation Secretary Gary L. J. Girón.

“Through GRIP, we have improved several hundred miles of our state’s roadways, and this project will continue the trend.”

For more information, contact Megan Arredondo, GRIP PIO at (505) 660-2073 or Phil Gallegos, District 3 PIO at (505) 841-2764. For up-to-date traffic information, visit or dial 511.

Larry Blair steps in as Interim Executive Engineer for ESCAFCA

The Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) has contracted with Larry Blair, PE, to be its Interim Executive Engineer. Blair brings nearly twenty-five years of flood control experience to ESCAFCA, having served as Executive Engineer for the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority for sixteen years, the Director of the City of Albuquerque Public Works Department for four years, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in various capacities for twenty years.

Mr. Blair received his BS and MS in Civil Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and an MS in Administration from George Washington University.

In addition, Blair is an active member in many professional organizations, including the National Society of Professional Engineers, the New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers (of which he is past chapter and state president), the American Society of Civil Engineers (of which he is past chapter and state president), the American Public Works Association, and the Society of American Military Engineers (of which he is past post president).

ESCAFCA’s jurisdiction includes the communities of Bernalillo, Algodones, and Placitas. Authorized by the state legislature in 2006 and voted into existence in November 2008, ESCAFA is the primary flood control agency in the region, working cooperatively with other agencies on flood control and watershed management.

County Line

—Don E. Leonard, Sandoval County Commission Chairman

Straight from a Looney Tunes cartoon: Elmer Fudd reaches for money in the pocket of his well-worn pants and all he finds is lint and moths.

While that scene may be funny for the young and young-at-heart, it hits close to home for many of the County’s less fortunate residents and the dedicated groups and organizations that help provide food, clothing, and shelter in times of need.

Sandoval County is fortunate to have so many residents who live and exemplify the true spirit of the upcoming holiday season every day of the year.

As we get together with friends and family during the holidays that make this month and next so special, let’s remember to help those that do so much for other residents.

The days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day are traditionally the time when Americans open their hearts and generously give time and money to help others in need. For our charitable organizations, the few weeks between now and year’s end represent a key time, a make-it-or-break-it period in their efforts to raise money to assist other residents throughout the entire year.

This year’s fundraising efforts are especially important and needed to offset a brewing “perfect storm.” While the national economic slowdown is causing increased needs and hardships, family budgets are strained and government at all levels is focusing taxpayer money on crucial services.

To quote songwriter/singer Bob Dylan, ‘the times they are a-changing.‘ States and counties, villages and cities are no longer able to financially support non-profits and groups at the levels of past years.

Some of our many worthwhile charitable organizations are floundering under the combined increase in demands for services and reduction in taxpayer support. Other groups, however, are using creative, innovative ways to attract the private donations that help them meet the needs of the less fortunate.

Kiwanis, for example, has long been successful at a wide variety of fundraising events, ranging from garage sales of donated items to staffing ticket gates at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. A little-known group of Corrales horsewomen called the Hot Flash Riders performed at the State Fair Rodeo to increase awareness of breast cancer and then went through the stands with hats in hand to collect funds for the American Cancer Society.

Some groups have teamed with local grocers and other merchants to raise funds for their continued work. Bernalillo’s Los Matachines offers the group’s traditional and historic dance performances for a fee as a way to raise funds for the historic Santuario de San Lorenzo.

Yet, giving of our time, money, and goods to help residents in need is the mainstay on which charitable groups and organizations rely. And our churches and religious organizations and civic and charitable groups need our donations and support throughout the year.

It’s easy to find an organization where you can make a difference and help others by offering your time, talent, or money. For ideas, contact local religious, charitable, or civic groups or look in the phone directory under charities, community groups, or religious organizations. Or, call United Way of Central New Mexico at 247-3671 for a directory of agencies that serve our region.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

No passing in Placitas

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

Last month, Placitas resident Stephen Feher emailed an official of the State Highway Department to request an explanation for the elimination of passing zones on Highway 165. [See letter in Gauntlet.] He wrote:

“This past week, the line painters laid down new lines from just east of I-25 to about Mile Marker 6 on Highway 165 after the repaving . . . the painters painted a double yellow line for the aforementioned six miles, with no passing zones at all, when there had been about seven or eight before. Who suddenly decided that there would be no passing zones and why?”

As of Signpost press time, Feher has received no response.

Maybe the paint striper just forgot to switch from solid stripes to dashes, but it was more likely an official decision based on a study. New Mexico Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Phil Gallegos told the Signpost that new studies show an increase in traffic, more turnouts, and more driveways. Surprise, surprise. For some time now, the only safe, legal place to pass was just below the S-curves, which is also a favorite location for speed traps.

Al Guadagnoli of Coach Al’s Driving School says that passing another vehicle at fifty-five mph requires three-quarters of a mile. There simply are no longer any three-quarter mile stretches of highway in the Placitas area where it is safe to pass.

Slower drivers will now set the pace all the way from I-25 through the Placitas area to the historic village of Placitas. Aggressive drivers will face more challenges and will have to come up with new strategies, starting with passing all potentially slow vehicles on the double lane off I-25.

Once on the solid-striped single lane, there is no legal place to pass until about a quarter-mile before the village, where there is a two-hundred-yard passing zone just before the speed limit drops to thirty-five mph. Aggressive drivers will tailgate, trying to pressure slowpokes into going faster or pulling over. Self-righteous slow drivers will react by hitting the brakes, slowing down even more. Fast drivers will have to really put the pedal to the metal to pass quickly before the cops catch them. They could try passing on the right shoulder, but that’s illegal, too. Slow pacesetters will have to speed up to try to stop them in order to maintain control of the highway. These misguided strategies could escalate into road rage.

Residents will flood the Signpost with outraged letters to the Gauntlet like they did back in 2007 when every month the tailgaters and slowpokes would take aim at each other. An itinerant carpenter started the trouble with: "I was being tailgated by a white mid-sized sedan. At fifty mph, the sedan was less than two car-lengths from my bumper. I have a problem with tailgaters, especially on Route 165. I took my foot off the accelerator. The sedan came to within less than a car-length, the sixtyish woman at the wheel seemed to wake up, then she immediately pulled left and passed me. I flipped her the bird and called her a bleeping bleep. I stayed ten car-lengths behind her." Another Signpost reader fired back in the next issue: “. . .the globs of cholesterol clogging the main transportation artery of our community, insisting they are doing the speed limit when, in fact, they are puttering along well below it. Speeding up slightly. Slowing down. Speeding up slightly. Slowing down. I’ve been the caboose on somebody’s power trip train many times.”

Cooler heads will suggest that drivers forego road rage, drive the speed limit, or pull over for their neighbors who happen to be in a hurry. Driving far below the posted speed limit can also be dangerous—especially when it is meant to irritate another driver. On the other hand, being forced to drive forty-five mph for a few miles in a fifty mph zone is not that bad. There are also laws prohibiting tailgating.

Not all people drive like idiots indulging in personal vendettas or compulsions, and so usually the traffic moves pretty well. In some states (like the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire), passing is permitted on a double yellow line except within one hundred feet of an intersection or railroad crossing, on a curve or crest of a hill that limits visibility, or on any section posted with no passing signs. This sounds reasonable, but putting such discretion into the hands of New Mexico drivers is probably a mistake. The deputies will be the ones to decide whether it is safe for a driver to cross the line to pass that backhoe, overloaded dump truck laboring up the hill, or slowpoke who should just get off the road if he or she is afraid to drive. Tell that to the judge.

Eventually, the road to Placitas might get too crowded and the highway department might have to provide passing lanes, four lanes all the way, or another access road. Meanwhile, can we all just try to get along?






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