Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fisher-Chick, Clarissa Lopez, Shares Fishing Tips, Top Spots and Great Gear

By Karl Moffatt
Got fat, lazy, kids dominated by cell phones, captivated by video, stupefied by TV?

Maybe it’s time to drag them out of the house and teach them one of New Mexico’s favorite outdoor pastimes, like how to fish, the old fashioned way, with a simple pole and some bait down at the local fishing hole.

If so, then Espanola author and angler, Clarissa Lopez, has got the fishing guide book for you. Simple, easy to understand instructions on how to cast, fish, use bait, handle a fish and more importantly, where to go!

Featuring dozens of family friendly fishing spots in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, this guide makes getting out there a breeze and teaching kids to fish, effortless.

Lopez, 53, of La Mesilla, is one of three sisters and a brother born into a traditional Hispanic family living on a small family farm by the banks of the Rio Grande near Espanola.

Her father, Henry, a Jemez Electric Cooperative worker, passed down to her the simple joys of fishing, camping and playing outdoors by taking her on trips up into nearby Santa Clara Canyon and other nearby spots.

But many of today’s kids seem to lack the same experiences and may be missing out on some of the simpler joys in life like playing outside in the sunshine and learning about and respecting nature, she says.

So Lopez set out to pass down some of those old fashioned fishing skills along with some insider tips on where to go so that anyone can enjoy a day of fishing and relaxing in the great outdoors.

Her self-published book is titled “Fisher-Chick. A female view of family fishing in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado for good old fashioned fun bait fishing.” It was 2009 finalist for the New Mexico Book Awards and can be purchased online from her website at
Inside, readers will find detailed instructions on how to reach 20 good, fishing locations including legendary northern New Mexico fishing spots like Canjilon Lakes, the Rio Chama, the Rio Brazos, Hopewell Lake and Lagunitas.

Lopez offers her own insights about fishing including why she does it and why others should too. She remarks that kids should never be “skunked” when fishing and one should not suffer a “cardiac” while getting there, hence the use of live bait and easily accessed waters.

And while Lopez thinks highly of worms and grasshoppers for catching fish she’s not above tossing one of her handmade, spinning lures armed with a single barbless hook into a steam governed by special restrictions.

Lopez is married to Rick, a retired Los Alamos Lab employee who has two sons, and they love to eat fish.

But Lopez preaches catch and release and uses barbless hooks or pinches the barbs on hooks simply because it makes releasing fish she doesn’t want to keep that much easier to release.

Lopez stresses the need to pick up and pack out trash to protect public lands for the future enjoyment of others. However she sees no need for further road closures in our national forests because it impedes access to the backcountry.

Her attitude is the government should simply abandon the roads and let people figure it out on their own.

Lopez, who also works at the Labs, offers tips on how to grow a good worm supply in your own backyard and how to collect and store grasshoppers for use.

She offers her experience that nothing works like a live hopper for eliciting a hard strike from a trout but in a minor oversight fails to note exactly how to impale one on a hook.

“Through the belly so the hook faces forward, that way it won’t come off when you’re casting,” she says. “It’s kind of icky.”

Lopez’s book contains handy packing lists for fishing and camping with the item “beer” dominating the top of the food category list and beans included at both lunch and dinner.

She illustrates with pictures how to tie on a hook using a loop to loop connection, offers tips on casting and fishing including her recommendation to use a closed face, spin caster for simplicity’s sake.

She uses nearly indestructible PVC pipe with removable end caps to store and transport her rods too.

And perhaps the best piece of advice her book offers is that upon showing up at the fishing hole one should immediately inquire of other anglers as to what they’re biting on.

Reading Lopez’s book is like spending a couple hours lakeside with an old timer, listening as he or she passes on knowledge and advice on how to fish and other related matters.

A visit to her site will reveal a collection of handmade lures for sale including the single, barbless, spinning lure in two weights, a real find for anyone who wants to fish quality waters like the San Juan River with a spin caster.
The site also boasts fishing lures made from discarded beer bottle caps, traditional treble hook, spoon spinning lures and a handy, foam hook caddy. There’s even forage caps sporting the Fisher-Chick logo.

Lopez says she’s not out to make a killing selling her wares but more interested in promoting the sport and lifestyle of traditional bait and lure fishing so that others can enjoy what many Nortenos already know.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ortiz Mountain Ranch, Great Views, Stellar Hiking, Plenty of Wildlife But Should We Buy It?

Larry Brow of Azure Enterprises at Ortiz Mountan Ranch October 2010.
By Karl Moffatt
Its peaks dominate the skyline, running like a roller coaster across the eastern horizon and creating a mesmerizing vista for motorists traveling along the Turquoise Trail scenic byway.

It’s about 12,000 acres of rugged mountain land dotted by pinon and juniper trees with incredible views, abundant wildlife and the fleeting possibility of public ownership.

Located just outside of the funky little town of Madrid, the Ortiz Mountain Ranch served as the summer home for the family of Edmund F. Ball of Muncie, Indiana.

An heir to the Ball family industrial dynasty, makers of the famous canning jars, Edmund Ball, told the now defunct Crosswinds weekly, in a 1997 article about New Mexico’s largest land owners, that he wanted the ranch preserved as natural habitat “forever.”

Ball loved the West, enjoyed being a gentleman cattle rancher and upon his death in 2000 at the age of 95, left the Ortiz Mountain Ranch to the Nature Conservancy.

Ball wanted the property preserved as open space and his surviving family members hope his wish is fulfilled.

“I think in particular he’d have wanted it made into a state park,” said his son, Robert Ball, 57, of Traverse City, Michigan.

The ranch land is protected by a conservation easement which prohibits any housing subdivisions or industrial uses such as sand and gravel mining in exchange for substantial tax benefits.

Robert Ball said he remembers fondly the summers he spent working as a ranch hand on the property south of Santa Fe off State Road 14.
The view to the northeast of Santa Fe from the Ortiz Mountain Ranch.
“So I hope it is put to good use,” he said.

Ball’s mother, Virginia, was also interested in conservation and served on the board of the National Wildlife Federation, he added.

Ball’s father was a WW II veteran who earned the Bronze Star while serving as an Army officer during military campaigns at Anzio, Salerno and Sicily. He was also a pilot who flew high performance aircraft regularly and served on numerous boards including the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Now, his beloved ranch is in the hands of the Nature Conservancy, a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving natural resources, while the ranch house, sitting upon a section of land, 640 acres, is still owned by Ball’s heirs.

Both properties, the ranch house and ranch land, are being sold through separate brokers with the ranch listed by Azure Enterprises at $3.4 million while the ranch house and surrounding acreage is listed with Margo Cutler at $1.3 million.

Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration was able to secure a deal to purchase both pieces of property on behalf of the state for a little over $2.9 million, according to Jodi McGinnis Porter, spokesperson for the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD).

The Richardson administration proposed purchasing the park with federal stimulus dollars for expansion of the newly created Cerrillos Hills State Park just outside the historic mining town of Cerrillos and for use as a wild horse sanctuary.

The acquisition would help support the local economy, promote tourism and provide hiking and other recreational opportunities to the public, according a press release touting the purchase.

And as noted by Jim Noel, Secretary of EMNRD, in an op-ed he wrote for, buying the ranch at less than $230 an acre is a “tremendous deal” for the state and future generations of New Mexicans will be thankful for it.

But the deal has apparently hit a snag due to public outcry over the use of federal stimulus dollars for the purchase while other worthy projects, such as the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad’s burned out and yet to be repaired railroad trestle in the tourism town of Chama, remains underfunded.

The purchase was slated to go before the state Board of Finance for approval in September but has since been taken off the agenda and McGinnis Porter, of EMNRD which oversees state parks, declined to comment when asked about the current status of the ranch purchase.

The purchase is opposed by gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish, who is Richardson’s lieutenant governor and a member of the state Board of Finance.

In the meantime the property continues to sit unused, off the sides of State Road 14, just up the hill from Madrid and seeing it makes for a wonderful daytrip.

During a recent visit with real estate broker, Larry Brow of Azure Enterprises, it became apparent that the ranch would provide the visitors to the area with a welcome stop along the scenic and very lonely back road to Albuquerque.
Larry Brow of Azure Enterprises and his partner Dave Makowski look west from the  Ortiz Mountain Ranch.
With sweeping views of the Rio Grande Valley, the Jemez Mountains to the West and even Cabezone Peak far off in the distance, one can only imagine what it would be like to camp on the upper reaches of the 8,000-foot mountains here.

Looking back towards the north and east towards Santa Fe, one is presented with an amazing view that rivals anything that can be found in the region.

Brow said because the ranch has been unused for many years it has become home to a good population of mountain lions, black bear, eagles, hawks and other creatures.

“It’s essentially a wildlife sanctuary now,” Brow said.

The ranch features a year-round free-flowing spring and is also watered by several windmill operated wells, Brow said.

Looking out over the landscape from these mountains it is easy to see why the Ball family found it such a refuge and how the public might, too.

If You Go:

Take Cerrillos Rd. to State Road 14 to Madrid, continue through town up a hill and upon descending the other side look for the intersection of County Road 57A heading west towards Santo Domingo Pueblo. The highway here runs through ranch property with a smaller section on the west side of the road and the larger tract, including numerous mountains peaks, on the east side. No trespassing permitted.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - What a Gas!

By Karl Moffatt
Lightning flashed in the pitch black sky as we raced south on the interstate to the balloon fiesta in Albuquerque.

It was five in the morning and we couldn’t see what the weather was doing, all we knew was it smelled like rain and there was one hell of a light show on the western horizon.

We arrived at the Park-And-Ride area at the Santa Ana Star Casino with plenty of time to spare, it was only forty miles from the Southside of Santa Fe and a quick drive on the nearly empty highway.

We piled into a school bus loaded with plenty of others who’d gotten up early to participate in New Mexico’s annual fall attraction, the world’s premier, hot air ballooning event.

In the predawn darkness we huddled in the bus as winds whipped rain against the windows and listened as a local broadcaster spoke over the bus radio about the weather front passing through the area.

“Don’t worry, think positive and it’ll be fine” my wife said as I shook my head.

She was right.

We rolled into town along an empty back road and slipped like a presidential motorcade through traffic backed up at the balloon park.

Within minutes we were inside and on the field.

No hassles with parking or traffic and the cost of admission was included in our $10 bus ticket.

This was the only way to go.

And the weather front had passed through quickly after whipping up things on the north side of town.

The wind and rain was now gone and as the sun rose over the Sandia Mountains, the balloons began to rise.

First one and then another filled with hot air, fueled by roaring propane burners, the big colorful envelopes, rounding out and stretching for the sky.

Crowds of onlookers moved among the balloon crews, almost every one armed with a camera of some kind.

It is the most photographed event in the world, according to its promoters.

It is truly a one of kind, interactive experience as spectators become part of the scenery, mingling on the field as crews raise their balloons and depart.

Some 500 balloons from all over the world will typically take off in a mass ascension while as many as 100,000 onlookers gaze skyward from the grounds of the city’s 78-acre launch field.

But today many balloons remained grounded due to high winds in the upper atmosphere.Others though braved the conditions and float up and around at lower elevations.

Despite the flight limitations, crews filled their balloons to provide the crowd with the spectacle of sight, sound and color that they had come for.

The weather had played its hand again, forcing cancellations of some events as it has throughout the week.

Windy conditions and spotty rain in the evenings put a damper on some of the scheduled evening festivities including the hugely popular balloon glows and fireworks shows.

But the weather is all part of the experience and when it holds and the conditions are right, there’s nothing like standing on a field of grass with thousands of other people watching hundreds of aerial monuments take shape and slowly rise from the earth to our delight and amazement.

And when it’s all done by mid morning, it’s time to walk the midway in search of those special mementos and treats that can only be found amid a carnival atmosphere like this.

Breakfast burritos abound while turkey legs and pizza can also be had, too. There are beer gardens and musicians,knife jugglers and donut hawkers.

There are shops that sell football paraphernalia, hats and clothing from South America, souvenir pins, playing cards and apparel commemorating the balloon fiesta and many other items too.

But it’s the crowds of people milling about that provides a whole other show of colors, sights and sounds.

Foreign voices abound with local Indians speaking in their native tongue while tourists from overseas and down south wander about chatting excitedly in their own language.

Young kids in grunge mingle among neatly attired baby boomers while balloon enthusiast’s show off their pins with wacky, colorful, balloon shaped hats.

And everyone seems to be grinning.

There among the crowd comes a man wearing an Assumption College sweatshirt and I have to stop him and say hello.

“Hey I’m from Boston,” I told him. “We used to all pile in a car and cruise out to Worcester to chase the girls out there at Assumption. We’d party all night and then go eat big plates of baked Ziti down at the Boulevard Diner, you know the place?”

"No,” he told me with a squint, “It's my daughter who goes to school there.”

“Oh yeah,” I say trying to move on from my folly. “Hey, how about those Jets, eh?”

We find our bus and leave the balloon field behind, rolling through the north valley past the bronze colored pastures, the copper tinged cottonwoods of the Bosque and under our famed blue skies.

We yawn and wonder aloud what we'll do with the rest of the day, one that for many people has just gotten started.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Visit the Valle Vidal for Great Fall Foliage

There may be no better time to visit the Valle Vidal than in the fall when its giant groves of aspen trees erupt with vibrant colors and turn this part of the national forest into a stunning display of natural art. 

“It’s not going to get any better than this,” says Kathy De Lucas, Public Information Officer for the Carson National Forest. “Mother Nature is putting on a spectacular show right now.”

De Lucas said the aspens should be in full, fall colors this weekend due to recent warm days and cool nights and a lack of inclement weather that can strip the trees bare.

But a storm is expected to be moving through the area next week that could do just that, so foliage fanatics should get out this weekend while the weather still holds, she says.

Colors have been especially vibrant this year with a rare shade of red making an appearance among some of the golden aspens, De Lucas said.

A drive on the well-maintained gravel road, wending through the Valle Vidal, Forest Road 1950, provides visitors with the opportunity to enjoy some of the finest fall foliage the state has to offer. 

Located just north of Taos on the Colorado border the 100,000-acre Valle Vidal unit of the Carson National Forest offers great fishing and fantastic camping also.

Donated to the public by Pennzoil in 1982, the Valle Vidal has attracted many to its high mountain meadows, lakes and streams over the years.

It’s fabled among anglers for the colorful, native, cutthroat trout that inhabit the Rio Costilla, Comanche Creek and other backcountry streams.

Many of those streams were recently rehabilitated to rid them of non-native fish and then restocked with pure strain, native, cutthroat trout. The fish is noted for a distinctive red slash under its jaw and other highly colorful body markings.

And big rainbow trout are regularly stocked in Shuree Ponds where an angler's chances of catching a nice one are as a good as seeing a bear or other wild animal wander by.

Wildlife thrives throughout the Valle Vidal which has special restrictions in place to protect its vast elk herds during the early summer calving season.

The unit is a favorite among hunters for its big game animals and is a “once in a lifetime” hunt for trophy bull elk. 

A trip to the Valle Vidal almost requires an overnight campout where elk can be heard bugling or coyotes howling across the vast open meadows. 

Camping on the Valle Vidal is restricted to the two established campgrounds or in the backcountry, at least a mile from any road and where no motorized vehicles are allowed.

Backcountry campers must park only in designated parking areas or in one of the two campgrounds and then hike in.

Cimarron campground located near Shuree Ponds usually fills up first on weekends while McCrystal, on the other side of the mountain, usually has plenty of sites available. McCrystal campground attracts a lot of horseback riders because of its corrals and proximity to open meadows.

At McCrystal campground visitors will find interpretive displays along a trail to the nearby Ring Ranch homestead where several original log buildings have been restored and are occasionally still used by the Boy Scouts, Forest Service personnel and the occasional working cowboy.

At Cimarron Campground visitors will find Little Shuree Cabin, across the road from the Cimarron campground entrance, has been restored by a crew of military veterans this summer. 

Located on Ponil Creek, the log cabin was once part of the Vermejo Club, a hunting camp where the likes of early Hollywood producers, Cecil B. DeMille, and Mary Pickford, stayed and carved their initials into the interior logs.

A recent fire razed the historic cabin but the crew of five vets has since resurrected the building in which some of the logs bearing its visitors initials will be displayed again, De Lucas said.

Visitors to the Valle Vidal can see plenty of fall foliage by driving through the forest to Cimarron and then looping back though Eagle Nest and Red River to Questa. At Eagle Nest, one could also take Taos Canyon to town or head south for a return trip through Mora and Penasco.

Any of these routes make for fine fall foliage excursions, consult a map and get out there.

If You Go:
Leave Santa Fe on US 84/285, proceed to Espanola, stay on the main drag and head up State Road 68 along the Rio Grande to Taos, proceed through town and follow State Road 522 through Questa, north to the village of Costilla and then take State Road 196  into the Valle Vidal. Follow Forest Road 1950 up to Shuree Ponds and the heart of the Valle Vidal.

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