Thursday, January 31, 2008

NM News - Game Commissioners Mull Two Fly Rule

In an effort to reduce inadvertent damage and deaths to fish, state game commissioners are slated to consider adoption of a rule to limit anglers to the use of just two flies on quality waters.

The rule targets anglers who fly fish and applies to the state’s “quality waters” where anglers are restricted to the use of flies or natural lures and harvesting is reduced or eliminated to improve fishing quality.

Anglers who use bait would be unaffected by the proposed rule change.

Currently there is no restriction on the number of flies that an angler may use while fly-fishing and some say that’s a problem on quality waters such as the San Juan River, the state’s blue-ribbon trout fishery below Navajo Dam.

“ I don’t see how anyone who loves this river can be opposed to this,” said T. J. Massey , 32, of San Juan River Outfitters. “ It’s about conserving the fishery so my kids and others can experience it like I have.”

Massey says the practice of stringing three, four or more flies on a line to improve the chance of catching a fish is harming the San Juan River’s trout population and doesn’t provide fish with a sporting chance.

“Fishing with multiple flies is brutal,” Massey said. "I just cringe thinking about it."

Fish easily become entangled and wrapped up in multiple fly rigs, are much more likely to become foul-hooked, and appear to be dying more often from these kinds of encounters, Massey said.

Guides and anglers on the San Juan have reported seeing more injured and dead fish on the river in recent years and they find it disturbing. Many lay much of the blame on the use of multiple flies.

Thus Massey has been a driving force behind an effort to adopt the limitation, which he claims enjoys considerable support among many other guides, anglers and state Department of Game and Fish staff.

But while Massey’s petition in support of the rule boasts some of the best-known names in the business, at least one guide who also works on the San Juan River has bucked the trend and opposes the rule.

Jude Duran, 28, of Flora Vista, is an independent guide with six years work experience on the river and he questions the need for such a rule.

“I just question whether it’s even necessary, hardly anybody even uses them,” Duran said of the multiple fly rigs. “Sure it wouldn’t hurt, but will it be effective? Or will this just be another useless law on the books?”

Duran says he’d rather retain his right to use the questionable rigs rather than lose it and also notes there’s no evidence to prove more fish are being injured and killed by multiple fly rigs.

Yet Duran said he rarely uses the questionable rigs although he calls their use a “valid technique” if done properly.

Duran considers the rule adoption a waste of time and money for the state because new signs will have to be posted, new fishing proclamations printed and anglers educated.

“I worry about them having enough to do as it is,” he said.

Duran said he’d rather see the state spending the same time and money on enforcing the prohibition against the use of barbed hooks which he suspects causes more damage than the use of multiple flies on the San Juan River’s quality waters.

“Enforce that rule and do more catch-and-release education, that would be more helpful than this,” Duran said.

Marc Wethington-Summer-2007.

The state Department of Game and Fish’s fisheries biologist on the San Juan River, Marc Wethington, says he hasn’t done a specific study to determine the impact multiple fly rigs or barbed hooks may be having upon the trout population in the river.

However, anecdotal evidence, such as fish inspections conducted during frequent and routine electro shocking, reveals almost all trout in the San Juan River’s quality waters show signs of having been hooked or injured by anglers.

Wethington, who has worked on the river for 13 years and holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, suspects that most fish in the San Juan River’s quality waters will die inevitably from some form of angler induced mortality.

“Very few of these fish are going to die from old age,” he said.

So common sense dictates that anything that can be done to decrease harm to the river’s trout population will help increase the quality of the fishing experience there, he said.

And while most fly fishing anglers are generally law abiding and use barbless hooks as required, many have experimented with and use multiple fly rigs because there is no rule prohibiting them, he said.

Wethington said he supports the rule adoption. He would also like to see more guides and anglers consider quality, not quantity, when gauging their fishing experience on the San Juan River and act accordingly.

And so far the majority of comments received by the state Department of Game and Fish’s Albuquerque office seem to support just that, expressing an interest in preserving the quality of the San Juan’s fishing experience and decrying the implicit “greed” behind the use of multiple fly combinations, said Rick Castell, state Department of Game and Fish’s fisheries manager for the Northwest Area, which includes the San Juan River below Navajo Dam.

“A lot of this is aesthetics too,” he said.

People are just sick and tired of seeing so many dead and maimed fish on the San Juan River and they want to do something about it, he said.

Castell said he wouldn’t expect any problem from the fly fishing community in enforcing the rule if it’s adopted, as they tend to police themselves well.

Those interested in wading in on the proposed rule debate can use the email link under the public comment section of the Department’s website.

The proposed rule change is scheduled to go before the state Game Commission for consideration at its scheduled meeting in Santa Fe on Feb. 21, 2008, at the state Capitol in Room 322.

For more information such as the proposed regulation, agenda briefings, and other information, just look under the commission tab on the Department’s website.

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 fish 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.

The use of barbless hooks on flies is required in the quality waters but the number of flies on a single line is currently not restricted.

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 the San Juan River 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, according to Wethington.

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

Monday, January 28, 2008

Road Trip NM - T or C or Bust!

We fled northern New Mexico’s icy grip in our little Suzuki station wagon and left behind mid-January’s heavy snows, freezing temps and biting wind.

We were headed about 200 miles south to Truth or Consequences and a cheap room at the Belair Inn.

At $50 bucks a night I envisioned a swaybacked bed, bare bulbs and thin walls.

Instead we found two big, firm beds covered in soft, warm comforters with four fluffy pillows waiting on each. The lighting was soft and inviting and the walls, thick and quieting.

The dog settled right in and we kicked back with a cold beer from the little fridge.

Me and my wife, Wren, looked at each other and grinned. Go figure.

We were here for the town’s natural hot springs, hoping to melt away weeks of heavy snow, bitter cold and biting wind that had chilled our bones.

Perhaps the steaming, hot spring waters would clear our congested heads, loosen our aching muscles and bring relaxation to our harried minds.

It was the same reason the Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo came here, to relax and heal up in the hot waters bubbling from the ground.

The downtown museum bears his name and provides more details about this legendary Indian and plenty more about the history of the region.

For instance, the town was once called Palomas Springs because of the doves that roosted in its trees. Then that was shortened to Hot Springs, just like so many other towns throughout the country that had sprung up around geothermal attractions.

So in 1950 when Ralph Edwards of the popular television show Truth or Consequences offered to televise his 10th anniversary special from the first town to adopt his show’s name, the residents here bit at it.

The feeling was the town’s tourist business could use the free publicity and finally dump what was a very common and a dead-end name.

The name change wasn’t without controversy though and has since been put up again for a vote three times, but the majority of residents have each time elected to retain the Truth or Consequences name.

And Ralph Edwards? Well, he proved to be a stand up guy, coming back to this dusty, little town, year after year, to help celebrate its Fiesta celebration in May. The town responded by naming its beautiful, downtown, riverside park after him.

Edwards died in November 2005 at the age of 92 at his home in West Hollywood, Calif., in his sleep, like all those who have lived good lives do.

Truth or Consequences, or T or C as the locals call it, is just a blink of a town.

Most folks just blow right by it on I-25 without ever stopping. Those who do usually end up at one the typical businesses normally found clustered around the highway ramps located at either end of town.

But those who take the time to roll through T or C will find much to enjoy in this funky, desert, hideaway.

We started with a soak in a private tub at the Riverbend Hot Springs, just $50 for the two of us for two wonderfully, long hours. We giggled like kids as we peeled off layers of wool, fleece and denim, kicked our winter boots into a corner and then climbed into the deep stone tub.

Ahhhhh we exhaled as we sunk into the bubbling, hot water. With heavy sighs, we settled back and let the steaming water do its work.

Within minutes our faces were flushed red, sweat beaded upon our brows and our hair lay matted and wet.

Within minutes we were forced to climb out and lay in the warm winter sun, a gentle breeze quickly cooling our skin. As we lounged naked by the riverside, our privacy was ensured by a nicely constructed, rattan screen enclosure, its open front facing the river and the slate, gray mountains looming across the far bank.
We watched as an eagle circled overhead against a brilliant, blue sky while several smaller birds gave chase. On the river, ducks paddled upstream against the river’s current, dipping under to feed and then emerging later further upstream.

The sun blessed our bodies and Santa Fe’s artic grip seemed a million miles away.

Upon emerging from our soak we scheduled a reservation for the next morning and took a stroll around town to check out some of the fabulous, Depression era architecture it boasts.

Many of these buildings are painted bright and lively colors giving the place a feel like that of old Mexico. There are rows upon rows of apartments that harkens back to its heyday as a resort.
And we saw many people out and about, walking through the small town. When we said “hello,” it was interesting that most complained about the weather; apparently it was still too cold for them.

To us it was absolutely delightful. We were stripped down to sweatshirts while the locals were all bundled up in jackets.

It was maybe 50 degrees out and very sunny.

I guess the locals were used to even balmier weather but this latest artic blast had even left its impression down here.
We came across a couple coming out of a row of apartments and asked about the building. The woman said she was the manager and stated that there was room available for a “lady” with a private bath for $290 a month. There was also another room available for a gentleman that could be had for $235 with the use of a shared bath.

Wow! A person could actually survive on a Social Security pension here and it looked like many people did as we passed row upon row of travel trailers and recreational vehicles parked along the town’s back streets.

This part of town had that “Mad Max” kind of a feel to it and I envisioned people huddled around a campfire on any given night, sharing a toke and nip off the bottle, smoke curling about their bodies in the shimmering light of the fire.

As we walked, we came across a little diner on a side street just up the street from the downtown Baptist Church. It was called the Sunset Grill and the grilled, patty melt here was to die for - the fries? just perfect.
And while we found the young waitress to be a little too much of a wise-ass for us, it was just what you’d expect from a good, small-town diner, the likes of which are a rapidly fading institution in this country.

However, the veteran waitress who served us breakfast at the same place the next day brewed a fresh pot of decaf before taking our order and had every condiment any one would ever want before we had a chance to ask for it.

The downtown area, which has its share of empty storefronts, features a small assortment of galleries and tourist shops, many offering the nicely priced work of local artists, both long-timers and those more transient.
The work of local potters is especially good and we have in the past picked up several nice items from Ken Merrick’s Spectrum Pottery studio at 411 North Date St. located on Motel Row.

While there on our latest trip we noticed several locals – with personal travel cups in hand -- looking disappointed upon finding the local coffee bar closed for the holiday weekend.

What’s impressive about this town is their main street appears to be as important to the locals as it is to the visitors as is evidenced by the steady flow of traffic at the local, downtown supermarket and drugstore.

No chain stores here.

We round out our trip with a drive up to the state park below Elephant Butte dam where we could take a nice walk along the river.

It was here that many years ago when I was hiding out in Las Cruces and cooking at another great diner, Dick’s, that I had a memorable fishing moment.

I had taken a day off and came up to T or C to fish below the great dam. The current was ripping along pretty good and there I was with my fly rod in hand chucking a heavily weighted Wooly Booger into the churning waters.

I watched helplessly as it was swept away in a flash. Well, at least I was out fishing, I thought to myself.

Suddenly a big Chevy Suburban with tinted windows came roaring down the dirt drive and stopped amid a swirling, cloud of dust by the river’s edge.

A couple of guys in diver’s suits, armed with spear guns, climbed out. They backed their way into the water and disappeared.

I stood dumb-founded until a few minutes later one of the divers poked his head up from the water over by the far bank, behind a couple of big rocks. Then he held up his spear gun with a giant fish impaled upon it.

I looked over to the Suburban where their driver stood grinning broadly, nodding his head up and down.

I felt like a fool, standing there in hip waders, armed with a fly rod, and sheepishly walked away.

They sure do things differently down here, I remember thinking to myself.

We topped off our most recent trip with a visit to the recently restored guesthouse at the Elephant Butte Dam Site Resort and Marina located just a short drive out of T or C.

Just take 3rd Street out of town, this becomes State Road 51. Do not take the turn off at State Road 179 to the town of Elephant Butte, but instead stay on State Road 51 headed towards the dam and the town of Engle.

At the top of the hill take the road leading down to the dam site and marina. Here you’ll find fine examples of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) work done at the dam, including the historic restaurant, guesthouses and park. See this New Mexico State Parks document for more information about the CCC work at Elephant Butte Dam.

We found the hilltop day use area above the marina offered great views and a wonderful location for a picnic or perhaps even a wedding party. See the dam site for more information about the park and historic cabins for rent.

And on driving back home we took State Road 195, also known as Lake Shore Drive or Rock Canyon Road, from the town of Elephant Butte north along the western edge of the lake. We pased by several empty camping and fishing areas which piqued our interest and were filed away for reference on future trips.

The Butte, as it is known to locals, is a huge reservoir that spans many miles of remote shoreline, sandy beaches and offers plenty of warm water fishing. This great, little back road emerges at exit 89 on I-25 at the Monticello Point turnoff.

But don’t bother trying to find this road on a Richardson administration state transportation map, these maps are now virtually useless for identifying anything but the most heavily traveled routes.

The New Mexico Road and Recreation Atlas or the Roads of New Mexico atlas provide much better details of these kinds of back roads and should be made part of any New Mexico explorer’s road trip kit.

Anyone seeking to discover the true spirit of southern New Mexico should consider Truth or Consequences as a vacation destination, especially in the middle of the winter.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Roadtrip NM - Cerrillos Hills Historic Park

A sunny winter’s day is a great time to take a hike out around the Cerrillos Hills Historic Park south of Santa Fe where one can learn more about the area’s mining history while taking in some great scenery.

Operated by Santa Fe County’s Open Space Division, the park, located about 25 miles south Santa Fe, covers about 1,100 acres of rolling foothills just outside the historic mining town of Cerrillos.

Visitors to the park will find a clean restroom, plenty of informative signs and brochures, picnic tables and thoughtful seating but above all - spectacular views.
The park is open dawn to dusk, is free of charge and leashed dogs are welcome.

During a recent hike up the Jane Calvin Sanchez (marked the Mountain Lion Trail on the informational brochure) the author found the quiet of the afternoon enlivened by the spirited, howls of a nearby pack of coyotes and then the long, lonely wail of a freight train off in the valley.

The Sanchez trail provides several vigorous, uphill climbs to strategically placed benches where one can catch their breath and the views before proceeding on.
Located along the trail are several fenced-off, mineshafts with interpretive signs posted to enlighten visitors.

Hiking amid these piñon and juniper studded hills, one can only imagine the hard work that miners during the mining boom of the late 1800s must have endured searching for silver and gold in these hills.

The Sanchez trail tops out after about a mile and then wends its way around and down a hill to drop back down to the road, Camino Turquesa, below. Here a natural spring bubbles out from under the sloping hillside and willows, cottonwoods and other vegetation flourish in the iron stained water.

Across the road, a hiker can proceed up the Escalante trail to another hilltop resting and viewing area or stop by the roadside just downstream of the spring at a shaded, picnic area with more interpretive signs. It’s a short walk back down the road to the parking area.

The Sanchez trail covered just over two miles and provided several good, strenuous climbs that got the heart pumping and muscles working.

Back at the parking area one can find the wonderful concrete and iron kiosk built to house a sundial with a sign explaining how it works and more information about the surrounding ecosystem.

From here one can also take a wheelchair accessible, graded and graveled trail a short distance to a hilltop viewing area. Here one can look down upon the village of Cerrillos below and compare what they see to a posted map showing how the village looked at the height of its boom days.

Nearby a beautifully built, iron ramada offers visitors a spot to relax and take it all in.

But a trip out to Cerrillos wouldn’t be complete without venturing into town for a cold beer at Mary’s Bar or a stop at the Casa Grande Trading Post - Petting Zoo and Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum. Check out their website for more information.

Those traveling out to Cerrillos Hills Park can make a roundtrip adventure of it by taking I-25 south to exit 267 located at the top of La Bajada Hill, just past the rest area.

Go under the highway and then head straight for the mountains on Santa Fe County Road (SFCR) 57, also known as Waldo Canyon Road. This paved road turns to dirt after about a mile and about six miles later comes upon the old railroad siding of Waldo.

Here one can find the ruins of massive coke furnaces by the railroad tracks and the shade of several aging cottonwood trees. Amtrak and freight trains still operate on these tracks, trespassing is prohibited and caution is advised.

The road then cuts through a narrow, twisty gorge and eventually comes out at Cerrillos where one takes a left onto SFCR 59, which leads up past the village cemetery to the Cerrillos Hills Historic Park. For more information about the park and its the history visit

Upon leaving, visitors can then head back to Santa Fe through Cerrillos and onto State Road 14 to SFCR 45, also known as Bonzana Creek Road, outside of Lone Butte. This road leads off into the foothills and past the Bonanza Creek movie ranch where from the road visitors can see the movie set used to replicate the Texas capitol in Austin during the 1800s which was used in the television, western, series “Comanche Moon.”

Stay on SFCR 45 back to the frontage road adjacent to I-25 and follow it back to State Road 14 and on into town.

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

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ice Fishing Eagle Nest Lake - An Extreme Dream

Adam Vigil, 7, of Taos waits patiently for a bite while ice fishing with his family at Eagle Nest Lake on Saturday, Jan.5, 2008.

Despite the howling wind, bone-numbing cold and threatening weather, plenty of hardy anglers fanned out across the frozen expanse of Eagle Nest Lake this past weekend to hunker over a hole and try their luck at ice fishing.

“This is what it’s all about, man!” said John Gonzales, 43, a Taos plumber, as he pulled a pan-sized trout through a small hole drilled in the ice.

Nearby brothers, Adam Vigil, 7, and Ryan Vigil, 10, of Taos, anxiously awaited their turn to pull in a fish from the cold, dark waters below the cracked, menacing ice.

“It’s fun and the best part is catching a fish,” Ryan said with a wide grin.

The boys’ uncle, Fred Archuleta, also of Taos, said it’s worth braving the elements for the day to get out with his family.

“We love the outdoors, hunting and fishing,” said Archuleta, manager of his family’s restaurant in Taos, El Taoseno. “It’s a chance to catch some fish and forget about work for a while.”

Archuleta wasn’t alone Saturday morning, Jan. 5, as he and about 30 other anglers huddled offshore near the boat ramp at Eagle Nest Lake State Park under threatening skies to try their luck.

Local businesses that cater to the anglers were happy to see them, although at least one questioned their sanity.

“You’ve got to be crazy to go out in this wind,” said Sue Finley with a shake of her head as she manned the counter at the Eagle Nest Marina’s bait and tackle shop, which is located on a road leading down to the lake.

Finley says most days on the lake are pretty nice with plenty of blue skies, sunshine and gentler breezes. Call ahead to the marina for the latest conditions at (575) 377-6941.

“It’s fun, just dress warm and you won’t have a problem,” she said. “Most days they’ve been doing real well out there, I’ve seen some 18- to 20-inchers.”
John Gonzales, 43, of Taos shows off a trout he reeled in from the icy depths of Eagle Nest Lake during a recent ice-fishing outing with family.

The state Department of Game and Fish regulates fishing on the lake and opened it to ice fishing beginning Dec. 28th after it had frozen to a thickness of nine inches or more.

The lake is expected to remain open to ice fishing as long as the weather stays cold.

That’s good news for Mark Stewart of Dos Amigos Anglers in Eagle Nest who, along with the local Chamber of Commerce, sponsors the annual ice-fishing derby on the lake.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19 with registration from 8 to 10 a.m. at the state park’s boat ramp. Fishing will commence at 10 a.m. and run till 2 p.m. The cost is $15 to enter and cash prizes are awarded to the top four positions based on the weight of the total number of fish caught by a contestant, Stewart said.

Stewart said 80 percent of the derby’s registration fees go to the cash prizes with the first place winner taking half of that.

Stewart said the event is highly dependant on the weather and last year only about 34 people showed up because of lousy weather while the year before the event was cancelled because the weather was too good.

“But so far it looks pretty good for this year and I hope we have a good turnout,” he says.Contact Stewart at (575) 377-6226 for updated information.

Ice fishing is an easy way to wile away a day and plenty of folks out of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Los Alamos come up to Eagle Nest to do it, Stewart says.

Skiers hitting the slopes at nearby Angel Fire also spend time on the lake trying something different while on their vacation.

Shops like Stewart’s and Finley’s rent the tools necessary to enjoy a day on the ice including an ice auger to drill a hole, an ice skimmer to keep it from freezing up, a bucket to carry the gear and sit on and a small rod and reel.

Anglers typically use bait like meal, wax and regular worms, salmon eggs, row sacks, small jigs and spoon or blade lures, Stewart said.

Most anglers work just off shore in the shallower water and will try experimenting at different depths to see where the fish are hanging out. Sometimes a faint tap on the rod to give the bait or lure some motion is all that may be needed to attract fish, he said.

But the most important gear for an enjoyable day on the ice is proper dress, Stewart said.

Good insulated boots are essential as are plenty of layers of warm clothing, including a wind-proof, outer shell and warm gloves and cap.

A small, self-heating cushion like those sold to hunters is good to have while seated on the bucket and something like a piece of old carpet to lay on the ice will help insulate the feet from the cold.

Stewart also stressed that those venturing out onto the ice need to be careful walking on clear ice that has been swept free of any snow, as it can be very slippery. Snow covered or crusty ice is easier to walk upon, he noted.

And as for dealing with Eagle Nest’s legendary wind?

“Keep it at your back,” Gonzales, the successful fisherman, recommended.
This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.

If You Go:

Take US 84/285 north out of Santa Fe to Española, stay on State Road 68 through town and then head north along the Rio Grande to Taos and the US 64 turn off to Eagle Nest. About 220 miles round trip. For a scenic return trip to Santa Fe, take State Road 434 south out of Eagle Nest, through Angel Fire to Mora and then take State Road 518 to Peñasco. Take State Road 75 through Peñasco and then turn off on State Road 76 to Truchas. Follow State Road 76 down through Chimayo to Española and then turn back onto State Road 68 and go through Española to US 84/285 back to Santa Fe. Adds about 30 more miles and more driving time due to mountainous roads but passes through many of the historic, Hispanic villages of Northern New Mexico.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Valles Caldera - A Winter Groove

The air is biting cold but the winter sun shines bright as the musty odor of horses washes over the gently rocking sled, the gentle jingle of its sleigh bells adding to the sparkle in the air.

The Valles Caldera National Preserve is open for business again this winter with sleigh rides, snow skiing and snow shoeing to be enjoyed on a fresh layer of deep, dazzling, snow.

“This is awesome,” said Courtney Harris, of Albuquerque, as she enjoyed an outing with her family on New Year’s Day. “The scenery is breathtaking, it’s so relaxing.”

Harris’ family joined those of the Mocklers of Santa Fe and the Schmidts of Los Alamos in the bed of the sleigh, seated atop hay bails and bundled beneath blankets as they ventured through the shadows of the woods.

“They’re slow and steady,” the driver, John Sharp of Santa Fe, says of his team of shaggy blond, American Cream, draft horses Chip and Champ.

Preserve Guide, Larry Sellers, patiently answered questions from his seat in the rear of the sleigh while pointing out the massive girth and extraordinary height of a nearby towering Ponderosa pine.

“This area was never logged so some of these trees are four or five hundred years old,” he says.

The passengers gaze out over the side of the sleigh at the vast, bowl-shaped expanse of the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera, an ancient collapsed volcano that once held a massive lake.

Sellers explains how about 53,000 years ago a quake shook the earth and opened a seam from which the lake spilled, its rushing waters carving the canyon that now leads down to Jemez Springs.

The New Year’s Day sleigh ride was the last of the opening week of the winter season at the preserve. It was six straight days of winter fun for hundreds of guests who took advantage of the holiday festivities, Sharp said.

And more fun can be had on upcoming weekends and on free access days scheduled for Presidents Day and Martin Luther King’s holiday. Cross-country skiing and snow shoeing under moonlit nights are also scheduled for every other Saturday night starting Jan. 5 until the end of March or until there’s no more snow, says Recreation Coordinator Rob Dixon, a Clayton native, graduate of the College of Santa Fe and former Navy combat medic.

There may even be some night rides in the sleigh or wagon when the temperatures pick up a bit, Dixon said.

“The temperature drops fast once the sun goes down behind those mountains,” he said. “It was 28-below zero here last night.”

The schedule of upcoming events and reservations can be made on the preserves’ website . Information can also be obtained by calling the preserves’ office in Jemez Springs at (505) 661-3333.

Dixon conceded he has a difficult job in trying to satisfy the public’s desire to explore and enjoy what was once locally known as “The Baca” while continuing to protect the preserve’s near pristine environment.

“So we’re taking it slow to protect the place,” he said. “But I can’t stress enough how important the public’s input is in determining the programs we put in place.”

The preserve is taking public input now regarding a proposed overnight camping program and people who want to influence the outcome need to get involved, he said.

“We’re always looking for volunteers too, dependable people, who can work the parking lots, patrols trails and assist the public,” he said. “They play a big role in whether we’re successful or not.”

Hikers like, Talitha Arnold, a minister at the United Church of Santa Fe, said she appreciates the preserves’ slow pace in developing public use programs.

“It’s an incredible place, the first time I came here I felt like I was walking on sacred ground,” she said while taking a break in her afternoon hike. “I’m glad they’re restricting people and taking a scientific approach to preserving it so it doesn’t just become another theme park.”

Permits and fees are required for most of the preserves’ programs as the ranches’ operations are mandated to be self-sustaining in the future.

Those interested in getting involved in efforts at the preserve can also join the group Friends of the Valles Caldera’s and find more information at their website.

Meanwhile, back on the sleigh ride, Sellers is explaining to the passengers how the government bought the spectacular ranch from the Dunigan family of Texas in 2000 for a little over a $100 million.

The preserve is well known for its legendary trophy bull elk and boasts a resident population of about 3,500 of the massive animals. A typical hunting season results in the culling of about 250 to 270 animals with the success rate running as high as 70 percent, he said.

And in the summer anglers can apply for the preserve’s lottery system to draw a permit to fish for trout in the upper stretch of the popular San Antonio River. The river is divided up into ten, approximately mile long, parcels of water which allows anglers the solitude of fishing an untouched piece of stream for the day.

Hikers can find any number of trails to traverse through the preserve including free access, no permit required, to two trails, Coyote Call and the Valle Grande Trail on the south side of State Road 4, across the highway from the ranch headquarters.

And this upcoming summer anglers may be allowed under a proposed plan to fish the heavily populated waters of the East Fork of the Jemez River which runs through the meadows fronting the highway, Dixon said.

The proposed plan would allow some form of daily access without having to go through the lottery system so anglers could simply show up and fish, Dixon said.

The proposal is still in its planning stages so public comment is encouraged to help formulate the final outcome, Dixon said.Comments can be sent to or sent by post to the Valles Caldera Trust at PO Box 359, Jemez Springs, NM, 87025.
As the sleigh ride wrapped up its hour-long, three mile ride, Sharp pulled up the horses to allow the passengers to watch a coyote lope across an open field, its nose down to the ground.

Sellers explained how the coyote will use it finely tuned hearing to listen for the sound of rodents scurring about under the snow and then leap high into the air to then pounce upon its unsuspecting prey.

Riding back to the parking area in a warm van the group chatted excitedly about their afternoon and enjoyed the camraderie of having enjoyed a special day together.

“This was way too cool,” one of heavily bundled kids said.

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

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