Sunday, December 16, 2012

Where should Los Alamos put a bike park?

Los Alamos County has decided to spend a little bit of money on developing a master trails plan. As part of this, I attended a small working group (10 people including Craig and the two consultants) on Tuesday night.

There’s a lot to say about our open space, of course, and I have another post in the works on general issues raised at the meeting and elsewhere. For now, what I’d like to talk about is narrow: one of the proposals on the table is a “family bike park” along the lines of Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, CO (but much smaller — more like 7-12 acres instead of 40).

In principle, I’m not terribly excited by this idea, simply because I don’t do that type of cycling, though I don’t find it fundamentally objectionable and can understand how it would appeal to some folks. I do think that other stuff (e.g., trail access easements) is a higher budget priority, but as part of a master plan, sure.

One thing that does concern me is location. The leading proposal at the meeting was the site of the old sewer treatment plant in Pueblo Canyon (outlines in this post drawn by me):

I was quite skeptical of this location at the meeting, and after visiting today, it seems like an even worse idea. That is, very few towns have the internal open space that we do (the notation “Los Alamos” above is the center of town, according to Google); our internal canyons and forests are an extraordinary thing that ought to be protected. And Pueblo Canyon is the heart of this.

Accordingly, the location above is not the place for a boisterous bike park where lots of people gather regularly. Also, this location would draw vehicle traffic down a secluded canyon (Olive Street is currently closed to vehicles, aside from the utilities department, which is a separate issue).

There seemed to be some sense at the meeting that the site is essentially a brownfield, already severely impacted and thus appropriate for development. I don’t believe this is so. There is indeed an unsightly dirt parking lot and a large weedy field. What I think we should do is replant the parking lot and roads with ponderosa and the field with native grasses (the closest meadows are on North Mesa, which is in a different ecosystem). I suspect ample volunteer labor would be available for this sort of thing.

Anyway, I simply can’t support developing a bike park at the above location.

The trail consultants tell me that an ideal site would be “a relatively flat area with shade, water, proximity to the current trail network, parking, and easy access for kids” and “close to town but not too close to neighbors”. A minimum size would be 7-12 acres (the area above is about 10) with 20 parking stalls. That’s a tall order in space-constrained Los Alamos, but I have a couple of suggestions which I believe more or less meet these requirements:

1. Old DOE building site:


This is roughly 8.5+ acres south of Trinity Drive. It’s closer to downtown than the sewer plant site, and it really is a brownfield: as you can see above, it’s a large parking lot with a dirt patch in the middle.

Access to the existing trails network is a little harder: somehow, you have to get across Trinity (4 lanes, 35+ MPH) and Canyon Road (not as hard). We could add some ped/bike signals, or even drill a 700ft tunnel over to Pueblo Canyon. :)

However, it has good access in principle to the Los Alamos Canyon bottom, which goes places. Negotiations with DOE are required to make this work, but I think the odds are good for an eventual trail down the canyon from the townsite to the White Rock Y (a lot of this already exists), and if one can get upstream just a couple of hundred yards, one can access the existing Perimeter Trail. Also, the site connects to a potential future Canyon Rim Trail leading to downtown and beyond on pavement — i.e., the site may be better future-proofed than the sewer plant site.

2. DP Road. For example:

I haven’t spent much time down on DP Road, and it’s got weird issues like being in the process of lab cleanup. I’m also told that it’s “zoned commercial and the county intends to use it for light industrial purposes”, but I think it’s worth considering despite that — if we decide that it’s the right spot for a bike park, then it should be a simple matter to re-zone it.

Anyway, I don’t know anything about the above 11-acre parcel other than it seems blank on Google Earth. It’s close to a near-term extension of the Canyon Rim trail and has decent access to downtown and the trails beyond via Central Ave; also one can get to the somewhat airy Pueblo Canyon Rim Trail by crossing Trinity, and perhaps potentially go down the hill to Los Alamos Canyon bottom.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why the dollar coin is a dumb idea

Apparently the proposal to replace the dollar bill with a coin is floating around again. This is a dumb idea. Why?

Right now, there are two classes of cash:
  1. Heavy, worthless money: change. Stuff it in your pocket and then into a jar at home where it accumulates until you get bored and take it to the bank. This exercise ties up little value.
  2. Lightweight money with meaningful value: bills.
That is, when you make a cash transaction, you go just one place to get value (i.e., bills from your wallet) and receive bills plus essentially worthless cruft in exchange. Bills go back in the wallet, the change goes somewhere else to accumulate.

If you substitute a coin for the dollar bill, now you have heavy money with value to deal with. Not only can the heavy money no longer be simply tossed aside to accumulate, you must now deal with two places (wallet and pocket) to get cash to offer in payment.

I’ve been to Canada, and it’s a complete pain in the neck to cart around a pocketful of heavy yet valuable money and dig though both wallet and pocket when making payment. Let’s not make the same mistake.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oct. 12 hailstorm

Six weeks ago, there was a big hailstorm in Los Alamos. The photo below is the street in front of our house immediately afterwards. About 3/4" of hail and rain fell in about 10 minutes.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Black Hole closing

Ed Grothus died a few years ago, but his children kept the Black Hole going for a while. The official closing weekend was at the end of September, and Erin and I paid a visit; here is a selection of photos.

Who knows how long the place will still be there. As of a few days ago, no visible changes are present other than some spray painted “closed” signs.

Part of the Black Hole experience is getting ripped off. I bought a pulley for $10.

Amusingly named bearings.

This was the most depressing item I saw. It is a pediatric ventilator.

There are dark, neglected corners with flickering lights.

Do not attempt to make unauthorized repairs or adjustments.

Old-school TV remote. I wonder who Lee is.

Row of non-emptied roof leak buckets.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Did Los Alamos take my voting advice?

No question: Tuesday night was a huge win for the moral arc of the universe. I’m so used to voting for losers that seeing a very high percentage of what I supported win, across the country, was wonderful. So how about the specific endorsements I made on October 14 for Los Alamos?

First, though, an interlude for complaining (it wouldn’t be my blog without griping, now would it?). The local election coverage here is atrocious. Both the Monitor and the Post spent a lot of effort trying to share national results, doing so both awkwardly and slowly. I can guarantee that no one, nobody, not a single person comes to either of these organizations for national or even state results. This is the internet age, and there are dozens of organizations providing these results faster and better.

In any endeavor, one should consider one’s competitive edge; in this case, it’s offering local results that few outside Los Alamos County would be interested in. But even these weren’t really available. I don’t have a detailed critique, but here was my experience: I looked a few times, I saw nothing but disorganized jumbles of numbers that didn’t answer my question (i.e., who is winning or has won), and so I left.

For example, Stephanie Garcia Richard’s win was a big lost opportunity. A little statistics — that no one else was interested in doing! — could have called the race well before midnight. I think it’s a real shame that, particularly in this community, no one was interested in offering this sort of reporting.

Anyway. On to the good stuff!

Minnesota constitutional amendments. (Wait, that’s not Los Alamos! you protest. This is true, but I lived in Minnesota for 13 years and some great things happened up there on Tuesday.) There were two truly awful constitutional amendments on the ballot: one to enshrine marriage discrimination in the state constitution, and the other to require picture ID to vote and make other dumb voting changes that I don’t quite remember. The latter is particularly egregious because Minnesota has among the highest voting participation rates in the country, which most Minnesotans are rightfully proud of. Both failed.

Bond questions. Recommendation: Yes on all; result: Yes on all.

Constitutional amendments. Recommendation: No on 1, Yes on 2-5. Result: Yes on all. I’m not too bothered on losing Amendment 1; it was kind of an esoteric question and will have little impact, I suspect.

County charter amendments. Recommendation: Yes, No, No, Yes. Result: Yes on all. This one actually annoys me. I think it’s kind of embarrassing that so many people said with a straight face that the language improvements and the related thresholds (e.g., number of signatures required to initiate a recall) were inextricably bound — clearly, they’re not. I was also bothered that a key argument in favor of the amendments was, “smart people worked hard on these, so just trust us”; that’s patronizing. In many ways, Los Alamos seems very prone to groupthink, and I think that may have been what happened here.

Judge retentions. Recommendation: retain all; result: retain all.

County clerk. Recommendation: Hjelm; result: Stover. I think this was a big missed opportunity for Democrats. Nathan has good ideas but just can’t express them well to a general audience. (All that said, I’m pretty skeptical that the position should be partisan, since a key responsibility is overseeing elections.)

County council. Recommendation: Sheehey, Redondo, Henderson. Result: Henderson, Girrens (R), Sheehey. This was the best result that could be reasonably expected, increasing Democratic representation from 1 to 3 out of 7 (I’m unsure if the remaining 4 are all Republicans or if there are some independents in the mix), though I’m a little frustrated because I was not impressed by the Democratic candidates. Again, a missed opportunity in that Michael Redondo really didn’t seem ready for the post — perhaps a better candidate could have made it D+3.

NM House, District 43. Recommendation: Garcia Richard; result: Garcia Richard. This one I’m really pleased by. I think Stephanie will make an excellent representative. I realized that she reminds me of my sister a little bit, who I have occasionally been pestering to run for office.

Stephanie did not win Los Alamos County, losing by 767 votes or about 7.5%. However, she won big in the smaller communities that make up the rest of her district, which was enough to put her over the top by about 3%.

Court of appeals. Recommendation: Zamora; result: Zamora.

NM Supreme Court. Recommendation: Vigil; result: Vigil.

US House, District 3. Recommendation: Lujan; result: Lujan. Shamefully, in Los Alamos County, Lujan beat Tea Party nutcase Byrd by only 8% (he won the district by 25%).

US Senate. Recommendation: Heinrich; result: Heinrich. Again shamefully, Heather Wilson won Los Alamos County by 12 points.

President. Recommendation: Obama; result: Obama, with 332 electoral votes, which is about the most that could be reasonably expected. And Los Alamos County went blue again! (The last time before 2008 was JFK.) Even though they called it at about 9:15pm, I was so amped up that I didn’t really get to bed until perhaps 1am. He gave a very good acceptance speech.

The end!

As an aside, it is worth noting that every few years, we as American citizens decide who the most powerful people on the planet should be. Furthermore, if we tell them to go, they go, and this all happens peacefully. In the course of humanity, and even to some extent now, this is quite remarkable.

All in all, it was a superb night and a big step to keep us on the right side of history. I am proud of my country.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A very interesting talk at the ESB meeting Thursday

There’s a really interesting talk at the Environmental Sustainability Board meeting this Thursday. All are welcome!

I should add that I’ve read Tom’s book and thought it was extremely good.

(I’m a board member, but speaking for myself of course.)

21st Century Science Powered by 19th Century Power Plants
Speaker: Tom Ribe

Thursday, Oct. 18th 6 pm UNM-LA Building 2 Room 230

Sponsored by: Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board and Los Alamos Sustainable Energy Network

Join us for a discussion that will overview Los Alamos's power sources, and urge an update of the electricity supply over the next decade to address climate change. Los Alamos' power supply is vulnerable and unreliable and should be produced in Los Alamos, using a combination of energy conservation, green power, and cutting edge nuclear power. Los Alamos has a moral and technological responsibility to lead by example in this area given that it is a taxpayer funded facility of the US Department of Energy.

Our speaker is Tom Ribe, a native of Los Alamos and an expert on natural resource issues relating to the Four Corners area. He worked for LANL between 1992 and 1997 in the Environmental Restoration program. He has his MS in Environmental Policy from the University of Oregon and has written extensively on energy, public lands and wildfire. He is author of "Inferno by Committee, A History of the Cerro Grande Fire". He lives in Santa Fe where he works in venture capital, the tourism industry, and as Executive Director of Caldera Action, a group focused on the preservation of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

This presentation will take place as part of the October meeting of the Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board.  The Board meeting will begin at 5:30, with the talk starting at 6 pm sharp.  Attendees are encouraged to come by at 5:30 and partake in the Board meeting.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Los Alamos ballot endorsements, from bottom to top

Here’s how I’m going to vote, with some reasoning and griping sprinkled in. This is the Los Alamos ballot. I’ll start at the bottom, since that’s typically the most perplexing.

The League of Women Voters voter’s guide also seems pretty good (a paper copy went out in Thursday’s Monitor). Also, a group in favor of the county charter amendments has a (less good) website.

The county clerk’s office has PDF sample ballots for Los Alamos and White Rock.

Finally, I’m skipping the unopposed races, since there’s no real point in voting or not voting in those.

Bond questions

Yes on all three

The questions ask for bonding for senior centers (A), libraries (B), and education (C).

I wasn’t able to find any thoughtful explanation of what’s going on here (though there is a letter to the editor in the Post just now from the UNM-LA director in support of Question C). So, I fall back on a couple of principles: (a) the United States has among the lowest taxes of any industrialized nation, and (b) education is grotesquely underfunded. I’m voting Yes.

[Update: Sunday’s Monitor points out that these replace expiring bond authority, so there would be no tax increases.]

Constitutional Amendments

Amendment 1 — No

This amendment would expand the judicial standards commission from 11 members to 13, with the additional two members drawn from specific roles.

I’m voting no because 11 is already an unwieldy number for a committee, and there’s no need to make this change at the constitutional level. Constitutions are for principles, not details.

Amendment 2 — Yes

This amendment requires the legislature to set meaningful qualifications for members of the Public Regulation Commission (currently, there are essentially none).

This makes sense to me; a commission with technical and judicial responsibilities should have qualified members. I’m voting yes.

Amendment 3 — Yes

This amendment transfers responsibility for chartering corporations from the Public Regulatory Commission to the Secretary of State. Given that the SOS is responsible for this in almost all other states, and for the bulk of other corporate filings in this one, it seems like a sensible simplification. I’m voting yes.

Amendment 4 — Yes

Similarly, this amendment transfers insurance regulation from the PRC to a new insurance office. It seems like this amendment de-politicizes a technical oversight responsibility (e.g., the PRC recently earned an “F” on this responsibility from some body who issues such grades) and aligns with other states. I’m voting yes.

Amendment 5 — Yes

Another transfer. Under this one, an independent public defenders’ office would be established, and public defenders would no longer report to the governor. I think this is an excellent idea: any support for accused criminals, including offering poor folks a fair trial with decent representation (instead of, say, just throwing them in jail — after all, the government can’t be trusted to tax us, but they can be trusted to jail and kill us without error), is highly politically unpopular (sadly). Thus, public defenders who report to a political position are at continual risk of having their already embarrassingly meager support cut.

County Charter Amendments

Question 1 (Initiative) — Yes

This simplifies and clarifies the charter rules for citizen petitions (ordinances created by popular vote rather than the County Council). OK, that’s fine.

But, a yes vote also reduces the time frame for circulating petitions from 180 days to 90 days. That I’m skeptical of. Los Alamos does not have a California-like problem of ballot questions clogging the political process. Why put both changes in the same question? I’m not sympathetic to the “logrolling” hysteria coming from some quarters, but the basic procedures for citizen initiative and the time limit seem like totally different issues to me. That is, I don’t have any sense that it’s illegal (as logrolling is), but it seems disrespectful to voters.

I’m annoyed by this, but 90 days does seem like plenty of time to circulate a petition, so I will hold my nose and vote yes.

Question 2 (Referendum) — No

More simplifying and clarifying the charter, this time for referendums (citizen veto of County Council decisions). Again, fine.

But again, this is mixed with increasing the number of signatures required. Since this process does not seem to be abused in Los Alamos County, there is no need to make it harder, and I resent being forced to consider two separate issues in one question. Therefore, I will vote no.

Question 3 (Recall) — No

This amendment makes it harder to recall elected county officials. Again, there seem to be two issues here: bringing the charter into compliance with the state constitution, and increasing the number of signatures required for a recall petition to force the issue onto the ballot.

I do believe the constitutional standards are too high. As far as I can tell, they essentially say that an elected official must engage in illegal or clearly unethical behavior in order to be recalled. I believe that doing a crappy job should be sufficient. Now, being noncompliant with the state constitution may be a source of trouble, and one that concerns me, but isn’t that an issue for the lawyers, not the voters? Why are the citizenry being asked to pass judgement on a legal question?

Second, 25% of the voters in the previous election (the current requirement) is already quite a large number of people in a high-turnout city. And again, I’m bothered that two unrelated issues are presented in the same question. So I’m voting no.

Question 4 (Charter amendments) — Yes

Seems to be purely clarification and simplification. I can support that.

Judges (Retention)

Retain all. All three judges up for retention seem sane in the LWV guide. Also, all complain about partisan election of judges, which is an issue that concerns me a great deal. Thus, I’m voting to retail all three.

An interlude before we get into the partisan races

I don’t vote for Republicans. Frankly, I think it’s a national embarrassment that the Republican Party is taken seriously by a nontrivial fraction of Americans.

Just a few reasons why, in no particular order: The party is anti-science (e.g., climate change is real, people). They’re backwards on social issues like marriage equality. They oppose abortion (a position which I can understand) but then turn around and oppose things which clearly reduce the abortion rate — comprehensive sex ed and easy access to birth control — in favor of things that clearly don’t, like abstinence-only sex ed. They demand lower taxes as the solution to any economic woe or success, regardless of circumstances, and their tax proposals favor the rich instead of the regular folks who helped the rich get there. The oppose Obama’s policies simply because he’s Obama, rather than for substantive reasons (e.g.: Obamacare is essentially identical to the Republican counter-proposal to Clinton’s healthcare efforts, as well as Romneycare, but now it’s a socialist plot). They are awful on public land issues, favoring short-term extractive gains rather than responsible, long-term, fact-based stewardship. They are too quick to pursue violent solutions to foreign policy issues. Finally, they promote voter ID efforts to solve fraud issues which don’t exist at the expense of disenfranchising a nontrivial number of (largely Democratic, surprise surprise) legitimate voters.

Another thing that really irritates me about the party is that they’re really good at playing the game of politics. That is: they win less on the merits of their proposals than obfuscating, sneaking, and spinning; complaining about perceived (i.e., not real) mistreatment by the press; and tricks like gerrymandering Congressional districts. Polling shows pretty clearly that when folks really understand Republican proposals, they’re very unpopular. Republicans know this, and they’ve been highly effective at finding “alternate” ways to sell their proposals.

I realize that at the local level, party affiliation often means less. However, I find the behavior of the national party to be so offensive that simple party association is a dealbreaker. (I could be persuaded otherwise if a local Republican candidate made a point of profusely and frequently apologizing for his or her party, but nobody seems to be doing that.)

In other words: The Republican Party is really quite extreme. Yet, they’ve convinced about half the country that they’re not. Which is kind of scary.

So, the only real alternative is the Democrats; supporting third parties almost always leads to poorer results (I’m looking at you, Ralph Nader). I generally support the Democratic point of view, even though they frequently annoy me with their disorganization and continual ineptitude at playing the political game.

Anyway, the point being that many of the partisan races have pretty simple reasoning because there are only Republican and non-Republican alternatives.

County races

County Clerk — Nathan Hjelm

I especially don’t trust Republicans on election issues. So, it’s Mr. Hjelm (who I actually went to high school with), despite his weird ideas about how to respond to the LWV questions. E.g., from the voter’s guide: “it’s essential that any system involved in tallying votes should never be connected to an insecure network”. Which is true. But there are ways to express that other than nerdspeak, and there are higher-level principles which would be better to lead with.

I think he would do a good job, address important issues that Ms. Stover would not think of, and be too nerdy about it.

County Council — Sheehey, Redondo, Henderson

I’ll vote for the three Democrats, but I’m not terribly impressed by the options.

Pete Sheehey I don’t know much about, though his LWV answers seem fine (e.g. he named transferring the Valles Caldera to Bandelier, which is IMO an important move).

Michael Redondo is also a nice guy — I’ve met him — and I’m sure he’d make a fine councilor. He is also young (my age, roughly), which I think would be a major asset on the council. My beef is that he is not accepting any campaign contributions at all. Now, I certainly think money is a big problem in politics. But this is excessive. I would much rather he get elected and apply his principles on the council than make a statement during the campaign.

Kristin Henderson is a major booster of the Trinity Site redevelopment, which I’m highly skeptical of. My key concern is the monopoly aspect of it — Smith’s will control a huge chunk of downtown real estate. We had a conversation on this blog about it, which went something like this. Me: “there are a lot of monopoly issues here, and I worry about them”. Her: “don’t worry, we worked hard, everything is taken care of”. “what about issue X?” “Smith’s assures us they won’t do that”. “Fine, put it in the contract”. (Silence.)

The Republicans are Republicans. Vincent Chiravelle, who currently serves, bothers me in particular. He is very frequently at the losing end of 6-1 votes, often on fiscal issues. Basically, he strikes me as excessively ideological and unwilling to invest the necessary resources in our town’s future.

State races

New Mexico House, 43rd District — Stephanie Garcia Richard

I’ve met Stephanie and was impressed enough to give money to her campaign and put a sign in my yard. She’s a young, ambitious, and passionate woman who really cares about Los Alamos.

Court of appeals — Monica Zamora

N.M. Supreme Court — Barbara Vigil

National races

U.S. House, 3rd District — Ben Ray Lujan

Mr. Lujan seems like a decent guy and is a reliable Democratic vote. Republican opponent Byrd is a climate change denier who then tries to tell us what science is. Enough said.

U.S. Senate — Martin Heinrich

Mr. Heinrich is actually a scientist, which we need way more of in Congress. He is interested in sustainability and ending tax breaks that favor the rich at the expense of everyone else. Wilson hits all the standard Republican talking points including climate change denial.

President — Barack Obama

President Obama is a good man who’s accomplished a great deal despite uniform opposition by a Republican Congress. He’s thoughtful and works hard to make the right decision in complex situations. He’s interested in getting things done, not politics.

Mitt Romney is a chameleon who will say whatever his audience wants to hear. His proposals are either unworkable, too vague to score, or extremely conservative, and it’s clear that if elected, he will be beholden to an increasingly extreme, non-reality-based party. I’m very worried that he’s fooled enough of the people enough of the time to get elected.

In particular, I worry about the canyon country that I love. The state of Utah is suing the federal government for motorized access to thousands of miles of “highways”, most of which are nothing but washes and paths in pristine wilderness. Also, the state of Utah has demanded that millions of acres of federal land be transferred to the state — and it’s abundantly obvious that Utah has zero interest in preserving them, but lots of interest in extractive industry and motorized recreation. Romney has stated that he “doesn’t know the purpose” of Western federal land. So, I think it’s a significant risk that he would fail to oppose or actively support these destructive efforts.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Be there or be square: Fuller Lodge talk, Sept. 19

The Los Alamos Mountaineers runs a monthly program of invited speakers. This month, I’m giving the talk. It will be at Fuller Lodge the evening of Wednesday, September 19. Exactly when is a little bit of a mystery to me; the talks are often billed as 7:30pm but don’t start until a little later. Given that it’s my talk, though, I suggest you show up at 5:30, or even midnight the night before, to make sure you have a seat.

The LAMC web site also carries this announcement. It’s free unless you want to slip me an envelope full of cash.

How I learned to lead “Priedhorsky moderate”:
Forty canyon adventures from age 10

Dark Canyon, 1989

Part coming-of-age story, part exploration of local natural beauty, and part compendium of hilarious debacles, this talk is about the canyons of the Colorado Plateau. In photographs and illustrations, Reid will tell the story of his forty adventures in the ethereal landscape which inspired the alien worlds of Calvin and Hobbes’ Spaceman Spiff. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll demand a refund.

Reid was born and raised in Los Alamos and spent 13 years in Minnesota before returning in fall 2011. Actual excerpt from one of his trip invitations: “Difficulty will be standard ‘Priedhorsky Moderate’. You can look forward to extremely hard work, pain, terrible cold, blazing heat, bad food, intestinal disturbances, odor, risk of injury or death, and many other unpleasant circumstances. There will also be nice scenery and an opportunity to go places almost no one ever goes.”

This talk contains sexual themes and references to drug use.

Stevens Canyon, 2009

Death Hollow, 2005

Death Hollow, 2005

Sunday, August 19, 2012

CSST 2012

CSST 2012 at Bishop’s Lodge was pretty awesome. We saw a cool sunset each night. This one wasn’t the best — the best one was a big electrical storm over the Rio Grande Valley.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Santa Clara Canyon rim hike

Erin, Calvin, and I went on an LAMC hike led by my dad to the rim of Santa Clara Canyon in the northern Jemez. This was Calvin’s first “real” hike, about 3.5 miles, and it was fun despite a little bit of fussiness on Calvin’s part (he sure eats a lot) and the long drive in (over 2.5 hours from Los Alamos). The views were extraordinary.

Upper Santa Clara Canyon from near the trailhead. The canyon has an interesting property in that it has no real head — it just slowly slopes over and begins draining into the valles, while staying quite deep. I wondered what causes this unusual phenomenon.

Puffball, approximately 4" across.

Changing Calvin’s diaper in a beautiful meadow. He was not a fan. One of the worst diaper changes ever, according to him.

This herd of cows was very perplexed by Calvin’s wailing regarding (yet another) diaper change.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pizza in the cave

One of the things I enjoyed doing when I was in high school was to order a pizza, then take it into a cave and have a picnic. Somehow, I was able to talk Erin and our friends Amanda and Isaac into doing this. A couple of weeks ago, we hiked up to Cave of the Winds with a pizza and a diaper bag.

Erin with Calvin in the cave. He may be the youngest person to ever go in that cave, and I’d strongly suspect the first to be breastfed in there.

On the way out, we had a wonderful sunset. It looked very much like it might rain, but sadly it didn’t.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Trail maintenance with Craig Martin

Craig Martin is our local trails guru. He’s employed by the county; I believe his title is something like “open space specialist”. He’s been running trail work sessions for the past month or two, but I’ve always been unavailable because of Calvin. Yesterday, however, was a time I could make it. I was really excited to help out because the trails are something very important to me, and I want to contribute. Also, I like digging holes.

The meeting place for yesterday’s session was at the Nail Trail trailhead, off NM 501 about 500 vertical feet about the townsite. The goal was to stabilize a section of train so it wouldn’t wash away when the monsoons arrive. Of course, I biked there with all my junk in the basket. Craig thought I was a little nutty.

There were 8 of us. We hiked in 20-30 minutes, had a quick training session, and were off to work. The tools were a Pulaski, which has an axe one side and a pick on the other, and a McLeod, which is basically a giant hoe. It was very difficult, filthy work, with huge amounts of dust containing a mix of dirt and soot. I’m still pretty sore this morning.

My favorite part was filling in this hole. The profile is not obvious in this picture, but it was a gash across most of the trail. It’s about a foot deep on the right side of the trail, maybe 2-3 on the left, and the whole mess extends down the slope another 3 feet or so.

I believe it was caused by the root system of the stump at left burning away.

After! I (along with the help of several others) built a rock wall and then filled in the gap with rocks and dirt.

I suspect this spot will need more attention soon as the thing settles and the tree begins to rot away.

Side view of the rock wall we built.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

Small ponderosa

This Pinus ponderosa brachyptera seedling is behind Arizona Avenue.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I sorted out and organized our tools, removing extras and stuff where Erin and I had duplicates. I guess that means our relationship is serious now?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Climbing school

I’m taking the Los Alamos Mountaineers climbing school, which is very well run. It’s a blast, despite the fact that it often makes me feel like an out-of-shape blob who is terrified of heights.

I’ve been wondering if climbing would be a fun family activity, with Erin and then the kiddos once they’re old enough (the YMCA has climbing classes for kids as young as 4). I look forward to exploring this more after things calm down a bit post-birth.

Here we are setting up for the 4th outdoor class session, at The Gallows in White Rock Canyon. It turns out most of these routes were first ascended by my friend Walt Wehner and his friends in the 90’s.

A colleague of mine spotted 13 different kinds of wildflowers in White Rock Canyon the weekend before. I think I got to 8 or 9.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cerro Colorado hike

On March 31, my dad and I and some LAMC folks hiked up Cerro Colorado, near Ojo Caliente.

Above is the summit. The area had been remarkably hard hit by the piñon die-off a few years ago, as you can see above. However, a decent number of tiny to small piñons seemed to be doing just fine. My hope is that they’ll stage a comeback in a way that is more resistant to the beetle plague.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sandia Mountains hike

A few weeks back I went on a hike in the Sandias with some folks from LAMC, as part of a “Class 3 Scrambling” course.

Near our high point, looking northwest? The Jemez are just peeking over on the right horizon, while Cabezon is visible on the left horizon.

The tramway people are pretty serious about people not climbing the towers.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A snowy April 2 in Los Alamos

This is the scene in our back yard as of an hour or so ago. That is, snowing heavily with 4-5" of accumulation in some places. I think it’s great. I believe I’ve mentioned before that the only acceptable weather conditions are blizzard and brilliantly sunny.

The branches covered in blossoms catch the snow best.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cave of the Winds revisited

A few days ago, I got a request from PEEC asking if they could use photos from my November post on Cave of the Winds. I said sure; they also wondered if I had photos of the cave entrance and inside the cave. I said no, but I’d be happy to go up and make some, which I did this morning. It was terrifically windy.

I watched this tree fall over. I considered turning around, but decided that since there weren’t too many trees, paying more attention to the few trees I was passing was enough to keep me reasonably safe. I didn’t see any more fresh falls.

Turn-off to Cave of the Winds.

Cave of the Winds entrance, looking east (downstream). The descent from the rim is quite steep and ends in a drop-off.

Cave entrance looking west (upstream).

Inside the cave. There is one main room and a few short side passages, and as far as I can tell, no bears (I checked).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Old pot holder, new pot holder

A few days ago, my mom gave us some new pot holders. Turns out they’re made with the same fabric as a set of old, worn pot holders that I’ve had for a long time — maybe since my first apartment in 2000?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

East Fork Trail hike

Last weekend, Erin and I went on a hike down the East Fork Trail with Amanda, Isaac, and their optimistically-named dog Thor.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rendija Canyon in yellow and blue

One of the interesting things one can do in black and white photography is change which colors are represented in the final image. For example, the following two images are two interpretations of the same capture:

This one is a yellow “filter”; that is, the brightness in yellow has more influence on the final result than brightness in other colors. This is a fairly common treatment.

Back in the days of film, one had to make filter choices ahead of time and use actual pieces of colored glass. Now it’s all done in software.

This is a blue “filter”. These days it’s more unusual, but many of the first films responded only to blue, leading to the washed out skies look of photographs made with those films.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

White snow on black rocks

This photo was made on a White Rock Canyon hike back in December with Matt, Amanda, and Penelope. This boulder pit is directly off the Red Dot Trail.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why forest people should support Option 2 of the golf course improvement/expansion

After several weeks off, the golf course issue is back again — there are a couple of public meetings soon, one on Wednesday for the Parks & Rec Board to consider the proposals, and another for the Capital Improvements Board to consider them (the final step before the County Council).

Anyway, you may recall that my initial position was that we shouldn’t cut down any trees at all to accommodate a golf course project. After being pretty thoroughly involved in the process, and talking with forest people as well as Andy Staples, the golf course architect, and seeing the new options emerge, I’ve changed my mind.

Specifically, I believe that people like myself who care a lot about forests and trails, and who do not care at all about golf, should nevertheless support Option 2. This option gives up a few acres of trees and puts golf on the rim of a canyon which right now is moderately secluded — which I don’t like, but I think supporting this option has more benefits than drawbacks.

Specifically, those benefits are: (a) it would make golfers much happier than Option 1 or leaving the layout unchanged, which means it would be a long-term solution and we won’t be having this same conversation again in 10 years, and (b) it builds political capital that will be valuable in seeking broader open space protections across the county (and conversely, opposing the project destroys political capital that we need). Also, we still get item B even if the plan fails!

You might ask: “Don’t we already have good de facto protection of open space in the county? And isn’t public opposition such that we can be fairly confident of blocking future development proposals?” The answers turn out to be no and no. For example, here are some development proposals from the past 20 years (compiled by Craig Martin, who is awesome; this list is an edited quote from his post in the Los Alamos Trails Facebook group):
  1. A proposed “emergency access road” through the middle of open space on the White Rock Canyon Rim in Overlook Park.
  2. Housing on the Western Perimeter Tract above 48th Street where the Perimeter Trail traverses LA Mountain.
  3. A housing area and commercial uses on transfer lands (from DOE to the County) in Pueblo Canyon below Anderson Overlook.
  4. Housing development in lower Bayo Canyon.
  5. Expansion of housing into Rendija Canyon following transfer from DOE.
  6. A proposal to move the golf course into Rendija Canyon and develop housing at the current golf course.
  7. A proposal to move the stables into Rendija Canyon and develop housing at the stable area.
  8. Housing development on public land across from Pajarito School on Arizona Avenue.
  9. Development of Otowi Mesa, which is now Los Pueblos (the road and housing).
  10. The tip of “airport mesa”, now the Pajarito Cliffs Site.
  11. A proposed pipeline from the Rio Grande to White Rock through White Rock Canyon below the Overlook.
Each of these required a great deal of effort to oppose, with some successes and some failures. The point being: much of the open space we know and love in Los Alamos has zero legal protection and is at genuine risk of development.

Opposing what is a modest expansion, compared to what golfers would choose if they had their druthers, makes us look selfish and inflexible, given that the golf course is also open space (a lesser form of open space, in my opinion, but open space nonetheless). Previous efforts to build comprehensive open space protection have failed for exactly this reason.

Finally, I don’t have concerns about the cost of the project, especially since Option 2 is not much more expensive than Option 1: if one will fail on a cost basis, both will. We can afford it, quality infrastructure costs money, and it’s really decades of deferred maintenance, not a fancy new facility.

For these reasons, I believe we should support Option 2 and take advantage of the momentum this process has generated to create comprehensive protection for open space in Los Alamos County.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Exploring Las Conchas burn area near Ponderosa Campground

Last Monday, Erin and I hiked from Ponderosa Campground to the rim of Frijoles Canyon, an area with significant damage from the Las Conchas fire.

This wash contained a large amount of rubble spread across a wide area.

A charred leaf which had drifted down onto the previous night’s snow.

This snag’s bark had been stripped off on the upstream side by flood water and debris flow.

Charred trees on the far side of Frijoles Canyon.

Ponderosa grove not far from the rim.

A large ponderosa killed by the fire.