The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Creeping along a rocky ledge with Tetilla Peak on the horizon

Creeping along a rocky ledge with Tetilla Peak on the horizon

Car camp home

Car camp home

Survival gear

Survival gear

Car camping 101

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has made it clear that we all need our own personal disaster-management plan. While hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes are not likely to cause widespread damage here in New Mexico, we can still worry about forest fires, nuclear accidents, pipeline explosions, power outages, societal breakdown, martial law, and the elusive weapons of mass destruction. The cavalry is probably not coming to the rescue. Even if you don’t share my visions of the apocalypse, you might consider taking steps to be prepared, especially if these same steps can add to your quality of life.
I’ve found that the requirements for car camping are the same as those for river rafting and surviving a disaster—food, water, shelter, and a fun escape plan.

Barb and I keep our “kitchen box” stocked and ready to go even after the rafting season. It is a sturdy plastic box that doubles as a chair and a table. It contains pots and pans, dishes, silverware, matches, stoves, lantern, propane, Swiss army knife, and few cans of beans.

We keep a couple of six-gallon jugs of water full in case of a power outage. Tents, sleeping bags, cooler, fold-up chairs and table, sleeping pads, etcetera, line the shelves of the garage. A first-aid kit stays in the car.

With all this gear prepacked, the car can be loaded and we can be on our way in less than an hour. Prime car-camping destinations can be found within an hour or two, driving in any direction. No-fee primitive camping is allowed on BLM and national forest land. And there are plenty of developed camping areas which, for a small fee, provide water, toilets, and electricity, if required.

Fall is actually a great time to stay in paid camping areas—with the kids back in school and the nights getting cooler, they are generally deserted. This means no boom boxes, screaming kids, drunken adults, RV generators, or the other drawbacks that keep us out of the public domain.

We usually go for the wilderness experience—like last weekend when we drove up to Cochiti Canyon after work. Even though Cochiti has long been a favorite, ever since a brief period of time when the car camp was my home, it has been fifteen years since we camped there. Last time we were there, a kind of tornado called a microburst tore over the canyon in the dark of the night sounding something like a booming locomotive within an arm’s reach of our tent. It felled the forest’s hugest ponderosa pine lengthwise onto the road, trapping us the next day until somebody showed up with a chainsaw in his survival kit.

The owners of Dixon Apple Orchard have removed their Don’t Come Here for Help sign, but another sign advises that the road is unsuitable for passenger cars. This is probably true if you don’t straddle boulders and find the shallow part of the creek that you’ll drive through a dozen times.

When selecting a primitive site, it’s important to find one that is free of pieces of toilet paper and disposable diapers. An excellent reference book, How to Shit in the Woods, by Kathleen Meyer ( should be required reading before anyone is allowed in the wilderness. That’s all I have to say about that.

We found a nice campsite next to the creek and well away from the road. Firewood is usually pretty scarce in public camping areas, but we managed to get a pretty good fire going as the full moon rose over a Nefertiti-looking spire. The sun rose over the same spire as we broke camp and drove upstream, me on my bike. Along the way we noted campsites for next time at trailheads leading deeper into the Jemez Mountains.

The road was fenced off when it reached Pines, a community of cabins surrounded by tent rocks and No Trespassing signs. It used to seem like the ideal mountain getaway, but that was before we realized that we had one already waiting in the garage.

Some people are constantly refining car-camping techniques, moving on to vans and campers, eventually arriving at the forty-foot behemoth that cost too much and misses the point. I think it’s best to keep things simple, using only the stuff you need for your disaster-management plan.

It’s tempting to just stay home after someone else’s disaster, happy and secure to have a roof overhead, but we all know that roof might be taken away. Another kind of security comes from the knowledge that one can live with the basics.

Coming closer

Much has been made about the phenomenal photographs of the Earth taken from outer space. One shot or another decorates the cover of the largest “alternative” consumer catalog, is featured on decals sent out with environmental fund-raisers, once topped the letterhead of a space-warfare agency, and brightens the nylon flags sold through magazines to promote world unity.

The intended message is that the Earth is not so immense as we thought, unscarred by anything as tentative as national borders, and a veritable lifeboat in a hostile, airless sea of stars. We are “fellow passengers,” it’s said, on a revolving life-support platform, on what some call Spaceship Earth.

The blue-and-green planet with its wispy beard of clouds is shown suspended against a background of infinite black, an independent entity, an almost cartoonish image of an interstellar vehicle lacking only a visible steering wheel.

There is some value to such pictures, to the extent that they help us in recognizing the finite nature of this drifting globe, perchance encouraging us to pull together with the forests and rivers and our fellow creatures for a common good.

But in another way this kind of a photo is a lie, leading us to feel that the parts are subsumed by the whole, as if each part were and interchangeable and not differentiatable, as if one continent or watershed could serve us, fill us, define us in the same way as the next. As if even the planet were interchangeable with other suitable candidates, or could be replaced by a floating space station of our own making once we’ve depleted its resources.

In many ways, those NASA photographs are simply taken from too far away. The colors of meadow and tundra have faded into a solid brown, the songs of each distinct part blending into a muffled roar. To know the Earth, to know life, we need to focus on one of those brown continents until the myriad hues of the mountains and swamps, the wildflowers and hummingbirds stand out one against the other. What we need is to zoom in on a particular section, such as the wild Gila, where I live and teach, or north-central New Mexico, where this article is being read. Then deeper, into a certain watershed, a special river, a select grove, a specific meadow ... to the Sandia Mountains, Sandoval County, and the Cibola National Forest. The Jemez or Rio Grande Rivers, or Las Huertas Creek. Palomas Peak, Cedar Mountain, Sandia Man Cave, or Tunnel Springs. Canyon Del Agua or the Ortiz. The local park and our own backyards. Then, still nearer, an exact section of grass beneath a solitary majestic tree, down in the clover on our hands and knees, or gazing into the universe of stars sparkling in a single inch of New Mexico sand.

Recovering our sense of place requires personal reimmersion in the tactile immediacy of our formative years, demands our unstudied reentry into always familiar “childscapes.” Such landscapes not only contain but embody us, merging, blending the lines between bush and boy, grass and girl. They are always small, with openings easier entered once we’ve learned to be little again. Once inside these microworlds, we may find their boundaries near enough to touch. We are comforted by the encircling branches of weeping willows, protected by the close wooden walls of a playhouse, cradled in miniature caves, touched on all sides by the circumference of hideouts and nests, drawn to those downscaled environments that evoke a sense of intimacy and safety.

Take a child to any scenic vista and they’ll quickly turn their attention from the distant sunset to the ground at their feet, following scurrying stinkbugs on their hands and knees, collecting pieces of quartz-studded gravel or chalky animal bone, uncovering any nearby places of concealment and hence, the potential for magic. Take your eyes off them for more than a minute, and they’ll likely have uncovered the head of a deer trail or hobbit run winding away from the vista and down into the bowels of a more intimately realized reality. As adults we are likely to seek out those postcard-perfect views of great heights and wide expanses, but a child will look instead to those things up close, those things that can be experienced with more than the eyes, those that can be handled, arranged, tossed, rolled—or rolled about in!

Place may be best understood up close, in microcosms nestled between hillocks, inside the hollows of lightning-struck trees, in the overgrown corner of the school playground, or between waving rows of sky-clad corn. What we call “place” is made up of little worlds inviting us to be little again within them, enlisting our patience and attention, enticing our sensual exploration. It insists that if we’re truly to experience it, we must first slow down. Slow down and smell the flowers. Behold the blooming present. Sample the unfolding miracle of life up close, and intimate.

Jesse Wolf Hardin is the cohost for wilderness retreats, quests and internships at The Earthen Spirituality Project & Women's Center, four hours southwest of Albuquerque:, P.O. Box 820, Reserve, NM 87830.

Cerrillos turquoise researched

On October 11, at 7:00 p.m., William Baxter, local historian, editor and author, will review the natural and cultural history of the blue-green stone of north-central New Mexico. Mr. Baxter will draw upon his ongoing research toward a comprehensive history of the Cerrillos region, focusing especially on nearby classic and early-historic pueblos, the curious schizophrenia of the Territorial miners toward the stone, as well as newly uncovered material on the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century turquoise mining operation at Cerrillos on behalf of Tiffany & Co., and the associated conflicts with the Native American “Turquoise Takers.” The program will take place at the Sandia Ranger Station in Tijeras. For further information or directions, call 281-3304.

New Mexico State Parks opens doors to assist hurricane evacuees

New Mexico State Parks announced on September 23 that it has waived camping fees for evacuees fleeing Hurricane Rita.
New Mexico State Parks Director Dave Simon says the State Parks Division will waive the normal fourteen-day stay limit, campground fees, and electrical hookup fees for evacuees of the hurricane. State Parks had previously offered the same free camping benefits to evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. These benefits will continue indefinitely during the crisis.
New Mexico State Parks is a place where evacuees can find a warm welcome, comfort, and safety in this time of need,” said State Parks Director Dave Simon.
On September 22, State Parks welcomed two families to Sumner Lake State Park who had evacuated in advance of Hurricane Rita.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, State Parks has also maintained donation boxes at all thirty-two parks, with donations going directly to the American Red Cross.
State Parks has completed an inventory of other resources available to assist hurricane victims, such as vacant facilities, should that assistance be requested.
For more information, contact (888) NMPARKS or






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