The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


A remote riparian canyon just north of Placitas

A remote riparian canyon just north of Placitas

Backcountry hike to benefit Las Placitas Association

Diamond Tail Ranch is hosting a backcountry guided hike in the remote Gonzales Canyon area of the Ranch on Saturday, October 13. This area forms a major wildlife corridor for the Sandia Mountains to the south and Ortiz Mountains to the north, and is home to bears, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, and as of recently, elk. Gonzales Canyon is an area of remote wetlands, streams, and forests, and also holds significant cultural resources. Remnants of historic mining and farming communities, as well as pre-Puebloan cultures are scattered throughout. The event is being conducted as a benefit and fundraising event for the Las Placitas Association, a local nonprofit natural resources conservation organization.

This is an opportunity not to be missed. We’ll meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Placitas Post Office, and then carpool out to Diamond Tail. High clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles are required, so please bring one if you have it and are willing to drive. A picnic lunch will be provided courtesy of Diamond Tail Ranch. We’ll return mid-afternoon. Cost of the event is $15 per person, or $25 for a party of two. All proceeds are being donated to the Las Placitas Association. Reservations are required, so please call Diamond Tail Ranch at 771-2000 by Wednesday, October 10 to RSVP and reserve your spot.

Please bring proper hiking clothes, sun protection, and drinking water. Due to the primitive nature of the ranch roads in this area, the event may be cancelled in case of heavy rains.


Ray Ring

Ray Ring

Just put an asterisk on the whole region


I wrote this column in two minutes and seventeen seconds.

I typed more than three hundred words per minute, including the time spent getting the ideas out of thin air and editing myself, running the spell-check, and the ultimate writer’s reward, patting myself on the back.

It’s a new world record for column writing. How can I, a mere mortal, do it?

Let’s just say, if the San Francisco Chronicle investigates me for possible abuse of performance-enhancing steroids—expanding on its case against the new superhuman home-run king, Barry Bonds—I have no comment, at least not until I talk to my lawyer.

You see, thick-necked sluggers—including some who’ve confessed and more who’ve fallen under suspicion—are not the only beneficiaries. Steroids, whatever their nefarious side effects, can juice up anyone. I see many suspects. And it seems to be a Western thing, more than in other regions. Our rootin,’ tootin’ society, characterized by the two-pistoled cartoon Yosemite Sam—whose boots rarely touch ground as he blasts in all directions—seems addicted to performance boosters.

Check out California’s bulging megagovernor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former body-builder and action-movie star must be setting the record as the strongest governor ever. Arnold could whip all the other forty-nine current state leaders at once, with one hand, while pressing a Hummer upward with the other hand. Does Arnold look like natural evolution culminating in the 2007 modern man? Only if you include man-made chemistry.

Atop our politics, how do you think Wyoming-rooted Dick Cheney—sixty-six, mechanical-hearted, clogged-veined—keeps on running the most powerful nation with a ruthless grip? Cheney is surely setting a record as the most powerful vice-president ever, though his lawyer would probably also fend off the steroids question with a “no comment.”

Really, it goes way beyond steroids. For popularity of illicit drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, compared to national averages, the people of Colorado, Montana, and Oregon rank very high, and those in Washington, California, New Mexico, and Nevada are noticeably above average. Utah has the biggest percentage of people taking pain relievers for nonmedical purposes, according to an authoritative 2005 federal survey. Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming rank very high for alcoholism.

Millions of people get their heartbeats and respiration cranked up by Starbucks, the Seattle-based caffeine cartel. The whole construction industry in boomtowns from Phoenix, Arizona, to Bozeman, Montana, runs on Red Bull energy drink. Chaws of tobacco power the rodeo circuit. A lot of Rocky Mountain oil and gas drillers, working their 24/7 shifts of dangerous labor in all weather, are said to run on meth.

How great would Hollywood be without silicone implants and wrinkle-erasing Botox injections? Ditto for Las Vegas.

All that high-priced Western art—the paintings and sculptures of cowboys and Indians, bears and landscapes? The artists often consume mind-altering substances they imagine enhance their creative acts. That rainbow-hued Santa Fe-carved coyote you bought for a loved one? Do you think the carver was sober the whole time?

How about the famous festival called Burning Man, where every year crowds get high on anything and everything to party amid flames in the Nevada desert? Telluride, Colorado hosts the somewhat more sedate annual mushroom festival, which celebrates some of the hallucinogens, masquerading as science. Some Southwesterners openly blast off on more hallucinogens they get by chewing or smoking a wacky cactus, peyote, claiming it’s a religious rite.

What’s the official state snack declared by residents of Utah? Jell-O. A sub-region called the “Jell-O Belt” extends outward from Utah, into parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, corresponding to the predominance of the West’s most noticeable religion, Mormonism, whose followers prefer sweets like cinnamon buns to pump up their energy levels. Anyone imagine that Jell-O’s million flavors and colors are all pure and chemical-free?

It extends to how we treat the land and other species. Almost all our crop and meat production, from California’s Central Valley to Idaho’s dairies and cattle, is based on an evil synergy of weed-and-pest-killing chemicals, stimulants and manufactured hormones. Those long plumes of orange powder the planes and helicopters drop on wildfires, trying to retard the flames on millions of acres—does that look natural?

So it seems a bit hypocritical for any Westerners to tsk-tsk Barry Bonds or put an asterisk by his name in the home-run record book. Who are we kidding? Our whole region rates an asterisk.

Ray Ring is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is the paper’s Northern Rockies editor in Bozeman, Montana.

Heard around the West



Just two decades ago, pink coyotes were ubiquitous in downtown Santa Fe. They howled at oil-painted moons, or were sculpted from metal, or were accompanied by acrylic neon landscapes. To some high-minded folks, the fad was much worse than a particularly bad moment in Southwestern-style kitsch; it seemed to signal the imminent demise of civilization itself. Nevertheless, by the skin of its dentures, civilization has held on, more or less. And these days, even Santa Fe is making a comeback as a cosmopolitan center with internationally renowned food and art venues (enough to inspire a recent multi-page story in the New York Times travel section). The New Mexico city has also moved up in the wildlife world. The pink coyotes have long since been evicted to languish in garages across the nation. Nature, however, abhors a vacuum: The coyotes have been replaced by a mountain lion with an apparent hankering for some serious bling.

Around midnight on a recent Friday, the Santa Fe police received reports that a big cat was prowling around downtown and banging on business doors, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. After finding a hole in the glass door of a jewelry store, the cops slowly entered, found the cat, and fired a shotgun at it. Two hours later, a wildlife officer showed up and located the cat in a toilet stall—rumor has it it was reading the aforementioned Times article — where the officer pegged the feline with a tranquilizer. To its chagrin, the cougar was relocated north of Santa Fe to decidedly less chic Chama.


We all know about headless chickens running around the farmyard, but what about bodiless snakes chomping down on someone’s finger? After central Washington farmer Danny Anderson decapitated a rattler with a shovel, he reached down to pick up the disembodied head. But the head “did a back flip almost and bit my finger,” Anderson told the Tri-City Herald. It’s not the first time: Scientific American reports that snakes’ chompers remain potentially active for twenty to sixty minutes after death, and that at least five people have been bitten by dead snakes.

Jonathan Thompson is associate editor of High Country News ( and is filling in for Betsy Marston, who’s had it up to here with zany news from the region.

State Parks director urges Elephant Butte Lake visitors to take precautions, especially with pets

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is advising dog owners to take certain precautions, following the death of a twelve-pound Jack Russell Terrier at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, who died after possibly ingesting naturally occurring blue-green algae in the lake in September. The dog had been swimming for several hours along a cove, when he became ill and later died.

“There is a suspicion that algae consumption may be to blame, though it hasn’t been confirmed,” said State Parks Director Dave Simon. “Until we know for sure, it’s advisable to keep pets out of the water where algae are present.”

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are aquatic, photosynthetic microscopic organisms that occur naturally in lakes and streams. Algae forms when conditions include the presence of warm, shallow, stagnant water that receives a lot of sunlight. Toxic algae blooms are usually localized, sporadic, and last a very short amount of time, primarily in the summer.

Though not naturally a toxin, algae can produce toxins which can make animals sick when consumed, except for fish. Algae toxins have been shown to attack the nervous system of animals, which can lead to death if not immediately treated. When swimming near algae blooms, people can develop skin rashes, and might experience symptoms similar to that of food poisoning.

As is the case in any body of water at any location, algae are more prevalent (if present at all) in isolated coves during the summer months. Algae might be present in water that is visibly discolored, and can include shades of green, blue-green, yellow, brown, or red.

To minimize risk to people or pets, readers should note the following:

• State Parks requires that pets be kept on leashes no longer than ten feet. Keep pets close and out of water where algae are present.

• Avoid swimming in areas with large quantities of algae.

• Wash hands after swimming, especially prior to food preparation.

• Rinse pets off instead of allowing pets to groom themselves.

• Never drink untreated surface water, whether or not algae blooms are present.

• People, pets, and livestock should avoid contact with water that is discolored.

Further tests are being conducted to determine the potential role that blue-green algae may have played in the death of the dog. Rangers will also look for the presence of algae along coves where water may have been stagnant. Visitors to the park will be notified about the possibility of toxic algae.

For more information, contact New Mexico State Parks at (888) NMPARKS.






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