Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Remote Forest Service Cabin Makes for Great Romantic Getaway

Looking for a romantic getaway in the great outdoors after being cooped up all winter?

Then the Forest Service has got just the place for you, a neat little cabin in the woods, tucked in among a vast stand of aspens with a babbling brook and beaver ponds right outside the front door.

And it’s only four hours from Santa Fe, up in the mountains flanking the upper end of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado.

The Brewery Creek Guard Station is one of several remote cabins located within the nearby Rio Grande National Forest that the public can rent for a reasonable fee and enjoy the same scenery some others pay millions to enjoy.
The rustic cabin at Brewery Creek is fully functional and in a great location. 
The Brewery Creek Guard Station is a quaint, two-room, white clapboard cabin with a fire pit and picnic table in the yard, a new outhouse and all the amenities needed to enjoy a comfortable night in the woods.

The cabin features lights, heaters, a full sized stove and refrigerator; all powered by propane as there is no electricity available. The kitchen comes fully stocked with cast iron skillets and other pots and pans as well as plates and cutlery.

A large kitchen table and chairs separates the kitchen area from the living room where one can lounge on a couch or relax in a recliner.
Brewery Creek passes right in front of the cabin and beaver ponds have created good habitat for trout.
The bedroom features three bunk beds with the lower berths suitable for couples. Sleeping bags, pillows and other gear must be packed in.

The cabin is well supplied with board games and other means of old fashioned entertainment including a series of journals in which visitors have written of their experiences while staying at the cabin.

There is no cell phone coverage at the cabin. For more info about the accommodations, check it out at http://www.recreation.gov.

The cabin was built in 1935 for use by the forest ranger who oversaw the Poncha and Bonanza Districts of what was then called the Cochetopa National Forest.

It sits in the shadow of 13,266-foot Antora Peak and is located just across a mountain range from the historic, silver mining town of Bonanza.

The cabin serves as a great base from which to visit the area’s many recreational opportunities including soaks at local hot springs, wildlife viewing on remote back country roads and perhaps a visit to the nearby town of Salida.
Mule deer bedded down for the morning.
Just across one of the Colorado’s easiest mountain passes at 9,000 feet, Salida boasts great fishing and rafting on the Arkansas River and a very cool downtown historic district.

The downtown area features plenty of Victorian era architecture, great shops, taverns and eateries.

There’s also a nice park and boardwalk on the river that makes for great, sightseeing and picnicking too.

And in the surrounding mountain ranges which including many of Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot peaks, visitors will find great hiking, camping, fishing and skiing opportunities.
Aspen groves surrounding the cabin are ablaze with color come fall.
During a recent early spring visit to the area, a forest road leading to a mountain top reservoir on the North Fork of the Arkansas River provided a great drive but it ended just a few miles shy of the local favorite fishing hole due to impassable snow drifts.

Returning to the San Luis Valley, one might want to stop at Villa Grove Trade where the café boasts excellent meals and live music, which can be heard on select Sundays nights. This is also where the key to the cabin can be picked up and dropped off. See their website at http://villagrovetrade.com/for more info.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Shook.
Villa Grove also boasts a liquor store for those in need before making the 15-mile trek up a gravel road to the cabin.

New Mexican visitors to San Luis Valley may find it a familiar and comfortable place in part, perhaps, because of our shared native Indian, Hispanic and Anglo cultural roots.

It is also home to the headwaters of the Rio Grande, whose waters nourish New Mexico, and its many farms produce much of the barley used to brew the popular western beer, Coors.

It is the location of one of the largest, solar-powered, electric power plants in the country and also home to the vast, Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Bordered on the west by the San Juan Mountains and to the east by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the valley is home to oldest town in the state of Colorado, San Luis, founded by New Mexican settlers from the Taos and Mora areas in 1851.

To the north the valley ends just above the village of Villa Grove and the mountain crossing at Poncha Pass.
Saguache is a fun place to visit in the historic San Luis Valley.
Visitors to the valley from New Mexico typically follow US 285 north through Tres Piedras to the little town of Antonito and then on through the rich, agricultural valley and the college town of Alamosa.

Others might elect to follow N.M. 522 through Taos and Costilla and then head west to the valley from the historic town of Fort Garland on U.S. 160.

The San Luis Valley area boasts several forest service cabins for public use including the Canero Guard Station which was featured in the Santa Fe New Mexican in August 2010 ( http://www.santafenewmexican.com/Local%20News/For-New-Mexicans--San-Luis-Valley-has-familiar-scenes )
Canero Guard Station.
New Mexico does not have any forest service rental cabins but those who are interested in what’s available nearby can find out more at the U.S. Forest Service’s website at http://www.fs.fed.us/ and look under recreation and reservations.

If You Go: From Santa Fe take U.S. 84/285 through Espanola, Los Ojos and Tres Piedras to Antonito, Colorado. Proceed north on U.S. 285 to Alamosa and then pick up state highway 17 to Villa Grove. Just past town, head west on county road LL56 to Bonanza. Take the turnoff to Forest Road 880 at the bridge and follow to the cabin’s gate.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lack of Runoff This Year Cramps Rio Grande Rafting Style.

Mike Boren of New Wave Rafting in Embudo makes a point from his seat in the rear of a raft while taking a group of guide trainees down the Rio Grande in May, 2011.
White water thrill seekers will be lucky to see a high water rafting season this year due to below average snowpack and a lack of real runoff.

Complicating matters is the ongoing drought, low soil moisture conditions, warm, windy weather and a storm stingy La Nina pattern.

“It looks like it’ll be poor runoff season for rafting,” says Wayne Sleep of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Albuquerque which monitors snowpack and other water conditions.”The snowpack is melting but it’s just not making it to the streams.”

Sleep attributes the lack of runoff to dry soil conditions which absorbs a lot of runoff and warm windy weather with causes a lot of evaporation. There’s also very little in the way of snowpack, just 16-percent of average, within the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to augment what runoff exists in the Rio Grande, he says.

Snowcapped  mountains above Taos, New Mexico during a wet year.
That’s why even though snowpack in the mountains of southern Colorado which feeds the Rio Grande is at about 90-percent of average, runoff, as measured by stream flow in cubic-feet-per-second (CFS) at sites in northern New Mexico, is well below average, he says.

The Rio Grande at the Taos Junction Bridge upstream of Pilar is running at about 500 cfs, about half of what it should be for this time of year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s stream flow charts found at http://www.usgs.gov/.

Complicating the problem up north is a lack of lower elevation snowpack to augment the deeper snows found at higher elevation, says Craig Cotten, Division Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Alamosa, Co.

Plus windblown dust is also helping snow melt more rapidly because dirty snow absorbs more sunlight, Cotten says.

“So we’re looking at about 75-percent of average runoff this year,” he added.

And as the Rio Grande flows through the agricultural areas of southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley it is heavily tapped for irrigation.

A San Luis Valley farm.
Under terms of an interstate compact governing use of the Rio Grande more water heads south during wetter years and much less when times are tough, Cotten says.

And that’s why longtime rafting guide, Michael Boren, 55, of Santa Fe is praying for rain up in the San Luis Valley.

The more rain they get, the wetter their fields will be and the more likely they will be to let the water in the Rio Grande pass on through, Boren says.

Veteran rafting guide Mike Boren of Santa Fe.
Boren, a chimney sweep during the winter, a rafting guide during the summer and a former Army Airborne Ranger, says he’d be surprised to even see a season on the Rio Grande’s wildly thrilling Taos Box this year.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he says.

The box which runs 16 miles from the John Dunn Bridge down to the Taos Junction Bridge above Pilar requires about 750 cfs and above for a really good ride and is a favorite of die hard, whitewater, enthusiasts, Boren says.

But the box can still be a fun run at flows as low as 500 cfs, anything below that and it becomes too rocky to navigate, Boren says.

Cotten of the Colorado Division of Water Resources says whitewater enthusiasts should check the divisions’ website http://www.dwr.state.co.us/Surfacewater/default.aspx and monitor stream flows for the Conejos River at Mogote and the Rio Grande at Del Norte to get an idea of future flows in New Mexico.

As flows climb at these sites one can expect them to come up in two or three days further downstream, Cotten says.

But even if the Taos Box doesn’t see high water this year, the five mile Racecourse section between Pilar and the Taos/Rio Arriba County line will still provide plenty of whitewater thrills even during a mild runoff season, says Steve Miller, president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association and owner of New Wave Rafting in Embudo.

Funyaks and rafts float the lower section of the Rio Grande in early spring of 2009. 
Miller says rafting companies have over the years adapted to provide highly entertaining trips even at lower flows by using smaller rafts and adding funyaks, inflatable kayaks, for customers to use on the lower section of the river.

And besides many families with kids and older folks aren’t necessarily looking for a hair raising ride like the white knuckle trip the Taos Box provides, he added.

That’s why trips like those that meander through the Orilla Verde recreation Area between the Taos Junction Bridge and Pilar are so popular.

They provide a gentle, relaxing trip downstream during which passengers can enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace, Miller says.

The Rio Chama should still provide rafters good, weekend, action as water releases from dams on that river are timed to flow downstream on the weekends. The city of Albuquerque announced this week it too would take delivery of its water stored in upstream reservoirs on weekends to accommodate river rafters on the Chama.

So even if the runoff season is mild this year the mighty Rio Grande and scenic Chama should still be flowing and providing visitors plenty of wet and wild fun throughout the summer.
A little white water can be found even on the lower stretch of the Rio Grande during spring runoff.
If You Go: From Santa Re take US 84/285 north to Espanola and then follow Riverside Drive through town. Stay on State Road 68 north towards Taos until reaching Pilar and the Bureau of Land Management’s Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center. A list of commercial river rafting companies can be found on the BLM’s website at http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/taos/commercial_private.html.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Bandelier Now Even More Spectacular with New Theatre and Film

The road into Frijoles Canyon and the Indian cliff dwellings at Bandelier  National Monument.
 It’s already a magical place that captivates visitors with its mysterious caves, ancient Indian history and soaring cliff walls.

But now Bandelier National Monument is all that much better with the recent addition of a new high tech theatre showcasing a visually stunning film of the monument and its surroundings.

And that’s just another fantastic reason to visit one of New Mexico’s most intriguing Indian cliff dwellings.

Four years in the making, the 14-minute film by award-winning National Park Service cinematographer John Grabowska, features towering, expansive views of Bandelier, the Pajarito Plateau, the Jemez Mountains, the Valle Caldera and the Rio Grande.

The film was shot during different seasons of the year with many scenes taken by helicopter and played back in slow motion to give viewers the sense of flying over the countryside.

In one scene the viewer is treated to a flight just off the deck of the muddy, sun drenched, Rio Grande with a flock of birds leading the way.

In another scene the viewer is taken for a soaring ride up a canyon ablaze with aspens in full fall colors.

Grabowska, who has produced many National Park Service films in his twenty-year career, including two others in New Mexico, says even he was impressed with the overhead views.

“The aerials were a real revelation since I'd driven and hiked all over the region and
thought I knew it pretty well,” Grabowska said by email. “But the bird's eye view revealed just how rugged the Jemez Mountains and Pajarito Plateau really are.”

Other shots employ the use of time lapse photography to convey the passing of a day, with clouds scurrying overhead and shadows shifting to mark the movement of the sun.

Cinematographer John Grabowska and his cameraman film the Valles Caldera.Photo courtesy of NPS. 
And then there’s the wildlife, including shots of the extremely rare Jemez Mountain salamander and Goat Peak pika, both natives of the area and being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In both cases those conducting research on these animals led Grabowska’s photographers to sites where they could capture images for the film, he said.

But in other cases it was a “tremendous investment of time” and the guidance of Bandelier Ranger and Wildlife Photographer Sally King, which led to the filming of bear, elk, a rattlesnake and tarantula, an owl and Abert’s squirrel and various birds and other wildlife, all of which make for captivating viewing.

Grabowska, who works out of the National Park Service’s media office at Harpers Ferry Center, West Virginia, says he loves coming here to work on projects.

“I love everything about New Mexico -- the cultural diversity, the high desert landscape, the mountains, the rich history, the huge sky, the far horizons -- and the food, especially the food,” he says. “I still remember the first time I had carne adobada, sheer bliss.”

The snack bar at Bandelier whips up a pretty good, green chili, cheeseburger.

Grabowska, a native of South Dakota, says he misses the distant horizons the West has to offer and hopes to return for good some day.

“I've been visiting New Mexico for 25 years. My wife and I honeymooned in the Sangres and we've been coming back ever since,” he says. “I plan to live there some day.”

Grabowska, 50, has also produced the acclaimed film “Remembered Earth” about the peoples, culture and environment of the Four Corners region of New Mexico that is frequently featured on PBS and can been seen and purchased on DVD at the Northwest New Mexico Visitors Center in Grants.

Grabowska’s other New Mexico film, “Breath of Life,” is an interpretation of the cultural clash between the Pueblo Indians and Colonial Spaniards at the Salinas Pueblo Missions. It too has been aired on local PBS stations and can been seen and purchased on DVD at the National Park Service’s visitor center in Mountainair.

The Long House at Bandelier features a towering cliff face of monumental proportions.
The long version of Grabowska’s new film about Bandelier and the surrounding region is destined for showing on PBS later this summer and is entitled ‘Sky Island”.

“The PBS version, to be broadcast in July, is aimed at a national audience, most of whom have not been to Bandelier and know little about it,” Grabowska says. “’Sky Island’ takes a broader view of the Jemez Mountain ecosystem, from the Rio Grande rift up to the Pajarito Plateau, then continuing uphill into the mixed conifer forest and topping out on the peaks. It also addresses anthropogenic climate change directly since the Jemez are the epicenter of dramatic climate change effects in New Mexico.”

The shorter version visitors to Bandelier see on the monument’s new 9-foot tall, 14-foot wide, big screen is entitled “This Place Knows Us.”

The new theatre at Bandelier features a big screen, plenty of seating and a high quality sound system.
“The film in the visitor center is more Bandelier-centric and with a stronger Puebloan emphasis since the viewer will be seeing it right in Frijoles Canyon, surrounded by the canyon walls and the pueblos where the Ancestral Puebloans lived,” Grabowska says.

The visitor center film features narration by Meryl Streep and Dr. Dave Warren from Santa Clara Pueblo, a former director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian who has a personal connection to Bandelier, Grabowska says.

The film also features a scene involving local Zuni pueblo members dancing and singing at the monument.

Longtime monument employee, Chris Judson, says the film dovetails nicely with the new exhibits on display in the museum since recent upgrades to the visitor center.

A painting by the late Pablita Velarde of Santa Clara Pueblo on display in Bandelier's upgraded museum.
Visitors will find excellent examples of local Indian art and pottery, both past and present, interpretive historical displays and other information about the Pueblo Indians who once lived at Bandelier.

This was done in conjunction with the local pueblos affiliated with the monument including Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Cochiti, Kewa (Santo Domingo) San Felipe and Zuni.

All of these pueblos can trace their ancestral lineage to Bandelier and play an important role in the monument’s mission, Judson says.

But perhaps one of the most important changes that came with the recent rehabilitation of the monument’s historic visitor’s center is for mobility impaired guests.

The museum, theatre and restrooms have been upgraded along with other access improvements to allow these visitors to enjoy a great deal more of what the monument has to offer, Judson says.

Alcove House at Bandelier requires a 140-foot climb up four sets of ladders to visit. 

If You Go: From Santa Fe take US 84/285 north to Pojoaque and take the Los Alamos turnoff on State Road 502. Proceed west to the White Rock turnoff on State Road 4 and follow to the Bandelier entrance. Cost is $12 and is good for seven days. Camping is available on the rim above the canyon in developed sites. For more info see Bandelier’s site at http://www.nps.gov/band/index.htm.

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