Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tent Rocks National Monument Delivers Spectacular Scenery

It can be a challenging and exciting climb to the top of the Canyon Trail at Tent Rocks National Monument but those who make it are rewarded with a striking panoramic view of the valley floor below.

From on high one can see the sparkling waters of the Rio Grande forming the lake at Cochiti dam, the spreading plains to the east, the Ortiz mountains looming in the south and the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Moutains to the north and west.

But it is the view from behind, from where the hiker just came, that may be the most impressive as the eerie tent-shaped hoodoos for which this place is named dominate the scene.

Rising from the ground like so many dusty colored Christmas trees, the late afternoon light here in the canyon makes for impressive shadows, stunning contrasts and intriguing memories of these rock formations.

Located just south of Santa Fe near Cochiti Pueblo, the national monument has seen many improvements of late making it worth a return visit.

Gone is the bone-jarring, five-mile dirt road that used to lead to the Canyon and Cave Loop trailheads.

It has since been replaced by a smooth ribbon of asphalt and concrete pads where the road crosses several arroyos.

Visitors to the trailhead will find the easy, 1.2 mile Cave Loop trail and the more challenging and rewarding Canyon trail awaiting.

The Cave Loop trail provides a good view of the surrounding tent rocks and multi-colored hillsides along with access to a small cave carved into the rock wall by ancient dwellers.

The compelling Canyon Trail leads visitors up into a tight high-walled canyon where lone Ponderosa pines have taken root and stretch mightily for the skies.

Working one’s way up the sandy floor, squeezing at one point underneath a boulder wedged between the walls, one can’t help but feel a touch of claustrophobia.

Any anxiety produced by the tight confines soon diminishes though as one begins to climb up and out to the mesa top above. On the way one need only stop and look back to see the towering tent rocks and softly hued rock walls that make this place such a rare find.

The Canyon trail is listed at 1.6 miles with a short but steep, 630 foot ascent. The trail itself is well worn, with easily managed switchbacks and the resulting view is one of the more rewarding to be found in the state.

Upon climbing back down the canyon, hikers can take the Cave Loop trail at its intersection and find the hike is not much longer than just heading straight back to the lot. The trail ends as it threads its way through a well defined group of the tent rock formations.

The tent rocks are the byproduct of volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago that helped shape and form the Jemez region. Formed of soft pumice and tuff many of the tent rocks are protected from erosion by a cap rock perched precariously upon its peak.

The multi-colored bands seen in cliff faced walls were formed by different layers of ash piling up during long ago, volcanic events.

Posted on the BLM’s webpage dedicated to the monument is an extremely informative student trail guide that can printed out and taken along for a more inclusive hike.

A map and guide specifically dedicated to the monument published by High Desert Field Guides of Santa Fe and authored by geologists Kirt Kempter and Dick Huelster can also be obtained at the convienance store in the nearby town of Cochiti Lake or through the Public Lands Information Center which operates a store off St. Rd 14 on Dinosaur Trail.

And just a few miles up the road from the monument trailheads, visitors will find a new mile long, wheelchair suitable, hiking loop has been installed along with new picnic shelters, a modern outhouse and improved parking at the Veterans Memorial Overlook.

Here the surrounding peaks of the Jemez Mountains and views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains dominate the horizon while Peralta Canyon and its impressive rock formations can be seen below.

The windswept bluff at the overlook is a quiet, contemplative kind of place where one might be inclined to have a picnic or relax with a good book.

Tent Rocks National Monument is also called Kasha-Katuwe (white cliffs) and is jointly managed by the BLM and Cochiti Pueblo. In 2009 the monument recorded about 50,000 visitors including 45 school groups, according to latest available manager’s report posted on the BLM’s website.

Specific rules are in place at the monument including no alcohol, mountain bikes or dogs allowed, not even those to be left in a vehicle. For more info see the BLM’s website at

The site is open during the summer hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and costs $5 for entrance.

 If You Go:

From Santa Fe take I-25 south to the turn off to Cochiti Lake at the bottom of La Bajada and follow St. Rd 16 to the intersection of St. Rd 22. Head west towards the mountains and Cochiti Dam. Just past the base of the dam turn south on 22 towards Cochiti Pueblo and the town of Sile. Follow the signs to the monument entrance.

Looking up and out from the bottom of Canyon Trail at Tent Rocks National Monument in  New Mexico.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Visit Wildlife West Nature Park to See Wild Animals Up Close

If it’s wolves you’re looking for, then the Wildlife West Nature Park in Edgewood is a good place of find them, along with plenty of other enlightening and entertaining animals.

The 122-acre park offers sanctuary for wildlife that for one reason or another could no longer survive on their own.

And for a lucky few, they have found a comfortable, natural, environment where they can live out the rest of their lives while also serving to educate and entertain the public.

The non-profit nature park is the lifework of Roger Alink, a Vietnam era Army veteran and retired high school shop teacher and host of some 4,000 school kids each year on field trips.
Roger Alink and Lucky the Deer.
Alink proudly notes that the park may be the world’s only zoo constructed entirely by youth, many of whom were Youth Conservation Corps members.

Alink, who earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial education and a master’s degree in outdoor recreation, both from the University of New Mexico, believes most kids these days suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

Alink, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota, did his best to combat that condition among his students while serving as shop teacher for Albuquerque’s Valley High School, where he ran an after-school stock car racing club and a mountaineering club.

The clubs helped give kids confidence, experience and skills they’d need in the outside world.

Alink, 63, is married to Terrie and is the father of two of his own children. His son, Brian, works in finance in Dallas and his daughter, Emily, is an industrial designer living in Seattle. Alink is the proud grandfather of six.

But Alink had an even bigger dream for helping kids, and that’s why he undertook creation of the nature park.

It’s a place where “education, nature, and hands-on experience with everything from animal husbandry to construction and conservation, provides a unique learning and development experience for young people,” Alink states on his website at

During a recent visit to the park, Alink, a licensed contractor, pointed out how many of the park facilities incorporate recycled materials including animal enclosures made out of used tires encased in stucco.

The park’s amphitheatre is constructed of steel beams, poles and siding recovered from a defunct Albuquerque nursery.

There’s a water catchment and containment system to provide additional water for the facility, gardens that produce vegetables for the animals and even a small pond and wetland area to provide natural habitat.

Alink notes out that many of the park’s animal enclosures incorporate native trees, rocks and other features which provide the animal with a natural environment in which to live.

Feeding too is done in such a manner as to encourage the animals’ natural tendencies, such as placing meat in a tree to encourage climbing or hiding it to stimulate an animal’s problem solving abilities.

What’s apparent during a visit to the park on a quiet, late winter’s day is how well cared for and happy the animals appear.

An antelope approaches a visitor and beckons to have its head scratched and its rubbery horns wrestled with. A curious javelina comes out of its hiding spot at the sound of a human voice and ambles over to the plastic viewing window to find out who’s there, sniffing heavily around the window’s seams.

There’s a perky looking but aloof bobcat, much too intent on watching something off in the distance to pay a visitor any mind.

And behind another plastic window in an enclosure lounges a luxurious mountain lion in the dirt while a sleepy bear with an inquisitive nose greets Alink and his visitor this balmy winter’s day.

The park has a large contingent of raptors and other birds under its care, including a colorful pair of Crested Caracaras, the national bird of Mexico, and a one-eyed golden eagle kept in a large screened enclosure where it has some room to fly.
A Crested Caracaras,the national bird of Mexico.
Other birds include owls and even a turkey vulture.

But it’s the recent addition of three young male wolves that really has the park buzzing as the spirited group grows accustomed to their new home.

Members of a pack raised in captivity for eventual release by the United State Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the three never made it into the wild and were instead moved to the nature park to make room for others in the release program, according to Tom Buckley, Public Affairs Specialist with the USFWS in Albuquerque.

Those interested in hanging out with the wolves need not venture all the way into the Gila Wilderness to do so as visitors to the park in Edgewood can spend a night in a “blind” where they can unobtrusively observe, photograph and listen to the animals.

“If you spend the night, you’ll hear them and it’s pretty special,” Alink says.

Photographers have shown a lot of interest in the new pack and the blind operation, he added.

Visitors can also spend the night at the mountain lion enclosure and both programs are part of many innovative ideas the park utilizes to support its operations.
Take the back road to Edgewood and see some of what makes New Mexico so special.
The park plays host to a wind festival in May featuring kite flying, then there’s the Hammers and Hooves Horse Fair and Blacksmith Competition in June and a highly popular summer music festival in July and in the fall a harvest festival.

Also throughout the summer months, visitors will find regularly scheduled Saturday night Chuck Wagon dinners featuring classic BBQ and the fixings, hay rides, western music and animal shows.

The park also provides regular classes for the park’s many volunteers and members of the public including bird handling and animal keeping, there’s a summer camp for junior zoo keepers and guided educational field trips to the park.

The park has facilities for rent and Alink, the executive director of the operation, is always open to new ideas. More info about the park and its many programs can be found on its website at
The doorway to nowhere on State Road 14.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Fly Fishing Film Festival Proceeds to Benefit the San Juan River

Aaron Carithers of Anasazi Anglers and a native San Juan River Brown trout.
By Karl Moffatt
Fly fishing fanatics can get their fix and do some good by attending an upcoming film tour in which proceeds will go to trout habitat improvements and other worthy projects on the state’s top angling attraction, the San Juan River below Navajo Dam, sponsors say.

“Anyone who loves to fish and truly cares about this trophy-class trout stream should come on down to the show,” says Larry Johnson of the San Juan River Guide Association, one the local fly- fishing film tour’s primary sponsors. “The films are great, there’ll be fabulous raffle prizes and it’s a wonderful opportunity to show support for our beautiful San Juan River.”

The San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico draws thousands of fly-fishing enthusiasts to its waters each year for the opportunity to catch and release big trout and is consistently rated among the country’s top ten trout fisheries.

But because of ongoing low flows, the river, one of state’s top tourism draws estimated to bring in up to $40 million a year, is in need of habitat and other improvement projects to keep it special for anglers and trout alike.
E.T.Rock on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam, New Mexico.
Thus members of the angling community have come together to sponsor the fly-fishing film tour in March with shows in Albuquerque and Santa Fe with proceeds to fund future projects on the San Juan River.
The film tour’s New Mexico debut is scheduled for Friday, March 11, at the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town at 800 Rio Grande Blvd. NW and is sponsored by Charlie’s Sporting Goods and the Los Pinos Fly Shop.

T.J. Trout of 94 Rock, an avid trout fisherman, will emcee the event, which will feature a no-host bar, food carts, vendors’ booths and a raffle at intermission for prizes such as rods and reels or guided trips and lodging on the San Juan River.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with over two hours of films slated to begin at 7 p.m.

And in Santa Fe the film tour will show at the Lodge at Santa Fe, 750 North St. Francis Drive, on March 25 with the Reel Life and High Desert Anglers fly shops sponsoring.

The event will feature similar attractions to those found in Albuquerque with the doors opening at 5:30 p.m. and the show to begin at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $15 at the door or $10 when purchased at the sponsors’ stores.

Proceeds will go to yet to be determined projects on the San Juan that have been endorsed by New Mexico Trout, the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the San Juan River Guide Association.

Baetis Bend on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam, New Mexico.
Heritage Hotels, which operates both the Hotel Albuquerque and the Lodge at Santa Fe, donated cinemagraphic accommodations for the film festival, Johnson said.

Films to be shown include a documentary of the exploits of four die-hard fishermen doing whatever it takes to survive on the open road for nearly four months on an epic, overland, fly-fishing adventure.

Beginning in Portland, Oregon, the crew converts a diesel truck to run on vegetable oil, while they beg, borrow, and barter ways to fuel their 8,000-mile journey to the tip of Baja and across mainland Mexico to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula.

While en route to their fishing destinations, the crew tries desperately to avoid harassment from local law enforcement and from being kidnapped and held for ransom by the drug cartels.

Another film features two childhood friends whose lifelong dream of exploring the wilderness of the South Island of New Zealand becomes reality and the experience of a lifetime.

Other segments include films dedicated to Muskie fishing in Wisconsin, fishing the marshes of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and fly fishing for shark, permit and smallmouth bass in unique locations.

And the show will feature a sneak preview of the first 20 minutes of the film "Low & Clear", a story about a winter fly-fishing trip to Canada that serves as catalyst for two old friends who have gone their separate ways.

Old fishing buddies Glenn May and Karl Moffatt at Texas Hole on the San Juan River in December 2003.
With days spent in icy waters and cramped motel rooms, the two discover they may have grown too far apart as ideologies and egos clash.

A meditation on friendship, the film seeks to examine how for some, life can be about fishing and for others, fishing can be about life.

The Fly Fishing Film Tour is the work of the Webeye Group out of Boulder, Colo., and more information about the national tour can be found at their website at

For more info about the local film tour contact Larry Johnson by email at Soaring Eagle Lodge at or by telephone at (505) 632-3721.

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