Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Visit the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Lake for winter trout fishing

The Rio Chama below Abiquiu Lake.

Every winter it seems there’s a spell of warm sunny days in northern New Mexico where anglers just have to get out and go fishing.

And on days like that they may as well just head straight for the Rio Chama below the dam at Abiquiu Lake

Long considered a winter fishery the river is regularly stocked with trout by the state Department of Game and Fish.

The river boasts about five miles of public access from the base of the dam downstream to just outside the village of Barranca near Abiquiu.

And in recent years about two miles of river directly below the dam received habitat improvements and other upgrades that have significantly improved fishing and recreation conditions.

The river channel has been narrowed, deepened and boulders were installed to improve the fishing habitat.

The river is designated special trout water with a bag limit of two from the bridge crossing the river on U.S. Highway 84 at Abiquiu for about 7 miles upstream to the base of Abiquiu Dam. Standard bait and lures along with typical fly fishing fare works well on the many stocked rainbow trout found here. 

The author with a stocked rainbow trout.

But for some the beauty of this place isn’t so much the fishing as it is the scenery. This is Georgia O’Keeffe  country with plenty of colorful cliffs, snow covered hillsides and expansive blue skies to admire.

Along the river just below the dam visitors will find a parking and picnic area with several shelters and a sturdy vault toilet. Further downstream several other picnic and parking areas are carved out by the riverside. The surrounding land is rugged and remote and well suited for hiking. 

A day use area with picnic tables, shelters, parking and a vault toilet welcomes visitors to the recreational area.

After a few miles though the river and its dirt road part ways only to reconnect again on the other side of a steep mountain.

Two track trails crisscross the area with most leading into the thick brush and dense cottonwood stands found along the riverside. 

Those with the motive and means can now continue downstream and enjoy a whole’nother stretch of river, one where the hatchery truck doesn’t visit and the fish are fewer and farther between. The resident brown trout here are decidedly harder to find and catch than their upstream kin.

An angler tries his luck in one of the fishing holes found further downstream from the dam. 

The countryside here is vast, remote and worthy of exploration but the road eventually grows rutted and mean as it squeezes through a narrow, rocky canyon marking the end of the public land.

Emerging on the other side the road turns back to pavement and winds away from the river through the rural village of Barranca.  A last ditch shot at fishing lies ahead where a roadside/riverside picnic area has been carved out just before reaching the highway at Abiquiu.

The Rio Chama with Cerrito Blanco in the background at Abiquiu N.M.

















Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Visit Trinity Site for a Real Blast from the Past!

The memorial obelisk at ground zero.
The Army expects bigger crowds and longer waits for the public to visit the Trinity Site on White Sands Missile Range this fall due to the recent release of the movie “Oppenheimer.”  

The remote military base in the New Mexico desert was the test site for the world’s first explosion of an atom bomb and is opened to the public twice a year.

“Due to the release of the movie, “Oppenheimer” in July, we are expecting a larger than normal crowd at the 21 October open house,” according to an alert posted on the Army’s Trinity Site web page. “You may experience wait times of up to two hours getting onto the site. If you are not one of the first 5,000 visitors, you might not get through the gate prior to its’ closure at 2 p.m.” 

Sweet duty for this group of soldiers who said they enjoyed working with the public.
During its April open house the Army saw about 3,900 visitors and it took just over an hour for the author’s vehicle to slowly make its way up to and through the manned checkpoint to gain entrance to the site.  

We arrived at around 9:30 a.m. after spending the night at the Days Inn in nearby Socorro where Trinity Site visitors will need to book a room well in advance if they want to stay in town. 

Those who prefer to camp out can find some sites just outside of San Antonio at the Riverine Park off U.S. 380 in the Bosque alongside the irrigation canal. We observed others camped out on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land on the road leading to the Stallion Gate on White Sands Missile Range.

Primitive campsites at Riverine Park off U.S. 380 outside of San Antonio.
Travel to the site from Las Cruces or Albuqueque takes a couple of hours and visitors can only gain entrance through the Stallion Gate on N.M. 525 located off U.S. 380 between San Antonio and Carrizozo. The gate opens at 8 a.m. ID is required. No firearms or marijuana allowed. The call of nature can be strong when waiting in line. Prepare accordingly. See the site's website for more info.

Trinity Site is where the first atomic bomb was tested at 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain War Time on July 16, 1945. The 19-kiloton explosion not only led to a quick end to the war in the Pacific but also ushered the world into the atomic age. All life on Earth has been touched by the event, which took place here, according to a brochure on the Trinity Site's webpages

The ranch house where it all came together.
The 51,500-acre area was declared a national historic landmark in 1975. The landmark includes base camp, where the scientists and support group lived; ground zero, where the bomb was placed for the explosion; and the Schmidt/McDonald ranch house, where the plutonium core to the bomb was assembled. Visitors to a Trinity Site Open House are given the opportunity to visit ground zero and the ranch house. In addition, one of the old instrumentation bunkers is visible beside the road just west of ground zero. 

Socorro's plaza area is well worth exploring.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Riding the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad

Autumn is a great time to take a ride into New Mexico’s high country to see the trees changing colors from aboard one of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad’s antique trains.

The railroad’s steam locomotives chug along over 64 miles of narrow gauge track spanning the mountains between Chama, N.M., and Antonito, Colo., crossing both state’s borders 11 times.

As the trains wends its way up and over 10,000-foot high Cumbres Pass at a top speed of 12 miles-per-hour, passengers have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. 

The passing countryside includes wide meadows of native grasses bordered by thick stands of aspen and pines trees through which the Los Pinos River meanders. Adventurous anglers seeking a bucket list experience can arrange to be dropped off and picked up later at a predetermined spot along the route.

Passengers can book passage aboard the train’s antique coach, parlor, or deluxe cars, which offer varying degrees of services and amenities. Any passenger can ride out on the open air car where exposure to the elements provides a heightened experience.

And with stations on both ends of the line in either Chama, N.M. or Antonito, Colo., passengers can plan their adventure from either side of the mountains.

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad depot at Antonito, Colo.

Just make sure you remember from which station you’re departing before you hit the road. 

During a recent autumn outing to catch the train we were cruising up U.S. 285 in remote northern New Mexico, about half way to Colorado, when it suddenly dawned on us that we were on the wrong side of the mountains. Out of habit we had taken the turnoff just north of Española where U.S. 84/285 splits because that’s the highway we usually take to go up to Colorado.

But today we were supposed to be on the other side of the Tusas Mountains, headed up U.S. 84 through Chama to catch the midday train at Cumbres Pass. Instead we were cutting through miles of empty sage, spruce and piñon studded countryside headed for Antonito in southern Colorado.

We got lucky though as we were just coming up to the intersection at Tres Piedras where we could take U.S. 64 over the mountains back to Chama. It was a shame we had to hurry because the fall scenery along this highway was at its peak and screaming for us to stop and take photographs.

We hustled to make the train and passed it just as we motoring up the mountain to Cumbres Pass station. The remote mountaintop station in the national forest sits at a jumping off point for Continental Divide Trail hikers and boasts primitive camp sites amid great scenic views.

Once on board we found our assigned seats and soon enjoyed the rhythmic rocking of the train, the clattering of the tracks and the warm sun and gentle breezes flowing through our open windows.

Wren Propp and Karl Moffatt enjoy a recent autumn ride on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.

Passing through dark tunnels, creeping along the edge of steep canyons and crossing over towering trestle bridges, the train marked its passage with the hoot and wail of its haunting steam whistle.

Arriving at Osier Station high in the mountains we were treated to a full blown buffet lunch inside the sprawling cafeteria.

The menu included green or red chile enchiladas, grilled chicken and barbecue pork, pinto beans, roasted potatoes, salads, coleslaw, cornbread, dinner rolls, tortillas, peach cobbler and other desserts.

Back onboard the train the bar car was serving up Coors tall boys and other adult beverages during the return trip. When we got back to Cumbres Pass I  surreptitiously stayed on board while my wife got off and picked me up later at the end of the line in Chama.

During the return trip I had the pleasure of hanging out between the cars with a young conductor who told me how much he loved his job but didn’t know if he could still continue doing it every summer now that he was finally graduating from college back in Oklahoma. He would soon be starting his teaching career and had a girlfriend back there too.

Boy, this poor guy sure seemed conflicted so I offered him my best advice about jobs and women, noting how both were in great supply compared to a fun gig like working on the railroad. I wished him the best of luck in getting his priorities straight as we rolled into Chama and parted ways.

Several months later I was watching the local news when they aired a story about the train featuring the same conductor. There he was telling the reporter how he was planning to be a teacher that winter but no matter what would be back on the railroad every summer after that for as long as they would have him.

Smart kid that conductor.

Visit the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad's website at https://cumbrestoltec.com/ for more information.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Fort Sumner & Bosque Redondo - Small Town Charm Amid a Violent Past

By Wren Propp

Serious events of more than 150 years ago play a major role in the lifeblood of Fort Sumner, home to the Bosque Redondo Memorial and Billy the Kid's gravesite. But visitors also can enjoy fishing, birding, camping, and even old fashioned soda fountain while taking in all that history.

On one hand visitors may come to see the gravesite of Billy the Kid, a Lincoln County War character whose mythologized youth (he was a starving orphan) and homicidal bravado usually overshadows the bloody reasons for the war itself. There’s a private museum and references throughout town referring to the Kid who was finally hunted down and killed here by Sheriff Pat Garrett back in 1881. 

Then on the other hand, there's the memorial and education center dedicated to the sorrow and survival of two Indian tribes. The center recalls the suffering of the Diné (Navajo) after thousands of them were forcibly and murderously marched by the U.S. Army from their homeland in northwestern New Mexico to imprisonment at Fort Sumner, on the far eastern side of the territory. The forced marches came to be known as The Long Walk. The Diné were joined at "the Fort" by other prisoners, the Ndé (Mescalero Apache) from southern New Mexico.

You may think “museum” as you approach the Bosque Redondo Memorial but it really isn't.

It's a state sponsored historical site, an international site of consciousness, intended to raise awareness of the horrific treatment the two native groups experienced, and some survived, in the 1860s. Inside visitors will find art, historical documents and artifacts, interpretive signs and other displays that tell their story. Visitors also will find thoughtfully appointed quiet areas throughout the memorial where guests can privately reflect upon what they've learned during their visit.

The Bosque Redondo Memorial marks the place “where misery laid down its head every night.” Thousands of people were held against their will, suffering starvation, exploitation, cultural dismemberment and often, death.

The ultimate triumph of both the Diné and the Ndé over their captors is so remarkable, and historically significant, it's surprising that no one’s made a dramatic movie about it (yet) although there is a documentary film from 2009.

Bosque Redondo was the site of the signing of the 1868 Treaty between the U.S. and the Diné, a document that guides the relationship between the tribe and the federal government today. The Ndé also signed a treaty, albeit after they left Fort Sumner.

The impetus of the current memorial came from a 1990 letter signed by several Diné high school students who called out for more recognition of their people’s suffering and survival at the Bosque Redondo site. 

The students had toured a small museum near the site of the old fort and were stunned that the deadly imprisonment of their ancestors, and the signing of the 1868 Treaty, were mere footnotes beside robust histories of Billy the Kid and the U.S. Army. You can read the letter that compelled the state to build the memorial while visiting the site or on the memorial’s website.

The Kid’s gravestone, the Bosque Redondo Memorial and another popular local attraction, Bosque Redondo Lake, are found about six miles southeast of the town of Fort Sumner in an area surrounded by family farms and ranches where visitors can see sheep, cattle, goats and horses grazing contently.

 Campers and day visitors can enjoy Bosque Redondo Lake and its camp sites, bird watching, fishing and hiking and biking trails. The Pecos River flows nearby in wet years, feeding the area’s wealth of ponds and lakes. The area also features Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa State Parks where visitors can enjoy some great fishing for walleye, bass, catfish and trout. Reservations for overnight camping at these parks can be made through the New Mexico State Park’s website. 

In addition to the Bosque Redondo Memorial visitors can also visit a private museum dedicated to Billy the Kid as well as his grave site. The Billy the Kid Museum also has an RV park if camping at one of the area lakes is not available.

Back in town visitors might enjoy stopping in at Addison’s Drug Store where an art deco-style soda fountain is still in operation. Kept in working order since the 1940s, its shiny blue and chrome décor will charm you while you sip a soda or spoon up a thick shake. Booths in the back harbor friendly locals who will tell you exactly how to find Billy the Kid's grave.

Dave’s Grocery, a family owned market that any small town “west of the Pecos” would be happy to have, featured fresh vegetables, ground beef and a separate section for hardware. During our recent visit the male clerks were dressed in jeans and button down shirts and happily serving a steady stream of little kids and their mommas, retirees and tourists. There's also a couple of cannabis stores in town, a shop selling locally produced honey, drive-in burger and and ice cream joint and a very busy NAPA auto parts store. 

There’s also two substantial convenience stores in town including an Allsup's, known throughout New Mexico for their deep fried chimichangas and burritos.  We found the service during our visit refreshingly friendly in these post-Covid times, with many clerks offering friendly greetings and good humor. In fact, everyone we encountered during our visit throughout Fort Sumner, from the ladies at Addison’s soda fountain to the folks at the Bosque Redondo Memorial, were warm and greeted us politely. 

For non-campers, there’s plenty of hotel rooms at several different establishments in town. During our visit we stayed at the Super 8, which featured huge photographic prints of Shiprock, Tse Bit’a’ i, or the "rock with wings,” an iconic volcanic formation near the Four Corners area, and other images tied to the Diné homeland.

And around town some empty storefront windows are still decorated with advertisements for the 2018,  150th anniversary of the signing of the 1868 Treaty that set the Indians free and commemorated at the memorial and throughout Fort Sumner.

Fort Sumner's small town charm and vibrancy speaks of a promising future and its recognition and acceptance of its violent and sobering past does too. 

 The author is a former Farmington Daily Times reporter who along with fellow reporter, Debi Tracy Olsen, earned an E.H. Shaffer Award for Journalism for their series documenting The Long Walk in the early 1990s. They visited the memorial together during this trip. 

Things to do and see around Fort Sumner, NM:

·       Bosque Redondo Memorial – open Thursdays through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., $7 adult; children enter for free; Museums of New Mexico Cultural Pass accepted. https://nmhistoricsites.org/bosque-redondo.

      Billy the Kid’s grave site https://www.fortsumner.net/parksrec/page/billy-kid%E2%80%99s-gravesite

      Billy the Kid Museum – Open Monday through Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Adults $5; Seniors $4; Children 7 to 15, $3, and under 6, free. Closed some holidays and first two weeks of the year. https://billythekidmuseumfortsumner.com/index.html

Bosque Redondo Lake Park -- Well-kept day and overnight spots at this small lake with lots of bird life. No entrance fee observed.

Sumner State Lake Park -- reservations needed for camp sites. https://www.emnrd.nm.gov/spd/find-a-park/sumner-lake-state-park/

Santa Rosa Lake State Park https://www.emnrd.nm.gov/spd/find-a-park/santa-rosa-lake-state-park/ . Several non-reservation camping spots available.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Visit New Mexico's Plains During Summer Monsoon Rains


N.M. 72 between Raton and Folsom.

The summer monsoon season is a great time to visit New Mexico’s plains country as abundant rain prompts the prairie to green up and explode with colorful wildflowers.

And one of the best drives to enjoy the view is a 75-mile roundtrip from Raton over Johnson Mesa to the historic town of Folsom and on to Capulin Volcano and back.

But first you have to get out of Raton where the town’s Victorian architecture, downtown historic district and other attractions can draw and hold visitors.

The historic Shuler Theatre in downtown Raton.

During a recent visit to the area we stayed overnight at nearby Sugarite Canyon State Park where the hilltop Soda Pocket campground has good sites with great views. There’s also plenty of easy hiking trails and decent fishing at nearby Lakes Maloya, Alice and Dorothy.  For Outdoors New Mexico’s story about the Sugarite State Park  follow this link.

A campsite at Soda Pocket Campground in Sugarite Canyon State Park. 

But the road trip is why we came and it starts just off the road to the state park at the intersection of N.M. 72. This two-lane paved road winds its way up onto remote Johnson Mesa where miles of rolling grassland dominate the landscape.

At the turn of the last century the mesa top would have been dotted with 160-acre homesteads where hardy pioneers attempted to eke out a living. Despite ample rain and good soil, the cold, windy winters and lack of a steady water source conspired to drive off the many farmers that once lived there. Now cattle and horses are the primary residents of the lush fields and pastures.

Johnson Mesa.

Along the way visitors will find a sturdy, rock church by the roadside.  St. John's Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1897 and is listed on the state and national registers of historic places. It is well maintained by volunteers, still holds services and is frequently open for the public to visit.

Historic St. Johns Methodist Episcopal Church on Johnson Mesa.

Driving off the mesa and down towards the town of Folsom visitors could find a wall of wild flowers lining each side of the road.

A stop at the Folsom Museum will reveal plenty about why this sleepy little town has played such a big role in New Mexico history.

The Folsom Museum.

Among its many claims to fame is that it’s home to one of the most important archaeological discoveries in North America. Following an disasterous flood in 1908, a local black cowboy who also was a self-taught, amateur archaeologist and historian, George McJunkin, discovered an exposed trove of fossilized Bison bones protruding from a washed out arroyo. Upon further excavation by archaeologists years later numerous hunters’ spear points were found among the many bison skeletons. The discovery prompted the archaeology community to reevaluate their understanding of when humans first occupied North America, pushing back their estimates by at least 5,000 years to 12,000 years, according to published accounts.

McJunkin's hat and other items about him on display at the Folsom Museum.

Folsom once boasted several saloons, restaurants, hardware and merchandise stores, doctors and newspaper offices, schools and other establishments to serve the many farmers and ranchers from the surrounding area.

But recurring drought and other difficult economic conditions led many to leave the area and today Folsom is home to just 56 residents and some very old, historic buildings, according to the 2020 Census.

The old Folsom Hotel.

After exploring Folsom, visitors will find Capulin Volcano National Monument just down the road where they can drive two miles to the top of the 1,300 foot tall volcano and enjoy amazing views of the surrounding countryside. Pedestrians, bicyclists, trailers, towed vehicles and any vehicles over 26 feet long are not allowed on the steep, narrow road. 

A view from atop Capulin Volcano.

Visitors will find a strenuous hike at an elevation of over 8,100 feet if they wish to walk around the rim of the ancient volcano. Monument staff are typically on hand in the parking lot to provide information to inquisitive tourists.

To finish the roundtrip motorists drive 32 miles on U.S. 64 back to Raton.

The plains near Raton, N.M.

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