Category Archives: New Mexico

The 2013 Supernationals Custom Auto Show

1919 T-Bucket Roadster 'Transparent T''55 Chevy Sedan Delivery'72 Chevrolet Blazer

Last Friday, we attended the 2013 Supernationals Custom Auto Show at Expo New Mexico (the New Mexico State Fairgrounds) in Albuquerque. As the Albuquerque Journal said the show “features enough intricate paint and muscle to make a car buff out of you.” More than 200 custom vehicles from 11 states were on display at this, the 22nd Annual Supernationals Custom Auto Show.

Since 1992, the Supernationals have been “the” premier annual automotive event in New Mexico. Each year, the show attracts custom cars, street rods, motorcycles, muscle cars and more from throughout the country, as well as local and regional vehicles for both show and competition display.

There were many notable vehicles on display. One amazing car was the “Scythe,” a high-powered violet car called “the most customized car of its time” by auto enthusiasts. Although it started life as a Ford Mustang, you would never know it to see it. The body has been completely redesigned and features triple headlights, a twin-turbo Shelby engine, doors that open like wings, and hubcaps with turning chrome scythes. Another notable car was the “Speed Demon,” a custom desert racer with a Chevy engine, which set land speed records in excess of 440 miles per hour!

And let’s not forget motorcycles. There seemed to be almost as many custom bikes as cars. Some of the most amazing bikes were by RK Concepts. Their stainless steel bikes looked like something out of the Mad Max movies. The gas tank for one of the bikes was a fire extinguisher to be worn on the rider’s back!

Hot wheels; cool engines – what more could you ask for? We have posted a gallery of photos from the show: The 2013 Supernationals Custom Auto Show. Enjoy!

San Lorenzo Canyon

The LoafThe Two TowersVista #2

Last weekend, we hiked San Lorenzo (or Saint Lawrence) Canyon. The canyon is located about an hour south of Albuquerque and less than five miles west of I-25. It is jointly managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a primitive recreation area. A large rock face divides the canyon into lower and upper sections. The lower section, which we explored, is only about a mile and a half long and can be driven or hiked. The canyon ends at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge boundary, which is off limits without permission. If you’re willing to scramble, there are a myriad of side canyons to explore.

We left Albuquerque on a chilly, sunny, fall morning. Most directions to the canyon recommend a vehicle with high-ground clearance and/or 4-wheel drive. However, we found neither was required; the road was in very good condition. We parked at the mouth of the canyon, geared up, and set out to explore. Temperatures were in the mid-40s. Our exertions were enough to keep us pleasantly warm without the need for jackets. We had a light breeze to cool us. Since the canyon is so short and such an easy walk, we decided to explore some of the side canyons. Scrambling up and down, bushwhacking through the countryside, we had an enjoyable three-hour hike.

San Lorenzo Canyon is made up of sandstone cliffs, slickenside walls, and hoodoos that line both sides of a (normally) dry creek bed. The geology is complex with evidence of tectonic plate movement, erosion, and volcanic intrusion.

The mouth of the canyon is guarded by a textbook example of the Rio Grande Rift: a huge mesa-like formation called an angular unconformity. This small isolated mesa looks like a loaf of sliced bread topped by a horizontal cap. The tilted beds of sand- and mud-stone are about 7 to 10 million years old and the horizontal cap is about 0.5 million years old. The formation was created on an extremely large plain as layers of sediment were laid down on the plain and, over time, drainage channels cut into it. The layers were built horizontally then moving plates deep beneath the surface tilted the plain. Wind and water erosion have exposed the portion that is visible today.

This tilting is reflected on a larger scale throughout the canyon. As you look at the formations, you can see how the layers tilt in various directions because of the movement that occurs along several faults at work in the area. The large rock blocks have slipped and tilted, much like books on a shelf. Evidence of this motion can be seen in sheer walls with polished striations all in the same direction. These marks, called “slick-sides” or slickensides (yes, that is the proper geologic term), are formed when moving fault blocks grind across each other.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: San Lorenzo Canyon. Enjoy!

The New Mexico State Penitentiary “Old Main” Prison

Guard Tower (Main Entrance)GateCell Block #3

As part of the New Mexico Centennial, the New Mexico Corrections Department hosted monthly tours at the abandoned New Mexico State Penitentiary “Old Main” Prison.  We toured the prison in July. Our tour guide was an active-duty Corrections Officer who had worked “Old Main” in the late 1990s.

“Old Main” is located south of Santa Fe off N.M. 14. Built in the 1950s, “Old Main” was the state’s maximum security prison and had a capacity of 900 inmates. It was closed in 1998 by Governor Gary Johnson. Since then, the site has been used as a location for film productions including the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard as well as National Guard and New Mexico State Police training. There’s no electricity, heat, or cooling in the prison and wildlife has claimed parts of it. “Old Main” is best known for the prison riot that occurred on February 2 and 3, 1980.

The riot was one of the most violent prison riots in the history of the American correctional system. At the time of the riot, there were more than 1,100 men in the prison; it was severely overcrowded. Prisoners were not adequately separated and many were housed in communal dormitories. It began at 2am, Saturday, February 2, 1980 in south-side Dormitory E-2 when two prisoners overpowered an officer who had caught them drinking homemade liquor. By the time it was over, the riot had led to the deaths of at least 33 inmates. (According to our guide, the death toll may have been higher, as a number of bodies were incinerated or dismembered during the course of the riot.) More than 200 inmates were treated for injuries. Twelve officers were taken hostage. None of the officers was killed, but seven officers were subjected to beatings and rapes. Without a doubt, the worst atrocities occurred in cell block 4 which housed informers, the mentally ill, or those convicted of sex crimes. When rioters found blowtorches brought into the prison as part of an ongoing construction project, an ‘execution squad’ was formed to extract their revenge on the inmates of cell block 4. Victims were pulled from their cells to be tortured, dismembered, decapitated, or burned alive. Thirty-six hours after the riot had begun heavily-armed State Police officers accompanied by National Guard servicemen entered the charred remains of the prison to restore order. After the riot, new facilities were built and over time all the inmates were moved out to other sites.

The results of the riot can still be seen throughout the prison. The burned out dormitory has been left as it was after the riot. Filled in axe marks on the floor show where inmates were decapitated. In two spots in cell block 4, the charred imprints of blow-torch victims are clearly visible. According to our guide, various attempts to wash, bleach, or paint over the figures on the floor with paint have failed.

The tour was eye opening. To hear our guide’s calm description of the horrible events that occurred over those two days was chilling. The description of the conditions which existed in the prison put it into perspective.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The New Mexico State Penitentiary “Old Main” Prison.

The 41st Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta


The 41st Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) is now history. This was my 27th consecutive Fiesta. I made my first visit to the Fiesta in 1986 and was immediately hooked. This was a really good year for the Fiesta: only two days of flying were cancelled due to weather issues. As always, I had a wonderful time: old friendships renewed; new friendships made; lots of fun, shared experiences; and, lots of beautiful balloons!

This year I crewed for Cosmos I, owned by my friends, Jerry and Cindy Holmes of Fort Worth, Texas. Cosmos I is a special shape balloon, which looks like a cartoon space man. The envelope (the fabric portion of the balloon) holds 116,000 cubic feet of hot air, which is generated by burning propane. It is made by Air Fly Balloons of São Paulo, Brazil, which has also made other special shape balloons, including Farmer Pig, Crazy Crab, etc.

So, what do I mean when I say “I crewed for Cosmos I” you ask? Chase crew or crews help the pilot inflate and deflate his/her balloon for each flight. Since balloons usually don’t land where they take off, part of the process involves chasing the balloon from its launch point to its landing point. Crew sizes vary from 4-6 people for a non-special shape balloon to 20 or more for a special shape balloon. Most crew members are volunteers. At an event like AIBF, there may be upwards of 2,000 crew volunteers.

The Fiesta starts the first Saturday in October and runs through the second Sunday. For nine days, the skies of Albuquerque are filled with colorful balloons participating in a variety of flying events, including dawn patrols (balloons that launch prior to sunrise) and mass ascensions (when all 500+ balloons launch in multiple waves). In the evenings, ground-based events take place, including balloon glows (static displays of the balloons after sunset) and fireworks.

This year’s Fiesta featured over 500 hot air balloons representing 19 countries (the United States, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand). Over 100 of the balloons were special shapes. Some of the special shapes making their inaugural appearance at the Fiesta were:

•    Aaron, an Elvis balloon from Brazil (named for Elvis’ middle name)

•    Cosmos I, an astronaut from Texas

•    Funny Phant, an elephant from Brazil

•    Ice Cream Cone, a chocolate cone from Kentucky

•    Little Fireman, a fire helmet balloon from Brazil

•    Little Inspector, a penguin from Brazil

•    Red Bird, a woodpecker from Brazil

•    Shining Star, a wheel chair accessible balloon, from Spain

•    Simba, a lion head from Belgium

•    Squirt, a fire hydrant from Brazil

The Fiesta began with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot in 1972. Today, the Fiesta is “the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.” The 78-acre launch field is the size of 54 football fields put together. The Fiesta is one of the only balloon events where spectators are able to actually walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots and crews. In 2000, the Fiesta set a record of over 1,000 balloons!

A question I’m frequently asked is, “Why Albuquerque in October?” Albuquerque is located in a wide valley with a very unusual weather phenomenon called the Albuquerque Box, which allows balloons to take off and land in almost the same spot. The October weather is usually very suitable for the box.

The 42nd Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will be held October 5-13, 2013. I’ll be there.

In closing, I leave you with the Balloonist’s Prayer: May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

In the next couple of weeks, we will be posting three galleries of photos from the Fiesta: the Dawn Patrols, the Mass Ascensions, and the Special Shapes. Enjoy!

Only in New Mexico — Take 2

As I have noted previously, every place has its oddities and eccentricities unique to its culture. New Mexico is no exception. Here is something I witnessed last week, at a gas station no less (a trend perhaps?), which definitely fits the bill.

It was a hot, sunny, Friday afternoon. The temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the air was dead calm (did I mention it was hot?); I had stopped to get gas. As I stood beside my truck waiting for the fill-up to finish, I was engaged in my usual game of people watching.

Business was light and only a few lanes had customers. Just a couple of lanes away, there was a gentleman in a business suit. His tie was missing, so maybe he was done for the day. He started the fill-up and walked over to the island, where he removed the squeegee from the bucket. Ah, I thought, he’s going to wash his windshield. But, as I have learned over the last 26 years, this is New Mexico: anything can happen. And it did! He bent over and proceeded to wash his shoes with the squeegee. First, he washed his left shoe; then, he washed his right shoe. He stood up and looked over his handiwork, lifting each foot and twisting it around to get a good look. He must have been satisfied because he returned the squeegee to the bucket and walked back to the gas pump.

Yes, you read it here: a gentleman in a business suit washed his dress shoes with the filthy, dirty water and squeegee provided by the gas station. It is impossible to make up stuff like this! Now, I should be charitable and give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had been out hiking the back-country all day (in a business suit and dress shoes) and his shoes were really, really dirty. Or, maybe he was in sales and had been out pounding the pavement all day and he just needed to rinse the dust off. Yeah, that’s it! Surely a gas station squeegee is the perfect solution in those cases. Nah!

As I climbed back into my truck, cranked the AC to full blast, and drove away, I couldn’t help but shake my head and think to myself, “Only in New Mexico.”

The Eye of the Sandias

The Eye (Detail) #1The Eye from the Trail

Easter weekend, we decided to hike to the Eye of the Sandias. After living here for 26 years, it was about time to see a local legend. We had rough directions and a GPS waypoint for our destination. A couple of miles each way, it would be a piece of cake.

The Eye of the Sandias is located at the southwest end of the Sandia Mountains approximately two miles east of and 1500 feet above Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It is a local mystery. Originally painted in the 1960s, it was defaced in 2008, and repainted some time later; in all three cases by unknown persons. Local legend has it that the “crying eye,” as it is sometimes called, is weeping over the encroachment of the city on this beautiful open space.

We arrived at the trail head early, so we could hike in the cool morning air. The temperature was in the low 50s and the winds were generally light. The skies were hazy and, as the day progressed, would become a featureless, grey blanket. We headed out at quick pace on a well-worn trail. Before long, the trail began to branch and each branch became fainter than the one before. After an hour of hiking, we ran out of trail.

Now, we weren’t lost; we knew where we were. We were west of the city and north of I-40. In fact, we had a GPS, so we knew exactly where we were and where we wanted to go. We were still a mile (as the crow flies) away from and 800 feet below our destination. Unfortunately, we hadn’t packed our wings; it was going to be a piece of cake, remember? There were a few game trails, but nothing meant for people.

So, we bushwhacked through cactus, over boulders, up and up some more. We were huffing and puffing and dripping with sweat, but we were determined to reach the Eye. Finally, we topped a ridge and what should appear to our aching eyes? A trail! And it was going in the right direction, too. Re-energized we set off and made quick progress to our destination. As we crested the final hill, the Eye appeared before us. It had only taken us two-and-a-half hours!

We took a break and admired the views to the west and south. It was hard to believe we were so close to the city and yet, looking to the north or east, we might as well have been in the wilderness.

A short time later, it was time to return to the city below. Thankfully, our descent was much faster than our ascent. An hour later, we were back in the car and headed to a well-earned lunch. The Eye was much harder to reach than we expected, but the views of the city were spectacular. All in all, it was a very satisfying outing and one we plan to repeat when the skies are more photogenic.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the hike: The Eye of the Sandias. Enjoy!

The Bisti Badlands


Recently we hiked the Bisti Badlands. The occasion was a tour with the New Mexico Outdoor Photography Meetup.

Bisti (pronounced Bis-tie) is a Navajo word, which translates as “a large area of shale hills.” It is part of the 41,170 acre area known as the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1996, Congress combined the former Bisti and De-Na-Zin Wilderness Areas. De-Na-Zin (pronounced Deh-nah-zin) takes its name from the Navajo words for “cranes.” The Bisti Badlands lie about 30 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico, about three-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque.

We left Albuquerque on an unseasonably warm, sunny, winter morning. There were ten of us caravanning in five personal vehicles. We drove for almost two hours heading west on I40, until we reached Thoreau where we turned off and headed north on NM371. After another hour of driving, we turned off onto a well maintained gravel road, which took us to the parking lot. We had beautiful blue skies, without a cloud in sight. The winds were gentle and the temperature was in the 60s. A perfect day for a hike across the badlands!

Our guide, Paul McClure, led us on a long, twisting track through the badlands with plenty of stops for photography. The colors and formations were amazing. Everywhere we looked there was something else to see. We hiked for hours. We explored hoodoos and arches. We climbed ridges and mesas. We saw petrified logs up to 50 feet long. We saw the famous Egg Factory! The only thing we missed was the well-known Stone Wings.

As usual, there were no trails so it’s easy to get confused or lost. A GPS or compass is helpful and it is important to pay close attention to your surroundings. We did encounter several other small groups of people and a field trip from Farmington High School, but most of the time we might have been the only people for miles. This is a land to be hiked only in moderate conditions. The dried footprints of those who had ventured out after the last rain were mute testimony to how difficult it would be to hike this area when it’s wet. And although the temperatures were only in the 60s, it was hot. The cloudless sky and lack of shade were compounded by the reflection of the bright sun from the ground around us. We would not want to hike this area in the heat of summer or the depths of winter.

This was our first outing with the New Mexico Outdoor Photography Meetup, but it won’t be our last! Our group was an eclectic mix of backgrounds and experiences joined by a love of photography.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Bisti Badlands. Enjoy!

Only in New Mexico

No matter where we live, we encounter oddities and eccentricities unique to our culture. We shake our heads, smile or shudder, and think to ourselves “only in [place name].” Here is something I witnessed recently, which definitely fits the bill.

It was a sunny, Friday afternoon. I was on my way home from work and had stopped to get gas. As I stood beside my truck waiting for the fill-up to finish, I was looking around at the other patrons. Now I should point out that although the day was fairly warm, it had snowed the Wednesday before. Vehicles, mine included, were filthy from the melting snow and ice. It was perfectly reasonable that a person would want to clean their windshield.

One particular gentleman was washing his windshield with the gas station-provided squeegee. You know the type: a foam pad on one side and a squeegee on the other. You dunk the squeegee in the bucket of cleaning solution, scrub your windshield with the foam side, and use the squeegee side to dry it. Personally, I rarely use the gas station-provided squeegees. Not only are they almost always in sorry condition, but the cleaning solution is usually filthy.

Anyway, this gentleman was washing the windshield of his car. He finished the passenger side of the windshield and returned to the bucket to re-wet the squeegee. Ah, he’s going to do the driver side of the windshield next, I thought to myself. Instead, he walks back to the passenger side of his car and sticks the dripping squeegee through the open passenger window to the inside of the car where he proceeds to clean the windshield: the inside of the windshield! He was totally oblivious to the fact that the dirty water was dripping onto his seats and onto the dashboard. He finished, returned the squeegee to its holder, hopped into his car, and drove off.

In all my years, I have never seen anyone clean the inside of their windshield with a squeegee, let alone a filthy one! As he drove off, I shuddered and thought to myself, “only in New Mexico.”

Badlands and Hoodoos

After our last post on the Ah-She-Sli-Pah Badlands, it occurred to us that many people may not know what the terms badlands and hoodoos mean. They are common terms here in the Southwestern US, but may not be common elsewhere.

Badlands are a type of terrain which is typically unusable due to aridness, barrenness, and erosion. They are quite literally “bad lands.” They are often characterized by amazing colors and shapes formed from layered sedimentary rocks extensively eroded by wind and water. Each badland is visually unique and they frequently look like something from a Dr. Seuss book. Canyons and hoodoos are common in badlands. Badlands can be difficult to traverse due to steep (sometimes unstable) slopes, sandy or rocky canyon bottoms, arid conditions, lack of shade, temperature extremes, remoteness, etc. It is extremely easy to get lost in the badlands. Badlands often contain fossil beds and visible coal seams. The extreme erosion found in badlands tends to expose fossils in the sedimentary layers while the lack of vegetation makes them easier to spot. Movie and film crews often utilize badlands for westerns or sci-fi shows (as they resemble Martian or lunar terrains).

Hoodoos are spires of rock that rise from the bottom of a badland. They are also known as tent rocks. Hoodoos consist of relatively soft (i.e., easily eroded) rock topped by a harder (i.e., less easily eroded) stone called a caprock. The harder caprock shields and protects the underlying softer rock from the elements. Hoodoos can range in height from mere inches to hundreds of feet. The layering of sediments causes many hoodoos to have different colors throughout their structure.

New Mexico is home to a number of badlands and their accompanying hoodoos. You can see examples of badlands and hoodoos in our Ah-She-Sli-Pah Badlands  gallery and upcoming galleries of the Mesa de Cuba Badlands, the Ojito Badlands, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.