Tag Archives: US Forest Service

Severe water restrictions and Palo Pinto evacuation order 19 APR 11

I drove thirty-six miles this afternoon along SH 919, US 180, SH 16 and there was fire and smoke, large plumes of newly-erupting fires and smoldering cedar trees emitting smoke across the highway like a fog.  I wish it was a fog.  Ashes fell out of the sky, the wind blew steadily from the north, a welcome change of sorts that turned serious for Palo Pinto, Texas.  Thirty-six miles I drove and saw this fearful landscape and that was only the southern perimeter of the Possum Kingdom-Palo Pinto Complex Fire.  Some of these areas are still burning from days ago.  Fire crews with red lights turning appeared all along the highway.  Game wardens entered ranches to warn inhabitants.  Farmers and ranchers unlatched their gates along the route to Palo Pinto to allow crews to enter.  TV crews and their satellite vans were set up — NBC, CBS, ABC and others.

Everywhere I looked on the thirty-six mile southern perimeter there were plumes of smoke and fire like miniature volcanoes in the gullies and along the hillsides.  I have traveled the same circuit for several days and the smoke still rises about the countryside.

I came home and found messages from our Co-op water company.

* * *

Our water Co-op, Barton Creek Water Cooperative, left two urgent messages one hour ago to stop using water except at a minimum.  The Possum Kingdom Fire Complex is currently draining the Gordon Water Supply Cooperative and they have terminated water connections for us on Barton Creek Water Cooperative.  We are ordered to restrict or terminate usage and haul water for our livestock.  We are to be conservative in usage at the very most.  Power poles have been destroyed in the fire and the electric company has cut off power to the Gordon Water Supply pumps.  Gordon is six miles north of us.

The outlook is grim if our area does get any rain and more water restrictions may occur.

Here on our place we have a large stock pond that is down in elevation, but has plenty of water for Star and other livestock.  I have offered to place several horses and cattle on our place since the stock tank is large.  I have a small well, but the water is not potable for animals and humans, but we may use it to water plants.

We have filled up our two bathtubs and collected water in pitchers, jars and crock pots.

The Co-op has just called — 8:55 p.m. — and said that the water restrictions will probably be temporary, but again stated to be conservative.

* * *

Late this afternoon, Palo Pinto, a town north of us some twenty-five miles, has been ordered to evacuate since the winds have shifted from the north.  A large jail is being emptied and prisoners transferred to other units.  The fire jumped the Brazos River and the fire crews have concentrated at Palo Pinto, the county seat of Palo Pinto County.

Before the cold front came through in late afternoon, my thermometer registered a high of 109 deg., but settled at 103 deg. for a couple of hours with a humidity at nine percent.

The winds have died down after dark and we are preparing for bed.  Weather forecasts tell that rain may fall tomorrow night — scattered showers, but we’ll take it.

* * *

Here are some photographs I took this afternoon at the SH 16 and US 180 intersections and a few other places as captioned.  With a click of your mouse you may enlarge and find the obligatory detail in these matters.

Sunset and smoke over Strawn, Texas

Dead broomweed from last season that is tinder for a spark. This field is on the road to Palo Pinto, Texas, along US 180.

A round-up of cattle in holding pen for transfer in case fire comes, on SH 16, north of Strawn.

Crews and trucks assembling for the dash to Palo Pinto, Texas. This is at the intersection of SH 16 and US 180. Possum Kingdom is eight miles away in the background.

Possum Kingdom Complex Fire, southside of lake.

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Sangre de Cristo Notes

Over the past week, my wife and I have encamped near the Pecos Wilderness in the Carson National Forest of northern New Mexico, traveled the High Road of Taos down to Santa Fe and rented a pleasant room at the Inn at Loretto.  Observations noted during field work and retrenchment in the The City Different Santa Fe are listed below, impressionable and subject to interpretive change with further research as well as some drying out and recuperation.

  • Santa Barbara campground, in fact all of the Carson National Forest campground facilities, has been contracted out to a private concessionary firm, Scenic Canyons Recreational Services, Inc. A resident couple permanently camp at the entry point.
  • Vegetation on the trail from Santa Barbara to Pecos Wilderness seems healthy and more intense than I remember in 1968.
  • The Chimayo Restaurant serves a spicy carne adovada, whose effect remains for hours (1).
  • The Trujillos of Chimayo gave us wood for three fires when they broke camp.  Mr. Trujillo has an apple orchard and a V-10 F-250.  Mr. and Mrs. Trujillo had camped beside us.
  • A fisherman from Rodarte, New Mexico, scanned the debris area of the space shuttle Challenger for several weeks.  They formed lines of 1,000 scouts, side-by-side and touching.  When debris was found, the whole line stopped while it was harvested.   He had been a U. S. Forest Service employee at the time of the disaster.
  • Considerable road improvements are being made on the High Road to Taos, straightening out curves.
  • The diamond hitch for roping cargo in our pickup works extremely well.
  • We ate at Doc Martin’s, Osteria, La Fonda, Luminaria, Casa Sena and 315.
  • Don Rael’s margarita at the La Fonda bar is one good concoction and we met Rael who created the drink.  At the bar, I met a young lady who works at the Santa Fe Opera and who once lived in Hurst, Texas.
  • Santa Fe Pale Ale now puts out a wheat beer.
  • Brenda and I danced at the La Fonda bar to the tunes of “Nadine” and “Luckenbach.”
  • Brenda gave me a birthday present: a sage-cornmeal-sea salt exfoliation and massage at the spa at the Inn at Loretto.  I am not given to such follies, but Brenda was insistent.  I have visited in the early 1970s the springs at Jemez after extended field work in the Gila.  The spa treatment was a little different.  Amelia was my therapist whose family is from East Prussia.
  • The Ernest Thompson Seton exhibit at the New Mexico Historical Museum is sad, inspiring and elevating.  President Teddy Roosevelt was wrong to have set Seton aside in developing the outdoor movement.  The Boy Scouts of America did award him, however, the Silver Beaver Award.
  • On the plaza, I hear more variety of music from several directions, sometimes at once, reminding me of  something old and ancient.  I hear dobro, banjo, guitar, mariachi instruments, harmonica, vocals.  This is an increase of variety from years past.  Locals are now coming back downtown in greater numbers to hear local bands and itinerant musicians.  The plaza is a family affair, all ages, reminiscent of older times.
  • On Saturday, the bells of the cathedral of Saint Francis rang for two weddings in addition to regular tolling at 00:15, 00:30, 00:45 and the beginning of the hour.  At one of the wedding parties following the ceremonies, through terrace doors, we saw Mother and Son dancing together in celebration of the marriage to his lovely bride.

    St. Francis Cathederal, View from Inn at Loretto Balcony

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Notes:

1.  Presently, diacritical markings are omitted for Anglicized spelling because of expediency.

Plaza walking in the late afternoon  and early evening incites the senses.  There are food carts about the plaza, hanging baskets of flowers from the lamp poles, music and young children and grand parents playing.  A few couples are dancing when appropriate.  Some apparently homeless individuals are passing their time.  A number of people are lounging on the plaza grass.  I counted about 200-300 people about the plaza on an early Saturday evening.  People greet and meet, come and depart, lightened.

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Sharing the Trail? Guest Post by Ruth Karbach

[Ruth Karbach of Fort Worth, Texas, is an historian whose most recent work are two chapters in Grace and Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, TCU Press, 2007. This is a comment she wrote in response to “Upper Llano Redoubt,” a recent post on the blog.  Ruth’s statement brings out issues we will have to resolve in the outdoors.]

Lone Hiker (All Big Bear California)

Last year my generous friend loaned me her home in the mountains of southern Colorado.  Solitude to commune with nature after a tough twenty months dealing with terminal illness of my beloved and grief with his death was the solace I needed.  Alerts about armed robberty on trails in the last couple of years were discouraging to hiking as a single female; but my two Shelties came to the rescue. We traveled many a trail during our week of “Rocky Mountain High” and meet some interesting people and critters.

Unprecedented in forty years of hiking state and national forest was being nearly hit by a mountain bike as I was helping my dogs up a four foot vertical embankment to get off the trail.  The two teen riders did not slow, move over or stop after I had to throw myself onto the embankment to avoid an accident.

Mountain Biking (All Big Bear California)

My husband was a naturalist at a nature center and refuge which prohibited this kind of traffic because of environmental damage, and Fort Worth supplies park rangers to patrol the largest city owned nature refuge in the Continental U. S. People unfamiliar with nature do destructive and unthinking things sometimes endangering animals and themselves.

With the present economy we are seeing more neglect and underfunding of the quality of life services such as libraries, parks and the arts.  To me, this is the time when these services and talents are most needed.  During the Great Depression greater wisdom in government caused a flowering of public arts, building of park structures and funding by local businesses and individuals of book purchases for libraries.  Have we become too urban, too materialistic, too self-centered a people interested in immediate gratification?  I hope not.

Ruth Karbach (Facebook)

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Upper Llano Redoubt

Aspens

A yearly trek to the northern New Mexico mountains encounters warmer temperatures and a reflection on the ethical use of firearms when confronted with dangerous and rude behavior, leading to a conclusion that visits to some national forests become occasions for redoubt construction in a search for solitude in modern times.

Preparation for Upper Llano Camping Delayed

Our vacation this summer has been postponed several times.  Fanny, our youngest mare, injured her leg and I had to make sure she was healing before heading outdoors in northern New Mexico.  Once she was on the mend, we packed the F-250 with group-camping gear, tied a diamond hitch about the tarp and drove to the Upper Llano area near Penasco and pitched camp along the Rio Santa Barbara (latitude 36.08556, longitude -105.60833).

We had looked at eighteen acres of land bordering the Carson National Forest several years ago near Llano.  An acequia bordered the parcel we came close to purchasing, but in the end we decided to wait a few more years and look again.  We were not in the market for land this summer, but wanted cooler ambient temperatures for a few days, relief from Texas July weather.

Brenda and Rio Santa Barbara

Basically, near Upper Llano, we have experienced cooler temperatures, especially in the mornings.  Our camp site is at 8,500 ft. amidst spruce, fir, aspen and ponderosa, a sub-alpine zone.  Temperatures during the day in the mountains have been about 83 deg. F., and at night, probably in the lower 40s.

Hiking into Pecos Wilderness

Brenda and I hiked into the Pecos Wilderness for three miles and admired the fern and sub-alpine flora.  My first hike into the northern Pecos Wilderness occurred in 1968, and much remains the same, perhaps an increase in vegetative cover and I think the aspens are much, much higher.

What Would Teddy Roosevelt Think?  Or Gifford Pinchot?

The U. S. Forest Service, however, turned campground management over to a private concessionary, Scenic Canyons Recreational Services Inc. , Hyrum, Utah.  The daily fee is fifteen dollars for an improved site, although one may camp off the grid, porting water and digging latrines.  Since the Forest Service has Stage 1 Fire Restriction, no fires are permitted outside the developed park campground, one would be reduced to precooked meals (1).  Not an attractive choice.

We decided to pitch camp within the developed area.  We stayed for four nights and days.

I saw no U.S. Forest Rangers in pickups or horse packing into Carson or Pecos Wilderness.  When I first started coming up to the Upper Llano forests and Carson in the 1960s, I would at least see in the established campgrounds, a forest ranger in a pickup once a day, sometimes twice.  And, back in the forest or wilderness area, I would come across a ranger every few days or so.  By the longest of shots, I am not given to the idea that a gendarme on every trail is necessary, but to see none in four days and nights, is not good.

Reflection on Personal Security

My idea of security is that a person is in charge of their own safety and protection first, then call in the law when the dust settles or the event indicates the odds are mightily against you.  By those lights, I have learned basic defense skills and also pack pistols and rifles when necessary.  I offer absolutely no apologies for doing so.  I was reared with firearms and they have provided protection from poisonous and rabid critters and, on one occasion, food for my family’s table when resources were scarce.  Above these reasons, however, is protection against invaders and aggressors —  man.  (On two occasions in my family, firearms were used for personal protection.  Fortunately, I have never had to use them.  Several years ago, two miles down our county road in Texas, three people were killed in a crime of revenge.)

I pack pistols on every camping trip.  This trip, the hog legs were a .357 magnum Colt revolver and a .45 cal. Colt semi-automatic.

I did not carry them with me when we hiked up into the wilderness for a short, three-mile hike.  It was a leisurely hike and we were close to the main trails and no reports of trouble had been rumored among the local campers.  We hiked, took photographs and returned to base camp.

Yesterday, July 16, we broke camp, hummingbirds whirling about us, and drove down the High Road from Taos to Santa Fe, the Upper Llano left behind, reluctantly.

Trouble in the Back Country

Today, I pick up The Santa Fe New Mexican and the headline is: “Hikers Report Trouble on Trails.”

The summary of the article was that a man was attacked by a mountain biker on a trail in the Santa Fe National Forest when he complained that the biker needed to leash his dog after the dog twice charged after him, his wife and their leashed dogs.  The biker hit him several times and threw him down the hill, stating he was going to teach him some trail manners.  The second incident was up in the Pecos Wilderness (south of the Truchas Peaks where we hiked) where horsemen fired a pistol and made rude remarks to female backpackers.  They were drunk.  Pistols are not always peacemakers.

So much for solitude.

A Partial Solution to Violence in the Back Country

Who can stop such incidents?  It’s an imperfect world and there will always be some ruffians about, but the lack of U. S. Forest Rangers on the trails and campgrounds establishes a context of free-for-all and uninhibited behavior.   Ethics and codes exist outside of federal and state regulations and that assures in most cases a chance to enjoy nature, wild and free.  I saw more respect for the rules on the trail and while encamped in Carson than I saw disrespect.  Men and women are generally given to cooperation rather than competition and confrontation.  The U. S. Forest Service, however, needs more rangers in order to establish a presence of authority so incidents like those reported in The Santa Fe New Mexican can be reduced.

I will continue to hike and encamp as usual with all our equipment.

Tenting at Rio Santa Barbara

Next post: dining from the Pecos Wilderness to Santa Fe and follies in between.

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Notes:

1. On July 9, 2010, the Taos District of Carson National Forest released a bulletin that the Stage 1 Restriction had been lifted because of predicted moisture and monsoon season.  I did not know this until today, July 17, 2010, as my last contact with the Taos District was on July 7.

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