Monday, June 15, 2015

Adobe Belle Resort at Conchas Lake Restored and Ready to Reopen

Conchas Lake is an oasis on the sunny plains of eastern New Mexico where once again vacationers will soon be able to rent an historic cottage for a cozy getaway.

The Adobe Belle Resort at Conchas Lake has been closed for the last three years while making repairs to the historic cottages built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression.

Now much of the structural work and upgrades have been done, the process of picking a new concessionaire is underway and the resort should be back in operation soon, maybe even by this summer, says Steve Peterson, lake manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Steve Peterson at the Adobe Belle Resort, Conchas Lake NM.
The Adobe Belle cottages have long been one of state’s best kept vacation secrets.

It’s a place where guests can lounge on a lawn under a big shade tree while enjoying a  cool breeze and the view of the immense lake.

Each two-bedroom cottage features hardwood floors, exposed vigas, thick adobe walls, kiva fireplaces and tiled bathrooms.  Each has an enclosed patio, shaded carport and plenty of seclusion too.

Under renovation
The four duplex, rental cottages are tucked away in a secluded neighborhood under a canopy of shade trees behind the Army Corps offices at the dam.

The rental cottages are a big draw for those who like to fish the lake for its bass, walleye, and other warm water species. 

Recent monsoon rains and decent winter snows have helped the lake recover from years of drought and the fishing is now reported to be some of the best in the state, says Eric Frey, sport fish program manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
A good clue as to where the fish might be.
Other recreational activities at the lake include swimming, water skiing, sailing or simply playing on the sandy beaches.

But if its history you’re into, then Conchas lake is a really a great place to visit.

Built primarily as a public works project to provide jobs to New Mexicans at a time when half the state was unemployed back in the 1930s, the dam provides flood control, irrigation and recreation today.

It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in part because of the Spanish/Pueblo Revival architectural style used throughout the project.

The Adobe Belle cottages.
While crossing the dam one might notice the bronze doors and wrought iron lantern fixtures built into the structure.

A stop at the Corps office will reveal paintings by artists employed during the Depression that document the dam’s construction.

And the visitors’ center is stocked with interpretive and historical displays and a video of the dam’s history.

But what one can’t see any longer is the town that was carved out of the desert on the Bell Ranch just downstream of the dam to house some 2,500 workers and their families while the project was underway.

The view from the Adobe Belle cottages.
Ninety percent of the workers on the project came off the relief rolls, earning between 25 to 45 cents an hour.

The town known as Conchas City consisted of 36 dormitories, 132 stand-alone homes, multiple offices and workshops; all built from handmade adobes or carved sandstone, according to published accounts of the project’s history.

There was a mess hall to feed 1,500 workers a day, a 24-bed hospital considered one of the best in the state at the time and related businesses including a gas station, drug store, restaurant, pool hall, grocery store, barber and tailor’s shops.

The community hosted a grammar school and high school, a 700-seat movie theatre that was the envy of the area and even tennis courts and a golf course.

Electricity was provided for the town by generators powered by natural gas obtained through a pipeline laid by workers to Tucumcari, some 32 miles away.

The town was later dismantled when the 235-feet high, 1,250-feet long dam, $15-million dam was completed after four years of construction. Many of the same materials were later reused by CCC workers to create the Army Corps’ offices, workshops and the cottages at the dam. 

The dam at Conchas lake.
A history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Albuquerque District by Michael E. Welsh provides in-depth details about the dam project including ethnic tensions, political scandals and other issues that arose and may sound familiar today.

For example, primary contractors on the job brought in Mexican Nationals from their Los Angeles base of operations who were deemed more competent and learned in the ways of heavy construction than the relief roll workers, of whom 60 percent were poor, local Hispanics from farming and ranching backgrounds, according to Welsh’s book.

This led to ethnic tensions during the project which still exist today for many New Mexicans.

And a prominent U.S. Senator, Dennis Chavez, was at the heart of allegations that he had placed relatives and family members inside the public relief system who pressured relief workers statewide to make campaign contributions to the Chavez political machine or face transfer from their hometown relief jobs to the remote project at Conchas Dam, according to Welsh’s book.

This earned the Conchas Dam project the nickname “Devil’s Island” among some workers who were forced to toil there.

Today the construction town is gone but the lake remains with several campgrounds to enjoy, a couple of boat ramps, a marina and other amenities that make the state’s third largest lake a great vacation destination. And it’s just a two-hour, very scenic, drive from Las Vegas.

For more information about Conchas Lake can call themCorps at 575-868-2221 or 575-868-2421 or visit their website at

Friday, May 15, 2015

New Mexico's Oasis on the Plains - Mills Canyon.

Hidden deep in an unseen canyon far out on the prairie of New Mexico lies a tranquil, riverside campground where the history, scenery and solitude make for an exceptional stay.

Mills Canyon is on the Canadian River near the small farming and ranching community of Roy where mountainous clouds loom over a seemingly endless spread of grassland.

It’s may not be one of the Forest Service’s bigger draws but it’s a great little campground for those venturing out onto the plains to see the Kiowa National Grasslands.

“It’s this totally unexpected jewel out there in the middle of the prairie,” says Mike Atkinson, 58, District Ranger for the Kiowa and Rita Blanca Grasslands of the U.S. Forest Service’s Cibola National Forest. “And you’d never know it was there until you see the tops of those ponderosa pines.”

Visitors follow NM 39 north out of Roy to the well marked turnoff at Mills for a seven mile jaunt along a good gravel road stretching out across the plains. 

Then with the suddenness of falling off a cliff the road turns a corner and drops steeply into the canyon.

The rocky, narrow road traverses a few tight curves, some switchbacks and a couple of slight dips during its three mile descent and is unsuitable for most recreational vehicles, travel trailers and touring buses.

Visitors in larger vehicles can stay up top at a convenient campground found just off the road at the canyon’s edge.

Those headed down to the campground below will pass under towering Ponderosa pines and see scrub oak, juniper and pinon pine on the hillside.  
Visitors will find several wide spots on the road where interpretive signs have been placed that explain the canyon’s history, geology, wildlife and other interesting information.

From these spots on the road visitors can also see the pea green river sparkling below and the red faced cliff walls fringing the canyon.
“It’s a breath taking drive in,” Atkinson says.

Once down below visitors can pick one of 12 camp sites either hidden among the trees by the river or a little further back along the road with a clearer view of the sky.

This is a primitive campground with no running water, electricity or trash collection so visitors must pack out what they brought in.

The recently upgraded camp sites each feature a picnic table and fire ring and the camp ground boasts two brand new outhouses.

The canyon itself features stands of cottonwood and juniper trees, wide pastures and the still standing rock walls of abandoned buildings with more interpretive signs.

Visitors will learn that what nature has now reclaimed and hidden was the once thriving, turn of the century agricultural empire operated by Melvin Mills, a shrewd businessman, district attorney and legislator whose mansion in Springer still stands.

Mills had consolidated family homestead holdings within the Canadian River canyon now named after him and created a progressive farming and ranching operation complete with a complex irrigation system, numerous fruit and nut orchards and solid stone buildings, according to published historical accounts. Read more about the history of Mill's Canyon at

Much of the bounty from Mills’ cattle and agricultural operations was hauled to nearby railroad depots in Springer and Wagon Mound to help supply the railroads’ Harvey House hotels.

Mills also built a hotel to service vacationers brought into the canyon by stagecoach and his operation thrived as a vacation resort.

But in 1904 a massive flood brought on by unseasonably heavy rains roared through the canyon, wiping out his empire and burying much of it under several feet of silt and debris.

Mills never recovered and abandoned the canyon to help build the town of Mills back up on the plains.

But despite his many successful business efforts, the man is said to have died penniless and dependent upon the generosity of others.

Meanwhile the town of Mills and the surrounding plains prospered as homesteaders flocked to the area and took up farming.

But once again nature and fate stepped in to put a halt to man’s best laid plans.

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl conspired to drive many off the plains and all that remains now of the town of Mills is a couple of ranch houses and a desolate windmill.

In the end, federal government was forced to step in to save this area of the prairies from any further losses.

The national grasslands are the remains of those efforts, four tracts of federally managed grasslands with two in New Mexico. About 78,000 acres around Mills Canyon and another 57,000 acre tract near Clayton.

Both are administered by the Forest Service’s Kiowa and Rita Blanca grasslands office in Clayton. For more information visit the Cibola section of the U.S Forest Service Web site at or call the ranger office at 505-374-9652.

Back down in Mills Canyon, visitors can explore the remains of Mill’s stone-built, two-story hotel, relax in the cool shade of the carved sandstone cliff walls or wander among remaining stands of orchard trees.

And the river is said to even harbor a good population of catfish to keep anglers happy.

During the summer months visitors will find the temperature here rises quickly but with plenty of shade and maybe a spray bottle of water for swamp-cooler like relief one can easily ride out the afternoon comfortably.

Be aware of the potential for encounters with snakes and other wildlife and take preventative measures to limit risks.

The campsites here are free to use and visitors supplied with plenty of water, ice and insect repellent can enjoy a very leisurely stay due to its remote location.

Visitors can find most everything they’d need for an enjoyable outing to Mills Canyon in the nearby, tidy little town of Roy. The town boasts a bar with package sales, a 24-hour gas station, a diner, bank, grocery/hardware store and even a little old fashioned motel.  Buy your camping and other supplies here and help keep the rural economies thriving.


From Las Vegas head northeast on I-25 to Wagon Mound and turn east towards Roy on N.M. 120. At Roy take N.M. 39 toward Abbott and about 10 miles out of town turn west on Mills Canyon Road and follow for about seven miles to the canyon rim. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Clayton Lake Fishing Derby One of NM's Best

Roger Martinez shows off a nice stocked rainbow trout he caught at Clayton Lake State Park.
 It’s said to be New Mexico’s biggest and best fishing derby drawing thousands of visitors from neighboring states to Clayton Lake State Park where the top prize of a fully equipped bass fishing boat is a big draw.

“It’s just a good, ole fashioned, family affair,” says Charles Jordan, longtime manager of the park for New Mexico State Parks. ”Everyone loves it and it just seems to get better every year.”

The park outside of Clayton has played host to the event for going on 15 years now.

Many of the event’s guests camp out at the park and turn the weekend into a real family friendly holiday with lots kids running around and people visiting each other at their campsites, Jordan says.

“We show folks some real down-home New Mexico-style hospitality here,” Jordan says.

Clayton Lake State Park is an oasis out in big sky country on the plains of eastern New Mexico.
Camping reservations go quick as the event draws near but park staff make every effort to accommodate folks and there’s also a KOA campground and several hotels including the historic Eklund to stay at in town.

This year’s annual derby is scheduled for the weekend of June 13 and 14 and will feature up to $10,000 in prizes including a fully equipped bass boat and top cash prizes of $1,500 and $1,000, says Leroy Montoya, town trustee and fishing derby committee board member.

Another winner collects a check at the Clayton lake fishing derby. Photo courtesy of Clayton Chamber of Commerce.
Anglers can also earn cash prizes for catching the best trout, catfish, bass or walleye.

Four state record walleyes have been caught at Clayton Lake since 1981 with the current record of a 32-inch, 16 pounds 9 ounces caught by G.L. Peppers back in 1989.

Eric Frey of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish shows off one of the big walleyes one can find lurking in the depths of Clayton Lake.
The lake is heavily stocked by the state Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) which owns also the property and built the dam back in 1954 to benefit migratory waterfowl.

State Parks’ leases the lake from NMDGF under an agreement which allows licensed anglers to fish there without having to pay a State Park day use fee.

 Registration for the derby and prizes is $15 per person.

In addition to the big awards, over a hundred door prizes including sporting goods and other merchandise, much of it donated by local businesses, will be awarded on an hourly basis to ticket holders during the two-day event.

There's plenty of door prizes to be awarded at the Clayton Lake fishing derby. Photo courtesy of Clayton Chamber of Commerce.
Visitors will find free coffee and donuts available each morning and free hot dogs, soda and chips at lunch both days, Montoya says.

For kids there’s the dinosaur egg hunt where children can root through a big pile of sand each morning in search of plastic Easter eggs packed with coins. 

Kids can also enjoy riding around the park in a toy train towed by an ATV while others can participate in the horse shoe-pitching tournament, hot dog-eating contest or attend the star party on Saturday night.

Clayton Lake State Park features a fully equipped observatory to view the cosmos under some of the best star-gazing conditions in the country.  It is one of only four sites worldwide officially recognized by the International Dark Sky Association for its incredibly dark skies.

Clayton Lake State Park Manager Charles Jordan stands inside the park's observatory.
The Association bestowed its top honor upon the park in June 2010 for efforts by the state, county and town to preserve the area’s dark skies, reduce surrounding light pollution and provide educational programs.

The park’s $75,000 Star Point Observatory opened in June 2006 and features a 12x16-foot building with a retractable roof that houses a 12-inch, computer operated telescope and remote television monitor which allows for group viewing.

The telescope and monitor is powered by a solar charged battery system.

Volunteers from the local astronomy club play a big role in supporting the observatory, Jordan says.

Views of the moon and the stars from Clayton Lake State park are incredible.
They host regularly scheduled star parties each month on the first Friday of the new moon cycle while also providing impromptu parties for visitors when the park has plenty of overnight visitors.

Hundreds of local school children, scouting groups, astronomy clubs and park visitors have all enjoyed the benefits of the observatory at Clayton Lake State Park.

The park also enjoys a good reputation among bird and wildlife watchers and those interested in paleontology as a large set of dinosaur tracks were found and are now preserved in the earth that forms the dam’s spillway.

The pathway at Clayton Lake State Park allows visitors to see dinosaur tracks up close without damaging them.
The park also features a new visitors’ center constructed of straw bale and recycled steel beams while utilizing the latest in green energy techniques.

The visitor center also features an interpretive display inside which highlights the park and surrounding area’s history and other interesting information.

Clayton Lake State Park's visitor center features is state of the art and eco-friendly.
The park boasts over 30 campsites equipped with shelters, picnic table and fire rings.

There are seven sites with electric and water hookups and two large group shelters.

Showers are available inside the main restroom while numerous vault toilets are located throughout the park.

The annual fishing derby is just one of several successful events that the town of Clayton hosts throughout the year, says Judy Steen, Executive Director Clayton-Union County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.

Clayton Lake State Park can be found just 12 miles north of town off NM 370 out by Rabbit Ear Mountain.
The town’s annual Fourth of July celebration including a parade, pancake breakfast, rodeo, barbeque, street dance, softball tournament and fireworks show draws thousands every year, she says.

The town also pulls in a big crowd for its Viva New Mexico music festival in mid July featuring street dancing in front of the historic Eklund Hotel to the tunes of performers such as Al Hurricane Jr., Roberto Griego and Tobias Rene.

Then there’s the annual Union County Rodeo in August spanning the course of four days which also brings in plenty of folks from the surrounding countryside, Steen said.

The town’s well attended annual arts festival takes place in October featuring up to 40 arts and crafts booths on display in the Clayton Civic Center

And in March up to 120 runners compete in the Dust Bowl Marathon, an event spanning four neighboring states, that ends in Clayton and has become another great event for the town, Steen says.

Clayton is located in the heart of cattle country where folks living on remote farms and ranches can obtain supplies and enjoy the town's many popular events. 
Clayton’s approach to keeping its rural economic engine humming could serve as a model to other agricultural communities seeking to in tap into the state’s booming tourism trade, Steen suggested.

“We do everything we can to keep our small rural community thriving and these kinds of events are an important part of that effort,” she said. 

For more info about Clayton’s events see their website at or visit their Facebook page at .
 For more info about the derby check out Clayton Lake State Park’s web page at
And for a nicely done take on the 2011 derby see the video at .

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New & Improved Eagle Rock Lake & Red River in the Works!

Dredging of Eagle Rock Lake at Questa NM.
Construction of a new fishing park at Eagle Rock Lake near Questa and in-stream fish habitat improvements at the Red River fish hatchery are scheduled to begin soon with completion expected this summer.

“This is pretty exciting,” says Nick Streit of Taos Fly Shop. “It’s going to be a popular place.”

Both projects are scheduled to be done by the end of June and will help promote angling and tourism in the area, says Eric Frey, Sport Fish Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF).

Chevron Mining construction crews are already dredging the lake to remove contaminated silt and sediment from the bottom before installing a new clay and sand based liner.

Installation of new lake and riverside trails, bridges and in-stream fish habitat improvements will begin shortly, Frey said.
Anglers will be able to fish both the Red River and Eagle Rock Lake while enjoying a great setting. 
And when it’s all done the lake will be stocked with trout from the nearby Red River fish hatchery.

“It’ll be a very, nice aquatic park in a beautiful setting that folks can really enjoy while fishing,” Frey said.

Downstream at the hatchery construction will begin at the same time to create in-stream fish habitat improvements on the river just above and below the facility, Frey said.

In-stream habitat improvements typically involve adding rocks, tree trunks and reconfiguring the streambed to provide better places for fish to live which in turn benefits anglers.

Featureless runs like this at the Red Fishery fish hatchery will be modified to provide better fish habitat and improved angling conditions.
“There two projects will tie in nicely and make the area much more attractive to anglers,” Frey said.

Campers will find numerous streamside Forest Service campgrounds just upstream of the lake between Questa and Red River and several primitive sites along the road to the hatchery too.

Eagle Rock Lake is just outside of Questa and should be a real help to the village’s economy, says Questa’s Tourism Director, Alberta Bouyer.

“This is a real plus for us as we transition from a mining based economy to one more focused on outdoor recreation and tourism,” Bouyer said.

Questa village leaders have decided its time to tap into the tourism and outdoor recreation market.
The longtime molybdenum mine at Questa had sustained the local economy for generations but it shut down for good last June due to poor market conditions.

So now the village is in the process of reinventing itself.

“We’re a small, historic village surrounded by unspoiled wilderness and that’s what makes us unique,” she said. “And this will really help as we work to promote ourselves as one of the best fishing, hiking and camping destinations in the state.”

For more info about Questa and what it has to offer see their website at

Centrally located businesses like the Tewa Lounge and Village Stop and Go could benefit if more visitors stopped in the village while traveling through the area. 
Bouyer said Questa is now working hard on several fronts to develop its economy to better serve those who come to the area to get away from it all.

Questa is uniquely situated in the midst of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, the Hondo/ Columbine Wilderness, the Carson National Forest and nearby Costilla Park, Latir Wilderness and the Valle Vidal.

John Bailey, manager of the monument for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said he is working with the village on the possibility of jointly manning a visitor center in the center of Questa to better serve visitors of the area.

The high mountains above Questa provide many outdoor recreational opportunities for those seeking to hunt, fish, camp, hike or just enjoy northern New Mexico's spectacular scenery. 
But in the meantime  the new fishing park and improvements on the river  should go a long way towards bringing more anglers to the area, says Streit.

“We’ve been working on this for years and it’s exciting to see this finally getting off the ground,” said Streit who is also a member of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Trout Unlimited, Questa Economic Development Board, Chevron, BLM and the US Forest Service all played a role in developing the project, Frey said.

NMDGF picked up the $800,000 tab for construction of the two projects using proceeds from habitat stamps bought by anglers when obtaining a state fishing license, Frey said.

Apple Mountain Construction of Estancia and Riverbed Engineering of Albuquerque are doing the site work job while dredging of the lake is being handled by Chevron Mining Inc. which owns the now closed mine.

The Red River has rebounded nicely from past contamination from mining activities and now supports resident population of feisty brown trout and is regularly stocked with rainbow trout from the hatchery.
Steve Miller, 75, of Embudo enjoys a mild winter's day of fly fishing on the Red River downstream of the fish hatchery in 2015.
Nearby the Rio Grande gorge within the national monument continues to provide anglers with excellent fishing for wild rainbow and cutthroat trout with plenty of developed camp sites available along the rim above.

Anglers venturing to the area will find a pretty good selection of traditional fishing supplies at Questa Lumber and Hardware next door to the village supermarket. The nearest fly shops are in Taos or Red River.

Anglers who like lake fishing in a high mountain setting will find 15-acre Cabresto Lake where brook and cutthroat trout can be caught just up the road from Questa.

Anglers venturing into the area are asked to stay out of the construction zones at the Eagle Rock Lake and the Red River Fish Hatchery until work is completed by the end of June.
The Red River Fish Hatchery near Questa NM.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winter Fishing on the San Juan - Bring it On!

There's a reason savvy travelers love the off-season and the same goes for those who love to fish, especially on the fabled San Juan River in northwest New Mexico.

“I really like the winter fishing here because you don't have the crowds and you can fish pretty much anywhere you want,” says Mark Wethington, a state Department of Game and Fish biologist stationed on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam. “And what's so nice about New Mexico, you get a lot of really nice sunny days between November and March.”

I met up with Wethington during one winter fishing trip to the San Juan River. He was out counting beaver dams and I was chasing trout, we both had little or no competition on the river that day.

And, sure enough, the day started out sunny and warm, and the fishing was fine.
But as can be expected on the San Juan River in the winter, the wind kicked up, the clouds rolled in, and it turned cold, as did the fishing.

So we hiked back to the parking lot where the conversation turned to the much anticipated resumption of the annual spring release of irrigation water from Navajo Dam.

Several years of drought has severely reduced the amount of water typically sent downstream each spring and the river, the fish, and the bugs they eat have suffered some because of it.

“But we'll get a big flush this year,” Wethington said. “And it'll really benefit the river by pushing downstream a lot of the sediment that's been deposited over the last four years. It's needed and should really improve the aquatic life and fish habitat.”

The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam, is expected in April to start increasing its release of water from the dam from a current level of 350 cubic feet per second to a high of five thousand cfs by May. It will be maintained for several weeks at that level until dropping again to 350 cfs.

The big flush, a man-made version of nature's own spring runoff, would blow out the river and mark the beginning of the official fishing season on the San Juan river.

The drift boat guides, the tackle shop owners, and the summertime anglers will be wringing their hands with glee. The flush is expected to stir things up good, including a lot of bottom-hugging lunkers.

But for me there'll be no more long days of hiking and fishing the river without fear of heatstroke.

No more hanging out in the parking lot at the end of the day, having a cold beer and realizing you don't have any ice and really don't need it.

It'll be the end of no waiting for a table at the cantina and dinner served up hot, fast, and friendly.

And there'll certainly be no more rolling into the campground at dusk and having my pick of the sites and finding a pile of leftover firewood to boot.

Those are just some of the primary reasons for fishing the San Juan in the winter, but there are others, too.

Like just lying down at streamside and letting the winter sun warm your face while layers of wool, canvas, and rubber keep the cold and wind at bay.

Or letting the dog roam free without worrying someone might think she's a stray and take her home when I'm not looking.

And then there's the occasional thrill of a big brown trout snatching my drifting-egg pattern off the bottom and running clear upstream and across to the other bank in a big show of strength.

And one more thing, maybe the best, is watching a snow squall roll in.

As the water darkens, the Bae tis begin to hatch, and the fish begin to rise.

They come up slowly, sipping the fluttering bugs off the surface, and now you can tie on a dry fly.

It's what fly fishing the San Juan River is all about.

Big fish on small, dry flies smack dab in the middle of the winter. It's why you'll see so many out of state plates in the parking lots.

I guess the only real problem I can think of with winter fishing on the San Juan River is there's rarely anyone else around to witness your good luck.

Originally published in the Sandoval Signpost, April 2005.

If you go winter fishing on the San Juan River:

Try to drive up in clear weather and don't worry about it once you get there.

From Albuquerque take I-25 to 550 in Bernalillo and it's about a two-hundred-mile trip through a lot of remote, rural, Indian country with the little town of Cuba providing a good, half way, rest stop. Save your appetite and stop at El Bruno's for classic New Mexican fare at an old, family owned local restaurant that does it right.

Everything you need for a sucessfull trip the San Juan River including fishing licenses, gear, equipment, food, and lodging—can be had at Navajo Dam, that's all they do there.

Just bring your checkbook.

Otherwise, take all the equipment and winter gear you've got and sort it all out once you get there.

You'll probably want to bring a pair of neoprene waders because this water is cold. Breathable waders will work, just bring long johns and a pair of thick fleece pants to wear underneath. And don't forget to bring a couple pairs of good thick wool socks for your feet.

Don't skimp on clothing. It can be sunny and warm one minute and windy, cold, and wet the next. Dress in layers with lots of polar fleece or wool and top it all off with a good windbreaker/raincoat to ward off the wind.

A wool watch cap or fleece beanie will be useful for pulling down over your baseball cap. Take a pair of fingerless gloves too. Just remember to push up your sleeves and remove your gloves before working with a wet,netted fish.

Wear a baseball cap and polarized sunglasses to ward off the sun, and most importantly, don't fall in the water. If you do, quickly return to your vehicle and get out of those wet clothes fast. Pack an extra outfit for these occasions because if you don't, you'll need them.

To stay warm and keep your motor humming eat plenty of energy foods like trail bars, beef jerky, peanuts, candy cars, dried fruit, etc.

It's also important to stay hydrated and because of the cold, you'll have to force yourself to take in adequate amount of water. A water purifier makes life on the river easier while a flask of whiskey makes it a lot more enjoyable.

One last thing, bring and use lip balm and skin lotion, the wind, sun and cold will result in cracked, painfull chapped lips and burnt skin that only shows up days later when it's too late to prevent it. Don't be a fool, use the tool!

And don't be afraid to camp out, it's not as cold as you think, and once you're inside a couple of sleeping bags, you'll warm up fine. I find a couple of hand warmers in the bottom of the bag help keep the foot area toasty.

Bring your beanie to bed to keep your head and ears warm through the night and your fingerless gloves too, so you'll be comfortable while reading. Don't forget that book and a reading light.

And guys, keep an empty water bottle inside the tent, it'll save you the hassle of getting up in the middle of the night to take a piss. Just don't mistake it in the morning for your other water bottle, the one you kept under your bags so it wouldn't freeze.

And don't forget a headlamp and extra batteries, it gets dark here early and bumbling around with a flashlight clamped between your teeth gets old real fast.

That's why in the winter I shun a lot of cooking and opt instead for heating up a can of Campbell's Chunky soup, Dinty Moore beef stew or a can of Hatch Brand green chile stew.

Just don't forget a box of crackers, you'll want them for sure.

Pack hot cocoa, tea, instant coffee, non dairy creamer, sugar, a small cooking pot and a good sized coffee mug so you can have a hot drink in the morning to get you going.

I use a burner and stand that attaches to those one pound, propane canisters and it lights up quick, burns hot and lasts a long time. My wife turned me onto these and I haven't used my white gas stove much since.

And lastly don't pass up any loose firewood you come across, grab it because there's nothing like a roaring campfire to warm those tired bones and lift the spirits as the sun drops behind the mesa and the day fade away.

On the way home make an adventure of it by taking the back way. It tacks about fifty miles on to the drive home to Albuquerque, but makes for a more scenic and memorable trip.

Head up to and over Navajo Dam to US 64 for the trip home through Dulce, Chama, Abiquiu, Española and Santa Fe. Need I say more.

For a great meal stop in Española at the first light on the edge of town, Fairview Lane, and take a left towards the river. You'll see Angelina's restaurant just down the hill and on the right at the corner of Railroad Ave. The organic lamb chops here are to die for, as is any of the traditional New Mexican food offered by this longtime, fabled, family owned, eatery.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Annual Hunting & Fishing Show Returns!

Soaring Eagle Lodge Proprietor Larry Johnson and Chef Michael Williams talk  to attendees at a past outdoor show. 
The annual midwinter hunting and fishing show is back after being cancelled last year following the death of its founder Bob Gerding.

“We’re thrilled to be reviving the annual outdoor adventure show and carrying on the tradition that Bob started so many years ago,” says Lance Cherry, Chief of Information and Education for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF).

The department has taken over the show with the Gerding family’s blessings and has since slashed by half all booth rental and admission prices.

And anyone under 18 or presenting a valid hunting, fishing or trappers license will get in for free, too.

“It’s more about continuing to promote New Mexico’s great outdoors and wildlife than making a profit,” Cherry says of the reduced fees.

And that’s welcome news to those working in New Mexico’s $6.6 million-a-year outdoor recreational industry.

“We’re thrilled to see them continuing Bob’s legacy,” says Clarissa Lopez of Espanola, author of the “old school” angling guide “Fisher Chick” and a custom maker of distinctive fishing lures. “It provides us great exposure while bringing together everybody who loves our great outdoors.”

Clarissa Lopez of Fisher-Chick.
The show on Valentine’s Day weekend, Feb. 14 and 15th, will feature many of the same vendors as found in years past including hunting and fishing guides, lodges, outfitters, artists, firearm and archery equipment sales people, recreational vehicles, campers and non-profit organizations dedicated to the outdoors, Cherry says.

The revival of the show means a lot to the Gerding family, says Dick Gerding, Bob’s twin brother and a prominent Farmington attorney.

“We’re very pleased that it’s going to continue, the show was one of his happiest accomplishments,” Dick Gerding said.

Putting on the annual show for the past 15 years was a Gerding family tradition during which everyone, including wives, brothers, sons, daughters and grandkids worked, Gerding said.

Bob Gerding was known for personally greeting many of those who attended his show and his presence will be sadly missed at this year’s event, Gerding said. 

Outdoor show founder Bob Gerding.
Gerding may be gone but he’s certainly not forgotten as since his death in December 2013 at the age of 75, the Natural Resources building on the state fairgrounds has been named in his honor along with the catch and release pond at Tingley Beach.

Gerding can also still be seen in many NMDGF videos posted on the department’s You Tube page at And event organizers are planning a tribute to Gerding during the show, too.

Gerding’s longtime fishing buddy, TJ Trout of 94 Rock fame, said just reviving the show is a great tribute to the man whom he came to know and love.

“I met him while he was working the counter at Charlie’s Sporting Goods,” Trout says. “There was always a line of folks waiting to talk to him because he was the Yoda of fly fishing in New Mexico. He even turned me on to it.”

Trout says he asked Gerding to come on his radio show to talk fishing one day and after he did the two became improbable friends.

TJ Trout and Bob Gerding pose with a really  big fish. Photo courtesy of city of Albuquerque.
Gerding appeared regularly on Trout’s show while also conducting a call-in fishing show once a week on KRQE Channel 13’s noon newscast. He was also the longtime host of NMDGF’s television and video shows “Wild New Mexico” and “New Mexico Wildlife” and even penned a couple of books about fly fishing and fly tying.

But it was his many years working the counter at Charlie’s Sporting Goods and his annual hunting and fishing show that Gerding may have been best known for, says Ryan Garrett, President of the New Mexico Wildlife Foundation, a non-profit, support organization for NMDGF.

“I took fly tying classes with him at Charlie’s and went to the outdoor show as a kid growing up in Albuquerque,” Garrett says. “So it’s a great honor to help carry on that legacy.”

At its height Bob Gerding’s annual outdoor show featured over 100 vendors with close to 10,000 visitors and was the place to be in mid-February.

New Mexico plays host to an estimated 160,000 resident and nonresident anglers who spend $268 million a year while fishing and some 87,600 hunters spend another $345.5 million a year while hunting, according to a recent NMDGF commissioned study of the industry.

Hunters and anglers also support more than 7,900 jobs in New Mexico that provide more than $267 million in labor income which translates into about $51 million in state and local revenues. The full study including county by county analysis can be seen at

New Mexico Wildlife Foundation is assisting NMDGF in producing this year’s show and will also be holding a benefit banquet the evening of opening day where over a dozen premiere hunting and fishing packages will be auctioned off to benefit New Mexico’s wildlife, Garrett said. See the foundation’s website at for more info.

The New Mexico Outdoor Adventures Hunting & Fishing Show runs Feb. 14-15, 2015 at Expo New Mexico in the Manuel Lujan Building. The event will be open to the public Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the show will be $3 for adults or free to youth under the age of 18 or anyone who hold a valid hunting, fishing or furbearer license.

For more info see the department’s website at

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ice Fishing Opens at Eagle Nest Lake

Nancy Loritsch of Eagle Nest shows off a nice trout caught while ice fishing recently at the lake in northern New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Nancy Loritsch.
Eagle Nest lake is now open to ice fishing with anglers catching perch and trout and having a great time while they’re at it.

“We had a pretty good crowd of happy anglers on opening day last Saturday (Jan. 3, 2015)” said Marshall Garcia, superintendent at Eagle Nest Lake State Park. “Now we’ll just have to see how long it’ll last.”

Last year the lake was only open to ice fishing for three weeks before unseasonably warm weather, wind and waves conspired to break up the ice.

“So think cold,” Garcia suggested.

A recent week-long cold snap featuring subzero temperatures created the ice a few weeks earlier than normal this year, Garcia said.

The lake will remain open to ice fishing as long as it maintains a thickness of at least 9 inches.

And with New Mexico’s wacky winter weather of late running between bitter cold and snow one day to sunny, t-shirt weather the next, who knows how long this ice will last.

As of this week ice fishing was also available at Bluewater and Surgarite State Parks, according to the NM State Parks announcements page on their website.

Ice fishing in New Mexico is a traditional winter sport that requires little more than a great desire to be outside and some rudimentary fishing equipment.

For tips and tricks on ice fishing see this related article found on our sister site at

 The lake's annual ice fishing tournament is back after being cancelled last year due to warm weather and bad ice. It is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2015 and should be lots of fun with plenty of prizes available. Follow the link for more info.

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