Saturday, December 29, 2007

Snowshoeing 101 - Fun and Easy Winter Hiking

High up in the mountains above Santa Fe where the air is crisp and the sun shines brilliantly during a lull between storms, professional hiking guide Karen Denison points out the faint tracks of a snowshoe hare atop the deep snow.

“Looks like a dog’s tracks there too, the way they’re going crazy all over the place,” she says.

I imagine a big, goofy lab out for a romp in the snow, its legs all going in different directions as it chases the rabbit’s scent.

Like the hare, a hiker in snowshoes can easily glide across the snow, venturing deep into woods on a beautiful winter’s day.

Denison, who has dedicated herself to teaching women and others how to enjoy the outdoors, says the key to good snowshoeing is getting out there!

Beginners can rent snowshoes and ski poles at any number of the local ski shops and head up Hyde Park Road to Black Canyon Campground or Aspen Vista Road for an easy introduction to the sport.

“It’s fun and unlike skiing, you can get out into the woods where you’ll see all sorts of wildlife tracks in the snow,” Denison says. “You can really get some notion of how many critters there really are out there.”

Denison stresses that snowshoeing is an active endeavor and hikers need to dress accordingly, in layers that can be put on and taken off as conditions dictate.

Hikers should use wicking underwear made of polypropylene, silk or wool to pull sweat away from the skin to ward off chills. The next layer should consist of a warm layer such as fleece, wool or other insulating material and lastly, a nylon or breathable material shell to ward off wind and moisture.

Footwear should consist of stout, waterproof boots, such as snow-paks or hunting boots worn with thick fleece or wool socks and waterproof gaiters to keep the cold and wet snow in check.

Top your outfit off with a suitable hat, something that can warm the ears and keep the sun and other elements out of the eyes. Also bring a warm, waterproof pair of gloves.

Denison also highly recommends using sunscreen and sunglasses to protect from being burned or blinded by the sun’s intense glare coming off the snow.

Lastly, Denison stresses the need to stay hydrated while out hiking as dehydration can contribute to the deadly condition, hypothermia.

“In the winter it’s something you have remind yourself to do because all the usual clues might not be present,” she said.

Dension said one of her scariest outdoor incidents was when she and her husband were cross-country skiing to a backcountry yurt in the mountains above Chama when they got caught in a snowstorm. Her husband, Terry Taddeucci, a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos National Lab, was doing the hard work of breaking trail when he began to exhibit signs of hypothermia.

“I knew something was wrong with him because he was actually listening to me for a change,” Denison said.

Blinded by the snow but armed with a GPS (Global Positioning System) device they managed to find their shelter and safety before things got too serious.

“But he was dehydrated and wiped out for the whole next day,” she said.

Those interested in learning more about the joys of snowshoeing and winter hiking can enroll in Denison’s continuing education class at Santa Fe Community College in mid-February.

Karen Denison of Outspire guided hiking tours takes a break while snowshoeing on a hilltop high above Santa Fe during the winter of 2007.

And that’s what Denison can usually be found doing when she’s not guiding clients on day hikes around Santa Fe, teaching others about the outdoors and its many recreational opportunities.

Denison’s own introduction to the outdoors began while growing up in Dover, Ohio, where she learned to fish with bait and spinners as a youth.

She then came out west when her husband was offered a job on the hill.

Denison, a degreed biologist, found work with for the Santa Fe-based biotech company, Vivigen.

Then one afternoon while fishing on the Conjeos River in Southern Colorado she found herself in the middle of a great insect hatch and her life took a turn.

“There were all these fish rising and all I had was my spinning rod with a Wooley Worm on a bubble and of course I wasn’t catching anything,” she said. “I was so mad and then I realized that this was the water for which flyfishing was made.”

Wanting to learn more about flyfishing she enrolled in a flyfishing class at the Santa Fe Community College taught by the owner of the High Desert Angler High flyshop, Jan Crawford.

Crawford was one of the founding members of the women’s flyfishing group She Fishes! and a leader in the female, flyfishing movement in New Mexico. The two became good friends.

“She slowly dragged me out of the science field and into the flyshop,” said Denison who became a fishing guide under Crawford and with eventually co-authored the book “Fly Patterns of Northern New Mexico” along with former High Desert Angler shop manager, Bill Orr. (See related blog article about Mr. Orr at Flyfishing 101- A how to Guide.)

Crawford and Denison worked together for many years until Crawford decided to sell the shop to a younger crew and move up to Creede, Colo.

The two still work together however, hosting and teaching a women’s flyfishing school and retreat at the 4UR Ranch during the summer.

It’s a great opportunity for like minded women to get together on the water, learn the sport and share each others company, Dension said.

For more details about this event check out the link at .

Denison also remains involved in the local flyfishing scene through her work at The Reel Life flyshop in Sanbusco Market in downtown Santa Fe where she teaches flycasting, flytying and introductory flyfishing.

For more details about what this Santa Fe flyshop has to offer check them out at .

And as if that’s not enough to keep her busy, Denison has devoted her time for the last 10 years to teaching women how to use GPS navigation through the state Department of Game and Fish sponsored “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” program.

The program is held every year at the NRA’s Whittington Center near Raton and offers classes such as basic firearms instruction, first aid, flyfishing and tying, camp skills and outdoor cooking, big game field dressing, geology, wildlife and plant identification, tracking and sign cutting and other outdoors skills.

For more info about this program go to www.bownewmexico.

Denison said she loves being an outdoors guide, sharing her knowledge and experience with others and hopes more women will follow her lead and get out there!

This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

NM News - San Juan Improvement Project Complete

Left, state Department of Game and Fish, San Juan Fishery Biologist, Marc Wethington, discusses rock arrangments with Heavy Equipment Operator, Reggie Davis of Adobe Contractors of Bloomfield, during the third and final phase of fish habitat improvements on the San Juan River in November 2007.

The third and final phase of an ambitious fish habitat improvement project on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam has been completed for the benefit of anglers who frequent the waters near Cottonwood Campground.

“It’s fishing good, fabulous,” said Jay Vigil, a guide and clerk at the Sportsman Bar and Grill in Navajo Dam.

Vigil said he and his wife, Martha, fished the project waters just days after the work had been completed.

“Now that’s my kind of river, lots of structure and deeper channels for the fish to hold in,” he said. “They did a fabulous job, people will definitely appreciate it.”

Crews spent about a week installing an estimated 500 tons of boulders in a little over a half mile of water fronting Cottonwood Campground and Recreation Area down to the Pumphouse Run, said Marc Wethington, San Juan Fisheries Biologist for the state Department of Game and Fish.

Water flows on the river were reduced by half from the usual winter flow of 500 cfs (cubic-feet-per-second) to accommodate the work for about a week.

A tractor with a movable arm fitted with a pincher claw worked out of the riverbed, picking up and positioning the boulders that had been hauled to the riverbank from a nearby quarry.

Heavy Equipment Operator, Reggie Davis, of Adobe Contractors of Bloomfield said it was “different” working his big rig in running water.

“I’d be concentrating on my work and then look out the side window and see the water passing by,” Davis said. “I’d get that weird optical illusion like we were floating away. That took some getting used to.”

But Davis soon became adept at picking up and dropping the boulders in their proper spot, scooping out a hole behind the rock and then tamping it down with a tap of the machine’s heavy bucket.

“He made short work of this,” Wethington said as he watched Davis work under threatening skies during one of the last days of the weeklong project.

Chris Philips of Riverbed Engineering of Pagosa Springs, Colo. provided oversight for much of the work.

“We’re not working with a natural river anymore because of the dam construction,” he said while inspecting the work late one afternoon. “We don’t have the natural flows and sendiment loads to do this work for us so we’re nudging the river in the direction it needs to be and we’re trying to make it look as natural as we can.”

Wethington, 43, a Kirtland native who has been stationed on the San Juan for the last 12 years, spearheaded the effort but praise those in the background who stepped up to contribute to the cause.

Adobe Construction donated workers like Davis while Volvo heavy equipment dealer, Golden Equipment of Farmington, contributed the machinery needed to haul and place the boulders.

Area oil and gas drilling firms, Williams Oil, Devon Energy and Conoco Philips contributed funding as did the Float and Fish Fly Shop of Navajo Dam.

And the San Juan Fly Fishing Federation and the local BLM office were also instrumental in seeing the project through to completion, Wethington said.

Wethington estimated the three phase project cost about $175,000 including Sikes Act funds from the sale of habitat stamps required of all those who hunt and fish on public lands in New Mexico.

The latest phase of the project included reclaiming riverbank, narrowing and deepening the main channel, installing structure such as boulders and downed cottonwood tree trunks to provide attractive holding areas for fish.

Prior to the work, the river spread out at Cottonwood Campground over a wide, shallow, featureless expanse and did little to encourage fish to congregate there.
Up to 60,000 catchable fish, 9 to 11-inches in length, are routinely stocked in the “bait” waters of the San Juan each a year, Wethington said.

Many of those fish will now have more suitable habitat to live in and anglers should find it easier to locate and attempt to catch those fish, he said.

“We are trying to provide increased angling opportunities to as diverse a population of anglers as possible,” he said.

Over the last two winters similar work was done on a stretch of water below Simon Canyon and above the Gravel Pit where drift boats and their guides take out. That work has already produced benefits as evidenced during recent insect hatches which have revealed greater numbers of rising fish (see related article).

The San Juan is one of the west’s top trout waters, a legendary, trophy class trout fishery fueled by consistent flows and clear, cold water.

The river lures anglers from all over the world to stalk its quality waters which are home to an estimated 75,000 trout.

The first quarter mile of the river below Navajo Dam is strictly catch and release and the remaining four miles have a bag limit of one trout over 20-inches with the angler required to stop fishing once they have taken a fish of that size, that day.

Single, barbless lures are required on the quality waters.

Below the quality waters, anglers can use bait and the normal bag limit is in effect on public access to another 3.5 miles of river including the Cottonwood Campground area.

Anglers spend about 250,000 hours a year fishing on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam and contribute an estimated $20 million to $30 million to the state’s economy annually, Wethington said.

Future habitat improvement plans for the river include salt cedar and Russian olive tree eradication and restoration of native cottonwood and willows, Wethington said.
A plan is also being proposed to restrict tackle on the river to the use of two flies, Wethington said.

Anglers employing the use of multiple flies in triple and quadruple rigs are entangling and killing too many fish some fishing guides have complained, he said.

In an effort to limit damage to the river’s trout population the guides have suggested restricting tackle to just two flies, he said.

Wethington said there have been no studies of angler induced, trout mortality on the San Juan’s quality waters but most trout living in the river show evidence of having have been caught at least once and are expected to either die of old age or at the hands of an angler.

Wethington said anglers will have a chance to comment during yet to be scheduled public hearings and or by mail before the state Game Commission considers the rule change.

Originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

See related article for more information.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Elk Hunt - New Mexico Style

As dawn broke I gazed up at the purple tinged clouds and absently chewed on a piece of dried fruit. At my feet lay a pile of elk pellets and a slew of hoof prints, the tree upon which my rifle rested bore fresh antler marks and I eyed the nearby watering hole expectantly.

We had gotten up early that morning in a scene reminiscent of my Army days. Men in camouflage and boots, the clatter of gear and rifles, nervous anticipation cloaked in bravado.

We crawled up the mountain in four-wheel drive, the two pickup trucks grinding along the rutted jeep trail in low gear, our headlights barely piercing the darkness.
We emerged from the woods upon a mountaintop meadow.

It was here where I tried the evening before to sneak up on a group of grazing elk but when the wind came up on my back, they caught my scent and scattered.

We were just out scouting then but today it was for real and this was my first elk hunt.

We followed another road off into the trees and stopped at a fence line where we parked the truck and then headed off on foot down to a nearby watering hole.

It was here where we hoped to ambush some elk at dawn.

I looked off downhill and all I could see of my hunting partner was his blaze orange cap bobbing about in the hazy, morning light.

Waiting and watching in the tree line I had a chance to reflect on how I ended up on this solitary mountaintop with a military surplus, M-1 rifle and a hunting license.

I had earned the rifle competing in several shooting matches sponsored by the now disbanded Caja Del Rio Gun Club back when they had a range south of Santa Fe in the early 1990s.

That range has since been bulldozed to make way for some soccer fields.

The rifle cost $165 and arrived in the mail, sent by what was then the government’s Division of Civilian Marksmanship.

Built during WW II by the Springfield Armory, the rifle shoots straight and far. Truly a beautiful piece of machinery and other than a 1961 Dodge pickup and several longtime friends, it’s the only antique I own.

I’d never considered using it for hunting until now.

When my friend Mike Giddings first invited me to go on this trip, I was hesitant.

I’ve been an avid catch and release fisherman for years and would much rather shoot pictures than wildlife.

A bull elk photographed by the author during a trip to Yellowstone National Park in the fall of 2003.

But I had to admit I was intrigued by the idea of bringing home my own meat.

My friends who hunted argued that due to the limited number of natural predators out there, hunting was necessary to help keep the state’s elk population in check. And the meat is high in protein, much leaner than beef, range fed and completely organic.

But more importantly hunting was a time honored New Mexico tradition that brings family and friends together for great outdoor adventures.

“It’ll be a blast,” they said.

Yeah, tell that to the elk, I thought.

But I had to agree that one should know where their food comes from and play a hand in obtaining it.

So Mike started planning. He wanted to return to an area high in the mountains above Angel Fire where he had hunted once. He hadn’t had any luck on that trip but liked what he saw up there.

Mike did his homework and found the success rate in this particular unit was pretty good and since we were after a cow or young bull, we stood a pretty good chance of bringing home some meat, he said.

As luck would have it we each drew out in the Department of Game and Fish’s annual July lottery and our hunt was on for early November. It only cost $65 to apply and buy the license.

Upon hearing the news, another good friend, Glenn Jaramillo of Glenn's Garage in Santa Fe, told me we were going to need plenty of help if we managed to drop one of these 500-lb animals.

A veteran of many a hunt, Jaramillo offered to come along and help us with the hauling and butchering and anything else he could do to make the trip a success for us.

Glenn invited his buddy, Ron “Randy” Santistevan of Cerro, to come along too and we now had two hunters with years of knowledge and experience to help guide us on this trip.

As the hunting date grew near so did our anticipation and we got together frequently to discuss tactics and go over the list of gear to bring.

I went down to the department store and bought a camouflage hunting jacket and a blaze orange baseball cap.

I spent weeks humping around the hills south of town with a fully loaded backpack and my rifle to condition myself for the mountains.

I familiarized myself with the state hunting rules and regulations and read a good book about elk hunting.

And when the hunt date arrived I felt like I was ready, butterflies aside.

We set out for the mountains on a beautiful Indian summer’s day, hauling two travel trailers behind the pickups, headed north just like I’d seen others do over the years.

Now I was in one of them and it felt good.

From the left: Glenn "Chewy" Jaramillo of Santa Fe, Ron "Randy" Santistevan of Cerro, Mike "Chico" Giddings of Los Lunas and the author during their first hunt together in Northern New Mexico during the fall of 2007.

We found a suitable campsite in the national forest just off the road at the base of the mountain, set up quickly and then headed uphill in time to catch the sun setting.

Sure enough there were signs of elk everywhere and then we came across the herd I spooked at the water hole.

That was last night and now I was snapped out of my daydreaming by the sound of someone blowing an elk bugle and cows responding, way off down the hill.

I couldn’t believe it. They were here.

The ensuing silence was deafening, my every footstep sounded like a stampede as I picked my way out of the tree line and headed downhill.

I could see Mike’s neon orange hat up ahead in the high grass, kneeling by a small pine watching the meadow below through his binoculars.

I crouched down and then low crawled to a crest in the meadow alongside Mike. When I peeked through the thick, dry grass it was just in time to see a herd of elk coming out of the tree line.

They were just a couple of hundred yards downhill, maybe a half dozen or more strung out across the meadow.

Mike took the first shot and I watched as one stumbled and fell in the grass.

The rest scattered, several ran back into the tree line, some continued across the meadow and one stood looking uphill.

I said I had her and when she turned broadside I got off two good shots before she disappeared from view.

We hustled down the hill and when we got there we were baffled to find no sign of the two elk.

We were sure we’d hit them and searched frantically for them.

We followed deep hoof prints left by the fleeing elk that led back into the woods and off down the steep side of the mountain. We didn’t find any blood trails and soon lost those tracks in the deep forest.

We went back to the spot where we thought they had been hit and finally found a faint stain of blood on top of some grass.

Looking more closely I found a trail of bright, red blood leading off into the opposing tree line.

I followed while Mike stayed behind looking for sign of the other elk.

I was alone in the woods, heart beating in my ears, trying to quiet my deep breaths when I saw the wounded elk slowly limping off through the trees. I felt a rush of apprehension as I crept up behind it, stopping when it stopped but steadily gaining ground on it.

It finally came up lame and looked back at me as I emerged from behind a tree.

I dropped to one knee and sighted down the barrel and for the longest time we just looked at each other.

I felt a pang of guilt, maybe regret, but when it turned to try and limp away, I pulled the trigger and got off a clean shot, just behind its shoulder.

The elk fell and lay dying. It was brutal, bloody work but it was done.

We called in Glenn and Randy on the radio, located the other elk in the tree line and our hunting was done.

We had bagged two elk within hours on our first day and as the guys set to work skinning and butchering the animals, they couldn’t stop telling us how lucky we’d been.

Most hunters have to pay more dues, they said. Waiting in tree lines for hours on end, numb to the bone from the cold, hiking endless miles for days on end until the hunt ends and they go home empty-handed.

They might be right about that but we also came prepared, got up early and found a good spot.

That,and having good friends at your back, counts for something too.

The author looks over one of the cow elk taken during his first hunt with friends in Northern New Mexico in the fall of 2007.

This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section. Also see related blog article.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

New Mexico Outfitter hosts Catch-a-Dream Hunt

A 13-year-old Mississippi boy suffering from cancer enjoyed a hunting and fishing trip of a lifetime here in New Mexico recently thanks to a local outfitter and the Catch-a-Dream Foundation.

“It was great,” Riley Carson, an eight grader, said in a telephone interview from his home in Grenada, Miss. “Just like a dream.”

Carson bagged himself a six-point, bull elk near La Jara and then landed a 20-inch rainbow trout on the San Juan river during a weeklong trip in October, said Walt Taylor of Red Top Mountain Outfitters.

“I’ve guided grown men who couldn’t hold a candle to this boy,” Taylor said of Carson. “I’ve never seen a young man hunt as well as he did. He showed remarkable poise.”

Carson regularly hunts in the woods near his hometown in rural Mississippi and loves the outdoors, says his dad, Ronnie, who works at the local paper mill.

“He’s the real deal,” he said of his son’s hunting prowess.

Deer are so prolific in Mississippi that the deer hunting season runs for four months and the bag limit is 10 animals, Carson said.

But Riley’s carefree, outdoor life was interrupted this past summer when a routine dental checkup revealed a cancerous tumor in the roof of his mouth.

Riley had to undergo surgery and is now in remission but requires regular checkups at a Houston cancer center due to his cancer’s aggressive nature. Read more about Riley’s medical affairs at the Carson family’s online journal .

During the ordeal, the Catch-a-Dream Foundation, a non-profit organization based at Mississippi State University’s Extension Service in Starkville, received Riley’s application for his dream hunt, said Bill Smith, an Extension Associate assigned to the organization.

But Carson’s application came in too late to qualify for the usual process of obtaining an elk permit this year, Smith said.

“We didn’t want to let it wait till next year though,” Smith said.

Smith said he took a personal interest in Riley’ case because he was a Mississippi boy. Smith began looking for help in finding a hunting permit for elk when he was referred to Taylor’s son, Paul, who is a veterinary student at the university.

Paul Taylor referred Smith to his dad out in New Mexico and they were able to locate an available landowner’s permit that could be used in Taylor’s usual hunting unit, Smith said.

Smith then arranged for the Carsons to fly out to New Mexico for a week’s stay at the Taylors’ cabin and a guided hunt and fishing trip in late October.

The Taylors contributed to the cost of the elk tag, provided outfitter’s services and accommodations while the Catch-a-Dream Foundation picked up the travel and all other costs, Smith said.

“These families needn’t worry about what we’re spending,” Smith said. “It’s a chance for them to take a trip of a lifetime, be away from the hospital for a week and fulfill their child’s dream.”

The foundation has helped 140 families since it was established in 2000, including two from New Mexico, a Los Lunas girl who went fishing at Navajo Dam and a boy from Mentmore who hunted deer, Smith said.

The foundation was the idea of Bruce Brady, a Mississippi native and avid outdoorsman, who wrote for Outdoor Life and was a cancer victim himself. Brady wanted to fill the gap created when the national Make-a-Wish Foundation decided it did not want to fulfill any wishes involving hunting, Smith said.

The leading request in 2006 of the Phoenix, Az. based Make a Wish Foundation was a trip to Disney World, according to information posted on its website.
Smith acknowledged that some might find the Catch-a-Dream foundation’s mission controversial.

“But we’re not forcing this on anyone,” Smith said. “We’re here for people who desire to do this.”

Smith said the organization received 64 applications in 2007, hopes to fill 50 and is only limited in its ability to serve by the contributions it has received.

Some of the major contributors to the organization have included Wal-Mart, Georgia-Pacific, Coca Cola, Cabela’s, Mossy Oak, Shell Oil, Kroger and Winchester Ammunition.

Smith said the foundation fills a special niche and serves a useful purpose in providing relief to children and families mired in medical problems.

Taylor said he thinks the program is beneficial and wants to help more children enjoy the same opportunity.

“I’d like to do it again,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he and his brother, Jared, who operate the guiding business have also donated their time and services to the Navajo Mission out of Farmington. They regularly take kids fly-fishing on the San Juan River and guide a parent and child team on a turkey hunt, Taylor said.

The Carsons couldn’t say enough about the trip and all the wonderful people who stepped up to help them.

“We have never been treated so kindly,” said Riley’s mother, Teresa, who works as a teacher’s aide. “The whole town (La Jara) was real precious to us.”

A crowd of neighbors appeared in the wake of Riley’s kill and helped dress out the animal, she said.

“We pride ourselves on our hospitality here in the South but it was a good or better out there in New Mexico,” said Ronnie.

For more information about the Catch-a-Dream Foundation see their website .

This article has also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Road Trip NM - Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Preserve

Bird watchers flocking south to catch the annual return of the cranes this year can expect to find new bird-watching blinds, hiking trails and other accommodations at the state’s Ladd S. Gordon waterfowl management area in Bernardo.

“It’s a neat little place, quiet, out of the way and a great spot for the public to view wildlife,” says Mike Gustin, Assistant Chief of the state Department of Game and Fish’s Conservation Services Division.

Every winter the 60,000-acre Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, located about 20 miles south of Socorro, attracts and serves as home to thousands of migrating cranes, ducks and geese.

The state’s mission at the waterfowl complex south of Belen is to minimize the impact of those visiting waterfowl by providing habitat and enough grain to feed about half of the estimated 40,000 cranes and geese that arrive each year.

By providing feed and habitat to the wildfowl, the state helps cut down on damage to surrounding farmers crops and fields, provides opportunities for bird hunters, helps disperse flocks to minimize the spread of disease and provides sanctuary and breeding grounds, Gustin says.

Gustin noted that the birds can be especially destructive for farmers who have planted alfalfa and winter wheat or still have red chile standing in the field.
“Cranes just love red chile,” Gustin said. “So we try and bring them to us so they’re not eating on private land.”

The complex is comprised of four parcels totaling about 5,800 total acres with three separate farms, three ponding areas and public accommodations at the Bernardo farm.

Over a million pounds of crops such as corn, milo, alfalfa and winter wheat are grown each year on the farms to attract the birds. Workers leave crops standing in the fields and then cut them down in measured order to attract and feed the wildfowl.

The birds are adept at finding food and have learned to find the free and easy meals as well as secure overnight accommodations at the state’s three farms in the valley.

The state also helps coordinate with bird hunters by steering them to private farms in the area where waterfowl are causing damage.

The birds in turn learn to steer clear of the hunters and in many cases settle upon the state’s farms for safety, Gustin says.

“They can be moved as easily as cattle,” Gustin said of the waterfowl.

Visitors to the Bernardo farm will find a three-mile, auto-tour route that winds its way through the farm, three elevated viewing platforms, a clean toilet, and plenty of wildlife to view. Picnic tables are slated to be installed soon too.

During a recent visit, deer could be seen grazing among the many cranes, geese, ducks and other birds resting, feeding and flying about the farm’s fields.

“It’s pretty cool when the cranes arrive, “ says Larrame Hammer, 28, who works and lives at the farm with his wife, Samantha, and their two young children, Latisha and Larrado. “But I’ll be ready for them to go in about two months. They get up mighty early.”

During a tour of the farm Hammer points out the standing fields of corn and notes how the birds will follow the farm tractor when it gets to cutting.

“As soon as they hear that sound, they’ll come in,” he said.

Hammer is following in the footsteps of his father who also lived and worked at the farm when Larrame was a youngster.

“I lived here for about a year in the first grade,” he says. “My Dad grew up across the river in Veguita.”

His father, Fritz Hammer, would later transfer to the Game and Fish hatchery in Glenwood Springs and then to another wildfowl farm down in Artesia where Larrame grew up and met his wife.

“I was teaching a wildlife class for the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and she was in it,” he says with as broad smile.

Samantha said she likes living on the farm because it’s a good environment for their kids to grow up in.

“They can run around and I don’t have to worry about them too much,” she said. “We don’t have to deal with a lot of things people in town do.”

Hammer said he hopes to continue following in his father’s footsteps by replacing him when he retires from his job as Assistant Manager at the Seven Rivers Waterfowl Management area outside of Artesia.

“All of our family lives down there, so it would be nice,” he said.
Hammer and other workers have been working hard to get the new bird watching blinds in place in time for the Festival of the Cranes in mid-November, says Dave Wilson, Farm Manager.

The festival is in its 20th year of celebrating the return of the cranes with a wide variety of activities from Nov. 13 through the 18th including exhibits and demonstrations at the Bosque del Apache over the weekend. For more information go to Friends of the Bosque.

The farm at Bernardo will host an open house on Saturday, Nov. 17th with staff on hand to greet the public, Wilson said.

Workers are also slated in the upcoming weeks to install a series of interpretive signs at selected spots along walking trails at the Bernardo farm to provide visitors information including details about the wildfowl and wildlife in the area.
Mule deer, coyotes, raccoons, quail, pheasants, owls, hawks and a variety of songbirds are commonly found throughout the farmlands.

The farm at Bernardo is normally is open to public during routine business hours and there is no fee to enter and enjoy the scenery. For more info see the department’s website at Wildlife.

The Ladd S. Gordon waterfowl complex is named in memory of former director of the state Department of Game and Fish fromn1963 to 1975. He was a World War II Navy veteran who received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of New Mexico in 1949 before starting his career with Game and Fish. He worked his way up through the ranks serving as a patrolman, conservation officer, researcher, area supervisor, chief of law enforcement and information and education and finally director, according to information posted at

Following his retirement, Gordon worked with the National Rifle Association and Ducks unlimited. Gordon is regarded as a leading conservationist for his time, according to a state Game and Fish brochure for the waterfowl complex.

If You Go: From Santa Fe head south on I-25 through Albuquerque past Belen towards Socorro. Get off at the Bernardo/Mountainair exit at US 60. Loop around and under the interstate and head back north of the frontage road, State Road 304, located on the east side of the freeway. Follow the signs to the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl complex. At the railroad tracks stop, look and listen for approaching trains and then cross over to the farm. About 120 miles one-way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NM News - Gila and Cutthroat Restoration Updates

New Mexico Game Commissioners at a Nov. 1, 2007 meeting in Raton where problems with the state Game and Fish Department's native trout restoration projects were revealed.

The state Department of Game and Fish’s efforts to restore Gila and cutthroat trout to portions of their native territory has been marred by setbacks including the use of an impotent poison to try and kill off non-native fish in one stream and the apparent restocking of another with impure, native fish.

State game commissioners were advised of the problems during their most recent meeting in Raton on Nov. 2, 2007.

Department officials discovered during a recent follow-up inspection of Comanche Creek in the Valle Vidal that at least 25 fish had survived attempts to eradicate all fish from the stream this summer, reported Mike Sloan, Chief of the Fisheries Division of the state Department of Game and Fish.

The creek’s fish population underwent unlimited angler harvesting, physical removal through electro-shocking and then an application of the chemical rotenone to poison any remaining fish before the sterile creek could be restocked the following year with pure-strain, native, Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

The effort is part of an overall, restoration scheme to remove any non-native fish from most waters throughout the region and reintroduce the native cutthroat back into its historic habitat.

The plan is expected to reduce threats to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout’s survival and eliminate the need for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act which could result in land use and sport fishing restrictions.

Sloan told game commissioners that department officials were surprised to see any fish remaining in the stream. He speculated that perhaps the small fish had survived because at the time of the treatment they had yet to spawn, were hidden deep within a gravel bed and possibly protected by a fresh supply of spring water to ward off the poison.

A cutthroat trout caught by the author in Comanche Creek of the Valle Vidal sometime in the early 1990s.

Sloan said two fish seen in the stream during the follow-up inspection were thought to have escaped and their continued existence poses a problem for the department, as it wants to reintroduce a pure strain of trout to those waters.

After Sloan gave his presentation to commissioners, Jim Baker, Wildlife Manager for Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch, which is located next door to the Valle Vidal, reported yet another problem with the cutthroat reintroduction effort on its property.

Baker said a shipment of cutthroat trout provided by state Game and Fish to the ranch several years ago to replace trout in a cleared out section of Costilla Creek is now thought to have been “contaminated.”

“We’ve seen a lot of hybrids in the upper stream,” he told commissioners.

Sloan responded that the department’s cutthroat rearing hatchery at Seven Spring from which the load of tainted trout had originated could be the culprit as rainbow eggs were used to test the facility before it came online.

Cutthroat and rainbow trout can crossbreed to produce a hybrid known as a cut-bows and it’s possible some such fish hatched and later made it into that load.

Sloan said the department would “make it right” with Vermejo Park Ranch before proceeding with any other reintroduction plans on the private ranch.

Turner has long pursued his own wildlife conservation and reintroduction efforts on his private ranches and is cooperating with state Game and Fish officials to reintroduce the cutthroat throughout the shared watershed in the Valle Vidal area.

After Baker’s remarks, another department official reported to commissioners that there was yet another problem with reintroduced native trout, this time in the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico.

A Gila trout.Photo courtesy of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Dr. David Probst, Native Fish Biologist with the state Department of Game and Fish told commissioners that they have since discovered brown trout in the recently treated upper west fork of the Gila River.

“A few browns survived and reproduced and have spread throughout the system,” he said.

Probst blamed a batch of “poor quality” antimycin used to chemically clear the steam of fish for the problem.

Probst said in an interview after the hearing that antimycin is a bacteria derivative grown in a lab and the batch they used was found long after it had been used to have had substandard potency.

Probst explained that the difference between the two pisticides, antimycin and rotenone, is that the first breaks down rapidly and requires less to use while the latter, which is derived from a plant root, has longer life and requires a greater amount.

Their uses are dictated by conditions such as the amount of water to be treated, its location, temperature, turbidity and other factors.

“Sounds like there’s been a lot of complications,” Commissioner Dutch Salmon, said following Probst’s remarks. He and fellow commissioner, Jim McClintic, both voiced reservations about chemically re-treating streams a second time due to the controversy surrounding such work.

Both Sloan and Probst said after the meeting that they intend to weigh their options and see what course of action they can take to get their programs back on track.
Officials are striving to obtain a sterile environment in which they can reintroduce native cutthroats so they can rule out the possibility of cross breeding with rainbows and eliminate competition from hardier breeds such as brown trout, both introduced breeds of fish.

In other action the board approved a measure create a special bag limit of two Gila trout so the department can use Gila trout from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s fish hatchery near Mora to stock Gila waters with the native fish and allow anglers to catch and keep them.

Gila trout dart about in a holding tank at the US Fish and Wildlife Service's fish hatchery in Mora, NM.

The hatchery produces an estimated two to three thousand excess Gila trout each year from its rearing population of pure strain Gila trout. About 300 brood stock of 12-inches or more are scheduled to be stocked in the Forks area area of the Gila rivers in upcoming weeks.

See related story for more info on the Gila trout recovery and restoration project. Also see related story regarding the Rio Grande cutthroat restoration project on the Valle Vidal.

Originally published Nov. 7, 2007 in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Road Trip NM - Paliza Canyon, Jemez Mountains

Wren Propp and Karl Moffatt are the first to wed at the newly remodeled Paliza Group Campground in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico with Rev. Milton Propp officiating on Sept. 29, 2007.
Towering red rock cliffs, cool ponderosa pines and a brand new, covered pavilion make the newly remodeled Paliza group shelter in the Jemez Mountains the perfect place for a wedding, family reunion or large camping party.

Tucked away in the Santa Fe National Forest’s Jemez Ranger District canyon off State Road 290 above the village of Ponderosa the group shelter and adjacent family campground have been closed for remodeling for the last four years.

But with construction and final inspections recently completed, the campsite and group shelter will be now available for the next camping season.

“It was heavily used before for weddings, family reunions, by moon worshippers, all sorts of groups,” said Joan Hellen, landscape architect for the Santa Fe National Forest. “It should be even more popular now with all the improvements.”

Hellen, designer of the project, said the renovation work has provided improved vehicle access, brought in new site and unit amenities and meet accessibility guidelines without compromising the character of the landscape.

The group shelter and campground now has a large covered pavilion with an oversized grill and a serving table. Trails from the surrounding campsites to the pavilion helps minimize the need for vehicular traffic within the area.

There are 16 campsites surrounding the pavilion in an area called “Owl Loop”, five of which are double sites which can accommodate up to two vehicles and feature two picnic tables per site.

A lower section of the group campground designated “Red Tail Loop” features eight “walk-in” campsites, three of which are doubles featuring dual picnic tables and large, graveled tent platform areas.

“And the views to the red cliffs here are amazing,” Hellen added.

The group campground sits atop a hill with views of the Jemez Valley below and was originally a depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps base camp, Hellen said.
The renovation replaced the site’s vintage Forest Service wooden, pit toilets and picnic tables with newer, better units. Each site also features a metal post with arms from which lanterns and other items can be hung.

“They’re there to keep people from hammering nails into the trees to hang things,” Helen said.

Work at the adjacent Family Campground just up Forest Road 10 from the group shelter and campgrounds retained and reinforced three, rustic, CCC built rock and timber, three-sided shelters while also increasing the number and size of campsites and maintaining walk-in sites across Vallecitos creek.

Water will be supplied to the Paliza group and family campgrounds but there are no electricity or sewer hookups available.

A “host” site with its own shelter including water, electricity and sewer line vault has also been installed at the family campground and the District is looking for someone to staff it next year, said Derek Padilla, Acting Recreational Staff Officer for the Jemez Ranger District in Jemez Springs.

Anyone interested in serving as the volunteer host at the newly renovated family campground can contact him at the office at (505) 829-3535.

Hosts live rent-free, on-site in exchange for performing routine maintenance and other tasks related to the campground’s operation such as assisting guests.

“We’re looking for folks with good people skills,” he said.

Padilla said the two campsites should be available for online reservations starting Jan. 1, 2008. Visit the at Fe National Forest website Santa for more information.

Half the sites at the Family Campground will be available for reservations online while the group shelter can be had in its entirety or can be split up to accommodate up to two groups at a time with one group using the pavilion and the upper “Owl Loop” campsites while another group can use just the lower “Red Tail Loop” walk-in, tent sites.

Check the online reservation site for more information regarding fees and availability, Padilla said.
Those who find the online reservation service doesn’t satisfy their needs can contact Padilla at the Jemez Ranger District for further assistance.

Padilla said recreational activities in the Paliza Canyon area of the Jemez Mountains include sightseeing. He said the views of the Valles Caldera and the Sandia Mountains that can be found from Cerro Pelado are striking on a good day. The mountaintop lookout can be found by taking Forest Road 10 north out of the campground and then heading east on Forest Road 270.

Those who are more adventuresome and equipped with a high-clearance, four wheel drive vehicle can find another strikingly, scenic overlook by taking Forest Road 266 north out of the campground and heading southeast to above the Tent Rocks National Monument near Cochiti Pueblo.

Visitors to the campgrounds can also stop at the nearby village of Ponderosa and visit the local bar and for beer, ice and inquire of the proprietor about the village’s legendary blond haired, blue eyed descendants of early Spanish settlers.
Visitors to the village can also sample locally produced wines at the Ponderosa Valley Vineyard & Winery where Shannon Grenier says she’s looking forward to the reopening of the group shelter and campgrounds.

“It’s a little piece of paradise up there,” she says. “And we have so many people looking for camping in the fall and early winter because of our warmer weather here. There’s the balloon-a-tics, the cyclists, you wouldn’t believe how many people are on vacation this time of year. It’ll be great for business when they finally open that back up.”

Paul "Dino" Sarrategui of Chelmsford Mass., who served as Karl Moffatt's best man, found a little time before the ceremony to get in some fishing on the Guadalupe River just a few miles upstream of the Paliza Group Campgrounds.
Hellen and Padilla said the family campground couldn’t be utilized this fall due to a lack of a campground host, a finished water system and ongoing road construction.
A number of issues contributed to the project’s lengthy construction process, Hellen said, including a two-phase bidding, award and construction process required by budgetary limitations. And construction crews who typically work during the summer season lost several months of work due to administrative delays.

But now that the work is finally done and the campgrounds are slated to come back online in the spring, Hellen expects campers to find their way into Paliza Canyon for a quiet, scenic and memorable stay.

The Jemez Ranger District’s next project will involve renovating the San Antonio campgrounds near the village of La Cueva on the road to Fenton Lake, Hellen said.

Editor's Note: Karl Moffatt and Wren Propp had to obtain a special use permit from the USDA Forest Service to use the Paliza Group Campground for their scheduled September, 29, 2007 wedding. The campground was completed but still closed at the time. Special thanks to then Acting Jemez Ranger District Ranger, Mary Bean, for her approval of the permit and NM Rep. Tom Udall and Sen. Pete Domenici for their assistance in navigating the process.

If You Go:

From Santa Fe head north on US84/285 to Pojoaque and take State Road 502 to White Rock and then follow State Road 4 up the mountains and past the Valle Caldera and down through Jemez Springs, continue by the Walatowa Visitors Center and then turn onto State 290 to Ponderosa and follow Forest Road 10 to the campgrounds. About 90 miles. An alternative route involves heading south on I-25 to Bernalillo and taking State Road 550 west to the State Road 4 turnoff at San Ysidro, passing through Jemez Pueblo and turning at State Road 290 to Ponderosa and Forest Road 10 to the campgrounds. About 80 miles.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Road Trip NM - Sugarite Canyon

If Sugarite Canyon is the crown jewel of New Mexico’s state parks, then volunteers like Dan Schamber are the ones who put the shine on it.

“We wouldn’t be the great park we are without them,” said Bob Dye, park superintendent. “We just wouldn’t be able to offer the services and quality programming we have.”

Dan and his wife, Lorene, work nearly full time at the park’s visitor center during the summer tourist season and share the job of leading guests on a guided tour of one of the park’s key attractions, the abandoned Sugarite coal camp.

The camp was just one of many that were once located along the 100-mile-long and 60-mile-wide, underground, coal seam that runs from Cimarron, NM, up to Huerfano, Colo., Dan Schamber explained during a recent mid-day tour.

Coal was used to power the many railroads’ steam locomotives and to heat homes and businesses in the early 1900s and the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Company built the company town to attract and keep workers at its coal mining operation in the canyon.

Located on the outskirts of the plains about six miles east of the city of Raton, the camp once employed up to 1,000 people and featured a post office, company store, school house, clubhouse and dozens of homes built in tidy rows along the hillside.

The company dug three mines into the hills on opposing sides of Chicorica Creek and utilized a gravity operated cable system to lower, fully loaded coal cars to the valley floor while pulling empty ones back up to the mine’s entrance, Schamber explained. The coal was then sorted according to size and loaded into waiting railcars and then shipped by rail to market.

The mines cable drums are still in place and can be seen the at the top of the mountain near the mine's entrance.

But over the years the coal market waned as the railroads adopted diesel/electric locomotives and oil and natural gas became more preferable for home heating, Schamber said.

In 1941 the camp closed, most of the town’s buildings were salvaged and the land was handed over to the city of Raton. The state then leased the land and opened Sugarite Canyon State Park in 1985, with Dye serving as its first and only superintendent since.

Now all that’s left of what had once been a busy mine and company town are the stone foundations, some rusty equipment and a great story.

And 73-year-old, Dan Schamber, tells it well as he leads park visitors on a hike through the hillside ruins and brings the coal camp back to life by recounting its history.

Schamber uses a series of large, plastic covered photographs he carries in a satchel slung across his shoulder to help illustrate how the camp looked during its heyday. His presentation covers a wide variety of subjects including camp life, mining equipment and techniques, site reclamation and any questions visitors might have.

Those who can’t handle the two-mile hike and 400-foot climb can enjoy the tour back in the comfort of the visitors center where Schamber or his wife, Lorene, use in-house exhibits and their oral presentation to enliven visitors.

In over five years of volunteer work at the visitor center the couple have also conducted numerous interviews with former camp residents and other people with knowledge of camp life. They have collected material and many artifacts to help record the camp’s history and Lorene Schamber has authored a 15-page booklet, “Life in Sugarite Canyon Coal Camp.”

The couple also collaborated in the creation of CD documentary about camp life titled ‘We Were Poor but We Were Rich.” Both research works are available at the visitor center.

“We’re just fascinated with history and people,” Schamber, a Korean War era, Marine Corp veteran said when asked about the retired couple’s work.

The two have been married 46 years and are classic snowbirds, having ditched their house and three kids for a big motor home and life on the road, Dan Schamber said.

“I like to tell people we spend our winters in Arizona and our summers in paradise,” he said “This is our kind of country and our kind of living. We love it.”

Superintendent Dye said the public is lucky to have volunteers like the Schambers and others who serve as campground hosts and perform maintenance and other tasks in exchange for nothing more that free camping in one of the state’s finer campgrounds.

Among Sugarite’s other notable assets are trout-filled lakes Maloya and Alice and the hilltop campground, Soda Pocket, which features great views of the valley below.

The park features numerous hiking trails including two, half-mile climbs to the mesa tops surrounding Soda Pocket campground that offer even better views.

The park is such a hidden jewel that Woodall’s Camping Life in April 2006 ranked it among the top-ten, state parks in the entire country, citing it’s abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities as one of its top draws. See the article at Camping Life.

It should be noted that Sugarite is located in prime bear country and campers need to practice precautions to avoid confrontations like the recent case in early July, 2007 where a 13-year-old boy was bitten by a young bear.

The youth slapped at what he thought was his uncle goofing around outside the tent wall in the early morning hours. It turned out to have been a bear snooping around the tent and it bit back before running off.

The boy wasn’t seriously injured but had to undergo rabies vaccination as a precaution, said Dan Williams, a spokesperson for the Department of Game and Fish.
A bear suspected to have been involved in the case was later found and killed and tested negative for rabies, Williams said.

Bears are common visitors to the park because of its mountain location, and the park emphasizes safety by using bear-proof trash cans and educating campers about the importance of keeping a clean camp and not feeding the animals.

Campers are cautioned to keep campsites clean, lock up all food and cooking utensils, and never take food inside a tent. Those who’ve been cooking also should change out of those clothes and store them away from their tent.

For more information about Sugarite Canyon State Park check them out at their website.


From Santa Fe, NM take I-25 north to Raton, head east on State Road 72 to State 526 north to Sugarite Canyon State Park. Stop at the visitor’s center for more information and to take the coal mining camp tour. Showers and ice available across from the visitor’s center. Several RV sites with sewer, electrical and water available at Lake Alice Campground. Soda Pocket Campground has no such services and is first come, first serve. Call ahead for more information at (505) 445-5607.


Sugarite state park’s alluring peace and tranquility could soon be disrupted by the roar of drilling equipment if a Texas energy company has its way.

TDC Engineering of Abilene, TX. has served notice on the city of Raton that it intends to drill five exploratory wells for coal bed methane gas on city owned land in the Lake Dorothey Wildlife Area, according to Pete Mileta Jr., Raton’s city manager.

The wildlife area is located upstream of Sugarite Canyon State Park, just across the Colorado state line.

Raton owns the surface rights in the wildlife area along with those found in Sugarite Canyon State Park in New Mexico. The area comprises the watershed that feeds reservoirs to supply the Raton’s drinking water.

But while the city may own the land and lease it to the two states for the wilderness area and state park, it’s a mining company, Newmont Mining of Denver, that owns the mineral rights.

And Newmont has since leased those rights to TDC, according to the city’s attorney Lance Astrella of Denver.

TDC wants explore for gas in the coal seam running through the area and in order to do so needs to use New Mexico State Road 526 running through Sugarite State Park to haul heavy equipment up into the wilderness area, Astrella said.

From there TDC would then have to carve out a 4.5 mile road to reach the proposed drilling sites as there is presently no other access to the sites available.

The city is opposed to the proposal primarily out of concern such drilling activity could threaten the quality and quantity of its water supply.

New Mexico State Parks is opposed to the drilling venture on the grounds it’s incompatible with the park’s mission of providing people and wildlife with a sanctuary, said Superintendent, Bob Dye.

An estimated 150,000 people utilize the state park each year and it is home to a wide variety of wildlife including bear, elk, deer, mountain lions, birds, fish and butterflies, he said.

The narrow park road is unsuitable for heavy equipment traffic and competition between those using it for recreation versus construction could create an unsafe situation.

Noise, dust and other impacts associated with drilling could also intrude upon the park’s recreational activities, disrupting those seeking solitude fishing, hiking and relaxing in a natural environment.

The impacts upon wildlife and their habitat could prove be especially damaging, he said.“I understand the nation’s need for energy,” Dye said. “But state parks and water supplies need to be protected.”

A citizens group has since formed to fight the drilling and has set up a website, Save Our Sugarite, where more information can be found.

Calls to Scott Taliaferro Jr. of TDC engineering seeking comment were not returned.

Astrella said his legal strategy to combat the proposed venture is simple.

“The best way to stop them would be to make them do it right,” he said.

While TDC may have a right to drill, the city also has a right to ensure its water supplies are protected. Requiring the company to do that could prove costly enough to make the venture unprofitable, he said.

“But the city needs to be proactive,” he said. “Because even if these guys don’t do it, someone else might.”

Astrella said there has not been any discussion with Newmont regarding purchase of the mineral rights lying under the city owned land.

In the meantime it remains to be seen if TDC proceeds with its plans to pursue drilling near Sugarite State Park and what opponents can do to stop it.


Recreational users of Sugarite Canyon State Park near Raton can breath easier now knowing that a Texas energy firm has dropped its plans to drill for gas in an adjoining state wildlife area.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time,” said Dan Schamber, volunteer and tour guide at the popular state park. “But just because they’ve given up doesn’t mean someone else won’t try.”

TDC Engineering of Abilene, Texas, notified the city of Raton last week that it is dropping its plans to drill five, exploratory wells for coal bed methane gas on city-owned land in the Lake Dorothey Wildlife Area just across the state line in Colorado, said the city’s attorney, Lance Astrella of Denver.

TDC notified the city that its lease with Newmont expires on September 16, 2007, and in light of their lack of progress in drilling is asking the city to drop its lawsuit against them, Astrella said.

Raton had filed suit in district court this summer to stop TDC from proceeding with its drilling plans citing the potential threat to its water supply. A citizens’ group was also formed called Save Our Sugarite to pursue options in opposition to drilling in the state park and wilderness area. See their website at Save Our Sugarite for more information.

Astrella said he will seek to have the city's lawsuit dismissed now that TDC has backed off.

Meanwhile the city has issued a press release stating its intent to remain “proactive in opposing any future drilling activities which do not accommodate and protect its water rights from depletion and contamination.”

Astrella said the city has several options it could conceivably pursue to include seeking to restrict or retire Newmont’s mineral rights, protect them under some kind of a conservancy plan or purchase them outright.

It remains to be seen what direction the city pursues and Astrella said he expects the fight over coal bed methane drilling and its impact upon water quality and quantity in the Raton basin to continue because of the high stakes involved on both sides.

These articles were originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Piedra River - The Ute's Build a Mean Stream

Tired of crowded campgrounds, rivers overrun with anglers, the same old scenery?
Consider a trip into Indian Country, some place like the Southern Ute Reservation just across the Colorado state line.

The Southern Utes have four great rivers running through their territory, the San Juan, the Piedra, the Pine and the Animas.

The Ute’s six-mile stretch of the Animas below the popular college town of Durango draws the most visitors to fish for a good population of rainbows and the chance to snare a large brown trout, said Ben Zimmerman, fisheries biologist for the Southern Ute Tribe.

But if one is looking for solitude, spectacular scenery and plenty of good fishing, they may want to try a trip to the less traveled areas of the San Juan and Piedra rivers in Indian Country.

“You’d be lucky to see anyone else out there with you,” Zimmerman says.

Both rivers’ headwaters can be found in the mountains ringing the town of Pagosa Springs and then they flow south to Navajo Reservoir. The 20-mile long Navajo Lake straddles the Colorado and New Mexico state line and the San Juan River re-emerges from below Navajo Dam as the blue ribbon trout fishery well known to many New Mexico anglers.

But it is the stretch of the San Juan River above Navajo Lake that many may not be familiar with as it flows south out of Pagosa Springs through Indian Country.

Taking Archuleta County Road 500 out of Pagosa Springs one will travel a gravel, country road along the river with several promising fishing holes beckoning anglers.
The countryside is dotted with farms, high piƱon and juniper dotted mesas and great stands of cottonwood trees along the river bottom, which would make for a great drive during the fall.

Those in possession of a Southern Ute Indian Tribe fishing permit can stop at any number of fishing access areas posted along the road and try their angling luck.
This stretch of river looks very like much like big, brown trout country where streamers, nymphs, bait and lures might work.

The Utes’ permits can be purchased in Colorado at shops in Durango and Ignacio where the tribe’s headquarters are located. They can also be purchased in New Mexico at stores in Farmington and at the Float and Fish fly shop at Navajo Dam.

However the tribe’s fishing permits cannot be purchased in the town of Pagosa Springs nor online and those venturing out of Santa Fe might want to contact one of the participating vendors and make arrangements to purchase one by mail. For more information about permits and rules and regulations check the tribe’s website at

It should be noted that signs posted at the Utes’ fishing access sites state alcohol, drugs, firearms and dogs are prohibited while utilizing these areas. It's unknown how strictly regulated these prohibitions are but visitors should exercise extreme discretion while on Indian lands.

This long, lonely stretch of road eventually passes through the abandoned railroad town of Pagosa Junction where a magnificent, whitewashed, adobe church still stands upon a hill overlooking the town’s ruins.

Here one can wander among several still standing buildings, a great stand of cottonwood trees and wonder about the history of this former, bustling railroading town.

Continuing south on County Road 500, visitors will encounter the top end of Navajo Lake which features numerous pull offs for recreation. Camping and other services are available at Navajo State Park and more information can be found at

County Road 500 ends at the intersection of Colorado State Road 151 where one can head north to access the Ute Tribe’s six-mile stretch of the Piedra River up Fosset Gulch off Forest Road 613.

This stretch of river was rehabilitated back in 2000 with the installation of hundreds of tons of large boulders to shore up the riverbanks, re-channel the river and create healthier habitat for fish.

The characteristics of this stretch of the Piedra River are so appealing to the angler’s eye that it almost looks like a movie set, it is that well constructed.
So far the Utes’ plan seems to have worked with the area now attracting the occasional discriminating angler and stream surveys showing a good population of rainbows and some large browns trout lurking in the depths, Zimmerman said.

Anyone catching a rare, red-bellied, round-tailed chub from Southern Ute Reservation waters is asked to handle the fish carefully and return it unharmed immediately to the water, Zimmerman added.

This stretch of the Piedra River flows through a heavily forested, cottonwood canyon flanked by rolling hills, some rocky mesas and an occasional pasture on the far bank and once again should prove to be a spectacular drive in the fall.

Wildlife viewing opportunities are abundant with raptors in great numbers including owls swooping over the road and a coyote jogging ahead of the vehicle during a recent trip. At one point a horse emerged from the woods, walked up to the vehicle and allowed a quick rub of its velvety nose before running off in a clatter of hoofs and cloud of dust.

Visitors will see by map that Forest Road 613 cuts through to Colorado State Road 160 between Durango and Pagosa Springs, but should note that a private property owner has since installed two locked gates across the road blocking access.

It’s unknown if and when this issue will be resolved to the public’s benefit.
From this stretch of the Piedra River visitors can also see the twin spires of the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in the San Juan National Forest located between Durango and Pagosa Springs.

This hilltop Indian ruin is a great side trip off State Road 151 and features a guided, interpretive walking tour and spectacular views from the mountain top fire tower. The site is open May 15th through Sept 30th and more information can be found at

And on the far end of State Road 151 visitors to the area will find additional fishing and camping at the Southern Utes’ Capote Lake.

Overall this area of southern Colorado in Indian Country offers much for those seeking to get away from the crowds and constrictions found on public lands during summer months.

Also see this article as it appeared in the
Santa Fe New Mexican

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Maps - Where to Get Them and Why

Richard Atkinson, manager of the Public Lands Information Center at 1474 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe, N.M. displays the popular and informative BLM Land Status map in Sept. 2007.


Face it, if you live in New Mexico, sooner or later, you’re going to need one.

And Santa Fe boasts two great shops for finding maps, books and other information about the state.

With almost half the state under public ownership one of the best maps to illustrate that may be the BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) color-coded “surface management responsibility” or land status map available at the Public Lands Information Center at 1474 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe, N.M.

Richard Atkinson, the center’s manager, says the map is just one of many in the information center has available to the public and it’s a handy tool for those exploring the state especially those preparing for an upcoming hunt.

Atkinson uses an overlay on top of the land use map to shows the state’s hunting units and then the associated BLM or Forest Service maps that are needed for that area.

The same system is available online at , just pick New Mexico from the pull down list of states at the maps center, click on the hunting unit index tab and the maps you need will pop up.

The land status map is available in a four-foot wide and five-foot tall wall hanging or a smaller version about half that size and is great for viewing at home before setting out on the road.

The Public Lands Center also features every available Forest Service and BLM map for the state as well as a collection of private maps and atlases that make a road trip easy.

Atkinson said he prefers BLM maps to Forest Service maps because they show topography and are contiguous and can be assembled for a bigger picture of an area with no gaps between the maps.

That’s important for those hiking into the woods, he says.

Forest Service maps are limited primarily to the forest they cover and do not feature topography unless it’s a wilderness map, he notes.

In addition to those federal agencies’ maps Atkinson’s shop has two versions of the state atlas, the Road and Recreation atlas and the Gazetteer. Both are good books of maps for general use throughout the state.

Atkinson recommends everyone own one of these and then start collecting maps for more specific areas such as the state’s national forests, wilderness areas and other places of interest.

The information center also includes a great collection of hunting, fishing, hiking, cooking, history and other books with a New Mexico theme. There are also free brochures available from various state agencies and other information assembled to help visitors utilize the state’s public lands.

“You really can’t find the kind of collection we have here anywhere else,” he said.

The Center opened in 1996 and is operated by the private non-profit organization, Public Lands Interpretive Association with offices in every state and a website that brings them all together in one place.

Those seeking more specific maps can visit the Travel Bug at 839 Paseo de Peralta near downtown Santa Fe. Those in the know have been picking up maps and books here for years and the service and selection is why.

Here one can find and have printed a United State Geological Service topographic map for anywhere in state, or the country for that matter, says owner Greg Ohlsen.

The store features maps from all over the world or something closer to town such as a city or county produced map. The Travel Bug can produce aerial and satellite photos and also stock the just released, updated version of the popular New Mexico atlas, “Roads of New Mexico.”

And customers can sip cup coffee or enjoy a fruit smoothie while browsing the collection of maps, books and related items found in this distinctive shop.

The store also carries and services the Garmin line of satellite operated, GPS (Global Positioning System) products that not only help one find where they are in a strange town but can also be used to map one’s hikes in the woods.

Ohlsen said he used one to map all the day hikes for use in the Sierra Club’s latest version of “Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area.”

“It’s amazing stuff,” he says. For more info about GPS check out .

One of the pricier GPS units allows the user to strap an electronic transmitter on a dog’s collar and then monitor the dog’s movements while out hiking.

The unit will show how far away and in what direction the dog is located in relation to the handheld receiver carried by the owner. The units have a range of about five miles in open country and have helped Ohlsen find his lost dogs on a number of occasions, he said.

But Ohlsen says despite the handheld devices great capabilities they just can’t compete with a map for showing the big picture, the great landscape of New Mexico.

For that one might want to drop in to the state Department of Transportation (DOT) at 1120 Cerrillos Road where in the lobby one can find a free New Mexico road map and one for most every state in the country.

“I can fill this here today and by the end of the week they’ll all be gone,” says
Virginia Neville, receptionist at the DOT headquarters a she points to the display rack in the lobby. “I don’t know how people know they’re here, we don’t advertise.”

The rack doesn’t feature any state road maps from either California or Arizona because both those states refuse to provide them for free, said Michael Urioste, a DOT administrator who orders the maps for the free rack.

New Mexico hands out about a half a million free maps a year, Urioste said, primarily to distributors such as chamber of commerce’s, visitor centers, state and federal agencies and even private businesses.

It’s just one of those little known public services the state performs with little fanfare but great results. So grab a map and explore New Mexico today!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Flyfishing New Mexico 101 - A How to Guide

The author casts while fishing at Eagle Nest lake in Northeast New Mexico during a summer of 2007 trip.Photo courtesy of Greg Faught, Green Mountain Anglers.

So maybe you wanted to learn to fly fish this summer but after a visit to one of Santa Fe’s fly shops you were left wondering how, what with the cost of a rod, reel and a day’s instruction on the water running around $600.

No need to worry, here’s a few low cost tips that’ll have you out on the water and fly fishing in no time at all!

Bill Orr, former manager of the High Desert Angler fly shop and co-author of the book “Fly Patterns of Northern New Mexico,” suggests beginners save their cash for gas instead of hiring a guide or buying a lot of high-end gear.

“You don’t need them,” Orr, now a sixth-grade schoolteacher, says. “You need to just get out there and teach yourself.”

For starters, beginners might want to read up on the subject with a simple, easy to comprehend guide such as L.L. Bean’s “Fly-Fishing Handbook” by Dave Whitlock or Dan Holland’s “Trout Fisherman’s Bible.” The local library may carry some classics such as Ray Bergman’s “Trout” or Robert Traver’s “Trout Madness” that could whet your appetite for fishing.

Of course once you decide to go, you’ll need a serviceable rod and reel rigged with backing, fly line and a leader. A two-piece, eight and a half-foot, five weight is a good, all-around rod for New Mexico’s waters and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a low cost, fly fishing combo kit to get you started.

L.L. Bean sells an Angler Fly Rod Outfit, ready to fish for about $75. A complete rod and reel package by Scientific Angler can be found on the shelf at Wal-Mart for about the same money. For twice that money but still half of what you’d pay for the cheapest outfit at a Santa Fe fly shop, Cabela’s offers their Genesis outfits for $150 that also include a chest pack, a fly box full of trout flies and accessories like nippers, forceps, leaders, weights, fly floatant and strike indicators.

You’ll need some of these accessories on the water, like a pair of fingernail clippers to snip off line, a pair of forceps or small needle nose pliers to remove hooks and smash down their barbs, a bottle of fly floatant to keep your dry flies working and a strike indicator for when you’re fishing nymphs on the bottom.

You’ll probably want an extra leader and a spool of 5X and 6X weight tippet and a fishing vest to carry your gear, but a fanny pack or even a shirt with big pockets will work.

And you’ll need a good all-around selection of flies including a couple of size 12 stimulators, a few size 16 elk-hair Caddis, and size 18 Adams dry flies. For nymphs, grab a few pheasant-tails, hares’ ear, princes, Warden’s Worry and Wooley Boogers in black, Orr suggests.

Beginners can wear a pair of old sneakers and shorts to wade in the summertime and buy a pair of inexpensive, hip-waders for use in the fall and winter.

Armed with this gear, the self starter can head out, perhaps even carrying a copy of “Fly-Fishing in Northern New Mexico” or Taylor Streit’s “Fly Fishing New Mexico” to lead the way.

Beginners will want to start on water with plenty of fish so they can get some practice at reading the water, casting, detecting a strike and setting the hook and how to play, land and release a fish unharmed.

It’s important for beginners to learn and practice catch and release fishing to help ensure trout remain available to be caught and released yet another day.

Beginners can start with a quick trip to a nearby river such as the Pecos River, east of Santa Fe, where fish are regularly stocked. While there, the beginner can watch other anglers to pick up tips and ask questions if so inclined.

Beginners can also monitor the weekly fishing report found in the Outdoors section of the Santa Fe New Mexican for ideas on where to fish and also visit websites like for stories about fishing the West and links to fishing and stream flow reports.

If this sounds like just too much work, consider the reasoning behind it all.

Orr remembers how his father put him on a small creek in Colorado at the tender age of 4. They snuck up on a hole, parted the trees back and his dad handed him a rod and told him to “set” the fly on the water. Up came a beautiful brook trout to take the fly, it ran about in the water, tugging at the little boy’s arm and then there it was in hand, its shimmering, colorful body captivating him.

Orr has been fly fishing ever since.

“And it has taken me to some really neat and beautiful places,” he says.

And that’s probably one of the best reasons for learning to fly fish in New Mexico: The opportunity to visit and fish an endless number of great places including fabled spots like the Rio Costilla on the Valle Vidal, the blue ribbon San Juan River and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area in the Rio Grande Gorge.

And maybe then the newborn angler can begin to understand and entertain the need for all that expensive gear found at the fly shop.

On second thought, maybe it’d be better just to save the money for gas and get back out there.

This story originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

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