Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wildlife Display and More at CWW Feed Store

They were once a staple of many small towns across New Mexico, local feed and supply stores where one could find a decent pair of gloves, all sorts of hardware and some hay for your horse.

These days it’s a lot easier to find one of those dollar stores than an old fashioned mercantile, but there’s a still a few out there and even one that makes stopping by an exciting adventure.

Those who take the time to visit the CWW Feed Store and More in San Ysidro will find menacing mountain lions, snarling black bears and sneaky coyotes among the amazing array of mounted wildlife on display there.

There’s also the big wide head of a water buffalo looking down from a wall, a slinky leopard ready to pounce and the great curved horn of a rhino on exhibit at the busy store.

Store owner Connie Collis says the mounts are her late husband’s trophies from hunts all around the United States, Mexico and even Africa.

“It’s a great attraction,” Collis says of the wildlife display that spans two rooms inside the store. “But it’s also a tribute to him.”

Collis lost her husband Dave, 66, to a stroke last December.

“And this store, this community, has turned out to be my salvation,” she says. “We have made so many friends here over the years.”

Located off US 550 west of Bernalillo at the turn off to Jemez Springs, the store carries a unique line of cowboy boots, biker t-shirts, western wear and cowboy hats.

And of course, good gloves.

There’s an aisle featuring nothing but racks upon racks of nuts, bolts, screws, nails, hard to find mobile home parts, springs, cotter pins and other hardware.

Then there is the assortment of colored lariats, beautifully designed chaps, riding gear and even armored vests and protective helmets for bull riders.

“My heart is with the horses,” Collis says.

That’s where the riding arena, horse stalls and many animals boarded on the property come in.

And when she’s not at the store she can be found running the stables and riding program at Santa Ana Pueblo’s Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa in Bernalillo.

Born and raised on a small farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley along with her two brothers, Mike and Andy, Collis says she always knew she’d grow up to be a cowgirl.

Her upbringing included 4-H classes, involvement in FFA (Future Farmers of America) and riding with the Rodeo Club at school.

Her father, Charles Andrews, was a lineman at Sandia National Laboratories while her mother, Willene, worked as a store clerk.

But they also found time to tend a garden, can vegetables and raised goats, sheep and cows on their small farm.

And they kept horses too.

“I was very lucky to have had that kind of upbringing,” Collis says. “And you know my parents worked but they never missed a meeting or any event of ours. They were the greatest.”

Both have since passed on but would probably be proud to see how their daughter has carried on the family’s traditions.

Collis graduated from Rio Grande High School and went on to spend a year attending the Agricultural College at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

But she discovered college just wasn’t what she wanted right then, she was a hands-on kind of gal who wanted to work.

Her first job as a young teenager was at a chinchilla farm where her mother worked.

Collis cleaned stalls and did other chores around the place and liked it.

She always wanted to marry a cowboy, too, so she did that next, after finding a good one.

The couple traveled, worked on some great ranches and had a lot of fun together, she says.

That first husband would then end up working for the Dunigan family on the sprawling Baca Ranch near La Cueva in the Jemez Mountains.

The ranch is now owned by the public and called the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

“It was his idea to open the feed store,” she said of her start in business over 20 years ago.

So Collis put her love of horses and the related culture into her new operation in the tiny community of San Ysidro, an old Spanish settlement on the Jemez River in the heart of Indian country.

“I was ready to settle down then but he wanted to continue with the cowboy life,” she says. “So he moved on and I kept the store.”

That would later prove to be a blessing.

Collis remained single for several years concentrating on her work, expanding the operation to include a horse arena and holding pens.

Then one day the Baca Ranch hunt manager, a man named Dave Collis, stopped by the store to pick up some salt licks.

The two became friends, then dated and would later marry during a hastily arranged ceremony on Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch outside of Truth or Consequences.

Dave Collis was guiding a federal judge on a hunt to cull older bulls from the ranch’s bison herd.

“And we got married over that dead buffalo with the judge doing the honors,” she says.

Collis would later go on to work at the Baca Ranch herself as cook during the hunting season from August through November.

“I absolutely loved working up there,” she says of the ranch’s near pristine beauty.

And what did the wealthy clientele enjoy the most for dinner, you might ask?

“White beans and ham, corn bread and banana pudding for dessert,” she says.

Visitors to Collis’ store will find a big, potbellied stove blazing away while the musky scent of leather from hand-tooled saddles and other gear adds to the store’s stimulating aroma.

And with the holidays coming, visitors will find any number of interesting gift ideas amongst the many items stocked on the stores shelves.

Just don’t be alarmed to find a mean old grizzly bear eyeballing you while you’re browsing the aisles.

If You Go: From Santa Fe take I-25 south to Bernalillo and US 550. Follow to the village of San Ysidro and look for the store at the turnoff to Jemez Springs on NM 4.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Latest San Juan Project to Limit Silt, Improve Fishing.

San Juan Fisheries Biologist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Marc Wethington, helps direct the placement of boulders for another taxpayer funded fish habitat improvement project on the trophy trout stream.
The popular Braids fishing area of the San Juan River below Navajo Dam will remain off-limits to anglers until sometime in December as construction crews finish installing fish habitat improvements and sediment controls.

“It’ll be worth the wait,” says Marc Wethington, San Juan Fisheries Biologist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). “We should see immediate improvements to the fishing up here once they’re done.”

The Braids area features many small islands interspersed by channels where the water is shallow and the trout have only a limited number of places to live.

Improvements to the habitat there should increase the area’s trout holding capacity and angling success, Wethington said.

This island will be filled to help direct more river flow into the Braids area above where numerous  pools are being created to provide more habitat for trout.
Flows on the river have also been dropped from normal levels of about 500 cubic-feet-per-second (CFS) to 350-cfs to allow heavy equipment to work within the riverbed.

Some anglers may like the lower flow as it opens up some areas of the river to easier wading and fishing.

So far in the recent weeks crews have completed much of the work on a new catchment basin at the base of Rex Smith Wash which is designed to retain and redirect storm runoff to prevent silt and sediment from washing directly into the river.

The retention pond at Rex Smith Wash is designed to capture storm runoff so silt and sediment can settle and the outflow is directed away from the river.
In previous years heavy flows from the wash were responsible for silting up the popular Kiddie and Texas holes and negatively impacting fish habitat there and further downstream.

At one time runoff from the wash used to flow harmlessly out across what is now the Texas Hole parking lot which was constructed by State Parks to accommodate anglers who pay a $5 a day user’s fee.

But after flooding threatened vault toilets installed there State Parks elected to construct a dirt berm along the edge of the parking lot to channel the wash’s flow directly into the river.

Silt and sediment from Rex Smith Wash dumps directly into the Kiddie Hole where it destroys fish habitat and degrades fishing opportunities.  
The retention pond should now alleviate that problem and end a decade long effort to address it, Wethington said.

Work still to be done to the retention pond includes excavation of the hillside through which Rex Smith Wash flows so runoff can be better directed into the catchment basin, Wethington said.

Outflow from the retention pond will then be directed upstream into a heavily vegetated, marsh area where silt and sediment can settle and the water filter out before draining into the river, Wethington noted.

“The planning engineers on this project have extensive past experience in storm water control,” Wethington said of the pond. “I’m very confident in its design.”

But anglers will probably be more interested in another part of the project which includes remodeling the Braids area to provide more places for fish to live and anglers to stalk.

The foundation of a berm designed to redirect more of the river's flow into the Braids area will be backfilled and planted with native vegetation to appear more natural. 
A mid-stream island is being built up and further out into the river’s flow to redirect more water into the Braids area and increase the depth.

Some side channels will be shut off and filled in while several existing islands will also be consolidated to implement the plan.

Numerous deep holes will then be dug out of the bedrock to provide future homes for fish and willows and other natural vegetation will be planted to return the area to a natural appearance.

“In a few years you shouldn’t even be able to notice the work we’ve done,” Wethington said.

The san Juan River below Navajo Dam in northwestern New Mexico, fall 2011.
The project is the latest of several habitat improvement projects on the river designed to enhance conditions for trout and anglers alike while also serving as a hedge against the possibility of lower water flows in the future.

Riverbend Engineering of Albuquerque and Pagosa Springs, Colo., handled planning for the project while AUI of Albuquerque is providing construction services with assistance from Aquatic Consultants of Albuquerque, Wethington said.

Wethington, a New Mexico Highlands University graduate, has been NMDGF’s Fisheries Biologist on the San Juan River since he joined the wildlife agency back in 1995.

Marc Wethington, 47, of the NMDGF lives with his wife and four kids on the river at Navajo Dam.
His work on behalf of the river and the public is commendable, says his boss, Mike Sloan, Chief of the Fisheries Division for NMDGF.

State Game Commission Chairman Jim McClintic also provided much needed political support to see the project through, Sloan noted.

The $350,000 project cost was funded in part with $250,000 earmarked by former Governor Bill Richardson’s administration. Another $100,000 in federal sport fish restoration funds was also used to meet costs. Those funds are generated through excise taxes on fishing tackle, motor boat fuel and other sporting goods, Sloan said.

Crews will be working long shifts Monday through Thursdays and are expected to finish well before their deadline of January 7, Wethington said.

Anglers are prohibited from entering through the closed area of the river during construction and will be ejected from the park if warranted, Wethington said.

The Braids area between Texas Hole and the Upper Flats is off limits until construction ceases in December. 
Anglers are eagerly waiting to see the results of this latest San Juan River project, says Reel Life Fly Shop Manager, Toner Mitchell, who also serves as current president of the Truchas Chapter of the Trout Unlimited.

“This kind of a marquee project shows people we care about this resource,” he said. “And I think it’s going to make the Braids a whole lot more fun to fish.”

The San Juan River is New Mexico’s premier trout fishing destination bringing in an estimated $30 to $40 million annually to the state’s economy.

The river boasts an estimated 70,000 trout inhabiting the first four miles of river below Navajo Dam where catch and release and two flies only rules exist.

Thom Cole of Santa Fe shows off a typical rainbow trout anglers can catch on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam.
Angler survey results show the river sustains an average of 140 anglers a day who each catch just over a fish an hour averaging 16 inches in length. About 6 percent of those anglers report having caught a trout over 20 inches long, Wethington said.

If You Go: Take US 84/285 north to Espanola, continue on US 84 through Chama to the Dulce turnoff on US 64. Continue to St. Rd 539 and the turnoff to Navajo Dam. Follow across the dam and take St. Rd. 511 down to the river. An alternate route adds about 50 miles but shaves a half hour to an hour from the trip due to higher highway speeds. Take I-25 south to US 550 at Bernalillo and follow to Bloomfield. Then take US 64 East to NM 511 and follow to the river.

This story appeared in the  Santa Fe New Mexican   too.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Fish Sumner Lake While You Can This Winter

Despite reports to the contrary, New Mexico’s popular walleye fishery on the eastern plains, Sumner Lake, has not yet been drained and could actually turn out to be a hot spot for anglers this winter.

“We’ve got plenty of fish here and they’re all bunched up by the dam,” says Sumner Lake State Park Ranger, Lewis Hancock. “People should get out here and go after them.”

The lake’s size shrunk considerably this summer due to the drought and irrigation demands but it still retains a large body of water on its southern end by the dam face where depth is about 20 feet.

The spillway and river below the dam also hold large numbers of fish that have passed through the outlet along with irrigation water, Hancock says.

Storage at the lake stood at about 2,100 acre feet the last week of October which is about 5-percent of its normal maximum capacity of 43,768 acre feet, says Carolyn Donnelly, Water Operations Supervisor for the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque.

Due to the low level of the lake competent anglers should find fishing from the bank very productive, Hancock says.

Tom Witmer, 50, of Gallup was lured to Sumner Lake in mid-October by reports it was being drained and anglers could keep anything they caught. He wanted a walleye but caught this fine carp instead.
The best time of day to fish is in the afternoon when a slight breeze is chopping the water and anywhere off the southern shoreline in the area of the dam.

Large and smallmouth bass are still biting and walleye will remain active throughout the winter, Hancock said. The river below the dam is typically stocked with trout during the winter months too, he said.

The stilling basin beneath the dam at Sumner Lake is deep and wide and is known to hold plenty of  fish from the lake and is regularly stocked with trout during the winter.
The state Department of Game and Fish issued a salvage order in early October allowing for the unlimited taking of sport fish at the lake after receiving reports that the lake was being drained.

The salvage order has since been rescinded, the lake’s level has stabilized and boats can take to the water again.

And with the irrigation season ending on Oct. 31 it should slowly begin refilling due to a steady supply of inflow, about 140-acre feet a day, from the Pecos River and other upstream water sources, Connelly says.

Charles Cook, 93, of Gallup found the turtles at Sumner Lake got to his chicken liver bait quicker than anything else which made for an entertaining afternoon nonetheless.
Some of that water will continue to be released downstream to keep the Pecos River wet for the benefit of the blunt nosed shiner, a fish native to the river and listed as a threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, she said.

And some will also be lost to evaporation and other factors but the lake itself should accumulate enough water over the winter to sustain the fishery and bank some water for irrigation.

But next spring when downstream farmers with the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID) call for their irrigation water the fishery will be once again threatened.

And with yet another dry winter expected due to an anticipated second year of a La Nina weather pattern it’s not expected that Mother Nature will be coming to the rescue like CID did last summer.

CID which owns the stored water in Santa Rosa and Sumner Lakes on the Pecos River had left a substantial amount of water in both reservoirs this past summer to avert draining the lakes and destroying the fisheries.

But the district might not be able to afford to be so generous at the beginning of next irrigation season, said Dudley Jones, CID Manager.

“We’re talking about people’s livelihoods and survival now,” he said.

Another player in the mix, the Fort Sumner Irrigation District, has so far declined to participate in any low flow operation agreement in which they could contribute to a water conservation effort, Connelly said.

The Fort Sumner Irrigation District (SFID) is entitled to the stream flows from the Pecos River up to 100-cubic-feet-per-second but has no storage rights at either reservoir.

Thus that irrigation district typically asks for its due from the river while CID stores anything above 100 cfs that the river carries especially during spring runoff and the monsoon season.

But a lack of any measurable snowpack runoff last winter left Santa Rosa Lake and its downstream partner, Sumner Lake, in sad shape to start off the irrigation year and a sparse summer monsoon season did little to offset that.

Santa Rosa is now only holding about 9,800 acre feet, says Curtis McFadden of the Army Corps of Engineers in Albuquerque. That’s just about 4-percent of the lake’s 267,400 acre-foot peak capacity.

The rings around the tower at Santa Rosa dam and lake shows just how far the water has dropped this year. 
The federal Army Corp of Engineers oversees operations at Santa Rosa Lake while the federal Bureau of Reclamation does so at Sumner Lake.

Thus it would appear that Santa Rosa lake could be in trouble along with Sumner Lake come spring if the winter proves to be as dry as it is being forecast.

Falling lake levels directly impact local economies and state park coffers.

Sumner Lake saw visitation drop from over 100,000 in 2000 to a low of 22,000 in 2004, a couple of years after the lake had been drained nearly dry by irrigators and the fishery was destroyed, according to the park’s most recent management plan.

A 1996 New Mexico State University Economic Impact study of State Parks determined that state parks bring in about $12 million annually to nearby communities.

This story appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican too.

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