Thursday, July 12, 2007

Comanche Creek - Return to My Roots

The hot, dry summer air trembled slightly. I stopped my cast and looked about.

Nothing moved except the flies buzzing about my head, crawling upon my bare legs, tickling me.

I cocked my head back and looked up.

I could see tool marks on the belly of the B-1 bomber as it silently passed overhead.

It was flying just off the deck, hugging the contours of the earth, just below the radar.

The engines’ great roar followed and left me screaming at the top of my lungs.

What a rush!

And then it was gone.

I anxiously looked around hoping to find someone, anyone, else who’d seen it too.

But I was alone, as I had been all day.

The flies continued their endless assault, a fish slowly rose and I returned to my pursuit.

Hunched over, knees bent, casting long loops of line, upstream, into the narrow current flowing between the brushy banks.

The fly settled quietly and gently floated back downstream. I steadily picked up the slack line between my rolling fingers.

The fish came out from under the cover and sanctuary of the bank and rose to lazily sip the fly off the water.

I gently raised my arm and the hook was set.

She splashed and ran with a hearty pull as she attempted to break free. I brought her in quickly, rolled her on her back and slipped the hook out.

I had a camera that day and captured the native cutthroat in all its glory, resting in the palm of my hand. A brilliant red slash under the jaw, a blaze of orange tanned the belly, deep green across the top of its back.

It had been years since I’d seen that photo or thought of that day.

That was until recently when I sat down to write a story for the local paper about opening day on the Valle Vidal.

This was where I learned to fish, fooling naïve, little cutthroats with rudimentary, hand-tied Caddis flies.

Knee-deep in Comanche Creek wearing shorts and sneakers, warm beers in the back of my vest. Over on the Rio Costilla, catching brookies below the dam, running all the way back to the truck in a thunderstorm, the crack of lighting spurring me on.

Camping at McCrystal before they improved the road to bring in more campers and started charging a fee.

Back when opening day meant you shared the river with people you might know, the New Mexico license plates far outnumbering the others.

It’s since gotten crowded on the Valle Vidal and I have stayed away as this beautiful mountain oasis has grown more popular. No crime in that, it’s what saved her in the end. She's protected now from oil and gas drilling, thanks to a great public outpouring and our representatives in Washington D.C.

So this year I went back. I returned to my roots and found the grand old lady still as sparkling and refreshing as a twenty-year old.

She just has a lot more suitors these days.

I slipped under the "exclosure" fencing installed along Comanche creek. They were put in to keep the cows and elk away, to encourage willows and other vegetation to grow and provide cover and shade for the fish.

There were other signs of work along the banks where it looked like they’d driven small-diameter cedar posts into the streambed to protect them and willow shoots had been planted.

This was some serious restoration work and done in preparation of a much bigger plan to restore native Rio Grande cutthroats back into this, their historic habitat. (see related article on the Valle Vidal)

The flies were still there as where the cutthroats, eager and willing to take my fly and still as beautiful as that day years ago when I captured the picture.

I craned my head back and looked up. There were no more military jets. Only big, billowing white clouds building against a remarkable blue sky.

I looked around at the surrounding hilltops dotted with trees, the steep slopes covered in grass and shale, a cathedral-like spire of tall rocks seemed to beckon me.

A truck roared by in a cloud of dust and fading music.

Hell, I thought, even on a busy day the Valle Vidal still has its magical touch.

Car-Camping 101 - A How To Guide

On a recent long weekend fishing trip in Northern New Mexico, Wiley the trout hound sits atop the author’s camping gear, stowed inside the trunk area of a 1996 Geo Tracker. Photo by Karl F. Moffatt/For The New Mexican

By KARL F. MOFFATT | The New Mexican
July 11, 2007

Has the high price of gas forced you to park the pickup and pack the commuter car just to go camping this summer?

Maybe you’re new to the West and raring to get out there and do some camping for the first time?

Whatever your situation, here is a road-trip tested, no-nonsense guide to economical, car-camping that’ll have you bound for the boonies in no time at all.

First, keep in mind that there are very few recreation areas in the West, including those deep within the national forests, that can’t be reached by passenger car.

You simply have to learn to drive low and slow.

Second, visit a store like the Coleman factory outlet in Santa Fe, where they have everything you could possibly need for camping in one place.

Their equipment is legendary, affordable and it works.

You can also pick up most of the following recommended items by shopping around at discount department, hardware and sporting-goods stores.

Just remember, we’re car camping here. We don’t need a lot of high-dollar, top of the line, lighter-than-air backpacking gear.

We just want reliable, affordable equipment that’ll get us comfortably through a typical three-day weekend camping trip.

Shelter and Sleeping

A good night’s sleep is essential, so grab one of those nice big, rectangular cut, flannel lined, cotton-duck covered sleeping bags. They’re roomy, cushy and really cheap.

The nylon-covered bags are just too noisy and slippery; and the mummy bags are too confining. Consider buying a bag rated for cooler temperatures, because it’s easier to cool off in a heavier bag than to try and warm up in a lighter one, although wearing a pair of thick wool socks and a knit watch cap solves that problem, too.

You’ll also need some kind of a ground mat for cushioning and warmth. Those thin, blue foam mats work fine if you’re a kid, but the self-inflating ground mats are so much better.

And while that soft bed of pine needles may be tempting, don’t camp under trees. There’s always the possibility of a limb coming down, a lightning strike or noisy raindrops dripping on your tent long after the storm has passed.

Instead, take two sleeping bags along, one for emergencies and to be used as a mattress on top of the ground mat for a really comfy night’s sleep.

For your tent, consider a freestanding, mid-size dome. They’re quick and simple to set up, require minimal staking and work just fine.

Make sure you check the tent out in the store first. Lie down, sit up and move around in it and make sure it’s a good fit. The floor should be made of a heavier material than the tent walls and extend upward to keep out any flooding. Dragging your heel in the dirt around your tent can also help do the same.

And make sure the tent’s rain fly stands out from the tent walls and is big enough to actually shed rain. Is there plenty of mosquito netting inside for ventilation and does it have little pockets on the tent walls to stash your eyeglasses?

And two doors are always better than one.

Remember to pick up a piece of thick plastic from your local hardware store to fit under your tent floor to protect it from sharp objects, crawly pests and ground moisture.

It’ll protect your investment, but carry some duct tape just in case.

Include a couple of pillows, your slippers, a good book and a battery-powered reading light in your bedroll. Bring extra batteries and a spare bulb — because you will inevitably fall asleep and leave the light on all night.

And if you have trouble getting to sleep outdoors, a good-sized can of pepper spray and a pair of those soft earplugs should help.

Camp Cooking

Buy a good jackknife and carry it; you will use it.

Get some of that old-fashioned blue and white speckled enamelware like the cowboys use. A big coffee cup, a plate and a metal spoon and fork are all you need for each person. This stuff cleans up easily with a water-filled spray bottle and paper towels.

There’s nothing better for your face and body on a hot, dry summer’s day than a blast of fine mist from that spray bottle, too.

For general cooking, buy yourself a good mid-sized, cast-iron skillet and a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed, stainless-steel pot with a tight lid. Both will provide the service, durability and ease of cleanup that camp use requires.

Do not opt instead for cheap, thin, non-stick coated aluminum pots and pans. You will regret it for too many reasons to list here.

And don’t forget the cowboy coffee pot. Add grounds, water and boil for a bit. Let the coffee settle before pouring carefully through a paper towel to filter out loose grounds.

For cooking, try a single or double burner propane or liquid gas stove. They work great and are essential when fire restrictions are in effect. A portable propane barbecue grill is fantastic for grilling steaks, chicken and fish and eliminates the need to tend a campfire and clean up pots and pans.

Bring along a roll of heavy-duty tinfoil to wrap and cook fish, steam fresh vegetables or bake potatoes. Carry a big, plastic trash bag to wrap up your greasy grill before you pack it up in the car.

Bring a five-gallon water jug with a spigot and a couple of kilo-sized plastic water bottles. Haul a water purifier for emergencies. Never pass up a chance to top off your water jugs.

Lastly, pack a chuck box full of dry goods like sugar, coffee or tea, nondairy creamer, hot chocolate, marshmallows, instant soup, soda crackers and all those other items you’ll need.

Then there’s your cooler. Make sure it has handles, a drain and recessed space in the lid for ease of packing.

Always use block ice. It’ll last three or four times longer than cube ice. Wrap your sleeping bags around the cooler and it’ll last even longer! Don’t drain the all the water out; it’s what’s keeping the food cold! Use plastic bags that can be zipped tight to store meats, dairy and other perishables. Double bag them, squeeze out as much of the air as you can to create a seal and sit them up to reduce the chance of water seeping in.

Remember to bring along condiments like butter, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, salsa, steak sauce etc.


Most people arrive home from camping wearing the same clothes they left in. Just bring a pair of jeans and shorts, a couple of changes of good socks, some underwear, your boots and sandals, a couple of T-shirts and a button-down shirt for when you go to town. A wool or fleece sweater, raincoat, wide-brimmed hat and a baseball cap, bandanna and a pair of leather gloves should cover it.

First-Aide and Personal Kit
Have at the very least isopropyl alcohol, antibiotic cream, cloth Band-Aids, athletic tape, an Ace bandage, a needle and thread, Exacto-knife or razor blade, Pepto-Bismol, pain reliever, sunscreen and Solarcaine, toothpaste and brush, prescription medications, soap and a towel, toilet paper and more importantly, baby wipes and insect repellent.

Other Essentials

A plastic tarp, 8x10 minimum, and at least 100-feet of rope cut into four equal lengths for rigging a shade or rain shelter.
A folding camp chair or stool and a TV dinner tray or other small folding table.
A deck of cards and a battery powered, AM/FM radio to help pass the time when forced under the shelter. AM radio really kicks in at night and can pick up some far out stations.
Bring your comfort blanket from home to snuggle in.
Use plenty of bags and boxes to arrange your stuff for easier packing.
Roll tarps, ground mats and sleeping bags on the hood of the car.
Carry jumper cables, a tow strap, a can of tire inflator, some basic tools, although you can get away with a Leatherman in a pinch.
Bring a small bow saw for cutting firewood and a collapsible bucket for hauling water.
Bring a folding shovel for snuffing out fires, digging cat holes and fighting off bears.
Always bring chocolate; you will die for it if you don’t have it.
And never pass up a good swimming hole or real roadside diner.

Also see this article at the Santa Fe New Mexican's web site

Popular Posts