High up in the mountains above Santa Fe where the air is crisp and the sun shines brilliantly during a lull between storms, professional hiking guide Karen Denison points out the faint tracks of a snowshoe hare atop the deep snow.
“Looks like a dog’s tracks there too, the way they’re going crazy all over the place,” she says.
I imagine a big, goofy lab out for a romp in the snow, its legs all going in different directions as it chases the rabbit’s scent.
Like the hare, a hiker in snowshoes can easily glide across the snow, venturing deep into woods on a beautiful winter’s day.
Denison, who has dedicated herself to teaching women and others how to enjoy the outdoors, says the key to good snowshoeing is getting out there!
Beginners can rent snowshoes and ski poles at any number of the local ski shops and head up Hyde Park Road to Black Canyon Campground or Aspen Vista Road for an easy introduction to the sport.
“It’s fun and unlike skiing, you can get out into the woods where you’ll see all sorts of wildlife tracks in the snow,” Denison says. “You can really get some notion of how many critters there really are out there.”
Denison stresses that snowshoeing is an active endeavor and hikers need to dress accordingly, in layers that can be put on and taken off as conditions dictate.
Hikers should use wicking underwear made of polypropylene, silk or wool to pull sweat away from the skin to ward off chills. The next layer should consist of a warm layer such as fleece, wool or other insulating material and lastly, a nylon or breathable material shell to ward off wind and moisture.
Footwear should consist of stout, waterproof boots, such as snow-paks or hunting boots worn with thick fleece or wool socks and waterproof gaiters to keep the cold and wet snow in check.
Top your outfit off with a suitable hat, something that can warm the ears and keep the sun and other elements out of the eyes. Also bring a warm, waterproof pair of gloves.
Denison also highly recommends using sunscreen and sunglasses to protect from being burned or blinded by the sun’s intense glare coming off the snow.
Lastly, Denison stresses the need to stay hydrated while out hiking as dehydration can contribute to the deadly condition, hypothermia.
“In the winter it’s something you have remind yourself to do because all the usual clues might not be present,” she said.
Dension said one of her scariest outdoor incidents was when she and her husband were cross-country skiing to a backcountry yurt in the mountains above Chama when they got caught in a snowstorm. Her husband, Terry Taddeucci, a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos National Lab, was doing the hard work of breaking trail when he began to exhibit signs of hypothermia.
“I knew something was wrong with him because he was actually listening to me for a change,” Denison said.
Blinded by the snow but armed with a GPS (Global Positioning System) device they managed to find their shelter and safety before things got too serious.
“But he was dehydrated and wiped out for the whole next day,” she said.
Those interested in learning more about the joys of snowshoeing and winter hiking can enroll in Denison’s continuing education class at Santa Fe Community College in mid-February.
Karen Denison of Outspire guided hiking tours takes a break while snowshoeing on a hilltop high above Santa Fe during the winter of 2007.
And that’s what Denison can usually be found doing when she’s not guiding clients on day hikes around Santa Fe, teaching others about the outdoors and its many recreational opportunities.
Denison’s own introduction to the outdoors began while growing up in Dover, Ohio, where she learned to fish with bait and spinners as a youth.
She then came out west when her husband was offered a job on the hill.
Denison, a degreed biologist, found work with for the Santa Fe-based biotech company, Vivigen.
Then one afternoon while fishing on the Conjeos River in Southern Colorado she found herself in the middle of a great insect hatch and her life took a turn.
“There were all these fish rising and all I had was my spinning rod with a Wooley Worm on a bubble and of course I wasn’t catching anything,” she said. “I was so mad and then I realized that this was the water for which flyfishing was made.”
Wanting to learn more about flyfishing she enrolled in a flyfishing class at the Santa Fe Community College taught by the owner of the High Desert Angler High flyshop, Jan Crawford.
Crawford was one of the founding members of the women’s flyfishing group She Fishes! and a leader in the female, flyfishing movement in New Mexico. The two became good friends.
“She slowly dragged me out of the science field and into the flyshop,” said Denison who became a fishing guide under Crawford and with eventually co-authored the book “Fly Patterns of Northern New Mexico” along with former High Desert Angler shop manager, Bill Orr. (See related blog article about Mr. Orr at Flyfishing 101- A how to Guide.)
Crawford and Denison worked together for many years until Crawford decided to sell the shop to a younger crew and move up to Creede, Colo.
The two still work together however, hosting and teaching a women’s flyfishing school and retreat at the 4UR Ranch during the summer.
It’s a great opportunity for like minded women to get together on the water, learn the sport and share each others company, Dension said.
For more details about this event check out the link at www.outspire.com .
Denison also remains involved in the local flyfishing scene through her work at The Reel Life flyshop in Sanbusco Market in downtown Santa Fe where she teaches flycasting, flytying and introductory flyfishing.
For more details about what this Santa Fe flyshop has to offer check them out at www.reellifesantafe.com .
And as if that’s not enough to keep her busy, Denison has devoted her time for the last 10 years to teaching women how to use GPS navigation through the state Department of Game and Fish sponsored “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” program.
The program is held every year at the NRA’s Whittington Center near Raton and offers classes such as basic firearms instruction, first aid, flyfishing and tying, camp skills and outdoor cooking, big game field dressing, geology, wildlife and plant identification, tracking and sign cutting and other outdoors skills.
For more info about this program go to www.bownewmexico.
Denison said she loves being an outdoors guide, sharing her knowledge and experience with others and hopes more women will follow her lead and get out there!
This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Left, state Department of Game and Fish, San Juan Fishery Biologist, Marc Wethington, discusses rock arrangments with Heavy Equipment Operator, Reggie Davis of Adobe Contractors of Bloomfield, during the third and final phase of fish habitat improvements on the San Juan River in November 2007.
The third and final phase of an ambitious fish habitat improvement project on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam has been completed for the benefit of anglers who frequent the waters near Cottonwood Campground.
“It’s fishing good, fabulous,” said Jay Vigil, a guide and clerk at the Sportsman Bar and Grill in Navajo Dam.
Vigil said he and his wife, Martha, fished the project waters just days after the work had been completed.
“Now that’s my kind of river, lots of structure and deeper channels for the fish to hold in,” he said. “They did a fabulous job, people will definitely appreciate it.”
Crews spent about a week installing an estimated 500 tons of boulders in a little over a half mile of water fronting Cottonwood Campground and Recreation Area down to the Pumphouse Run, said Marc Wethington, San Juan Fisheries Biologist for the state Department of Game and Fish.
Water flows on the river were reduced by half from the usual winter flow of 500 cfs (cubic-feet-per-second) to accommodate the work for about a week.
A tractor with a movable arm fitted with a pincher claw worked out of the riverbed, picking up and positioning the boulders that had been hauled to the riverbank from a nearby quarry.
Heavy Equipment Operator, Reggie Davis, of Adobe Contractors of Bloomfield said it was “different” working his big rig in running water.
“I’d be concentrating on my work and then look out the side window and see the water passing by,” Davis said. “I’d get that weird optical illusion like we were floating away. That took some getting used to.”
But Davis soon became adept at picking up and dropping the boulders in their proper spot, scooping out a hole behind the rock and then tamping it down with a tap of the machine’s heavy bucket.
“He made short work of this,” Wethington said as he watched Davis work under threatening skies during one of the last days of the weeklong project.
Chris Philips of Riverbed Engineering of Pagosa Springs, Colo. provided oversight for much of the work.
“We’re not working with a natural river anymore because of the dam construction,” he said while inspecting the work late one afternoon. “We don’t have the natural flows and sendiment loads to do this work for us so we’re nudging the river in the direction it needs to be and we’re trying to make it look as natural as we can.”
Wethington, 43, a Kirtland native who has been stationed on the San Juan for the last 12 years, spearheaded the effort but praise those in the background who stepped up to contribute to the cause.
Adobe Construction donated workers like Davis while Volvo heavy equipment dealer, Golden Equipment of Farmington, contributed the machinery needed to haul and place the boulders.
Area oil and gas drilling firms, Williams Oil, Devon Energy and Conoco Philips contributed funding as did the Float and Fish Fly Shop of Navajo Dam.
And the San Juan Fly Fishing Federation and the local BLM office were also instrumental in seeing the project through to completion, Wethington said.
Wethington estimated the three phase project cost about $175,000 including Sikes Act funds from the sale of habitat stamps required of all those who hunt and fish on public lands in New Mexico.
The latest phase of the project included reclaiming riverbank, narrowing and deepening the main channel, installing structure such as boulders and downed cottonwood tree trunks to provide attractive holding areas for fish.
Prior to the work, the river spread out at Cottonwood Campground over a wide, shallow, featureless expanse and did little to encourage fish to congregate there.
Up to 60,000 catchable fish, 9 to 11-inches in length, are routinely stocked in the “bait” waters of the San Juan each a year, Wethington said.
Many of those fish will now have more suitable habitat to live in and anglers should find it easier to locate and attempt to catch those fish, he said.
“We are trying to provide increased angling opportunities to as diverse a population of anglers as possible,” he said.
Over the last two winters similar work was done on a stretch of water below Simon Canyon and above the Gravel Pit where drift boats and their guides take out. That work has already produced benefits as evidenced during recent insect hatches which have revealed greater numbers of rising fish (see related article).
The San Juan is one of the west’s top trout waters, a legendary, trophy class trout fishery fueled by consistent flows and clear, cold water.
The river lures anglers from all over the world to stalk its quality waters which are home to an estimated 75,000 trout.
The first quarter mile of the river below Navajo Dam is strictly catch and release and the remaining four miles have a bag limit of one trout over 20-inches with the angler required to stop fishing once they have taken a fish of that size, that day.
Single, barbless lures are required on the quality waters.
Below the quality waters, anglers can use bait and the normal bag limit is in effect on public access to another 3.5 miles of river including the Cottonwood Campground area.
Anglers spend about 250,000 hours a year fishing on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam and contribute an estimated $20 million to $30 million to the state’s economy annually, Wethington said.
Future habitat improvement plans for the river include salt cedar and Russian olive tree eradication and restoration of native cottonwood and willows, Wethington said.
A plan is also being proposed to restrict tackle on the river to the use of two flies, Wethington said.
Anglers employing the use of multiple flies in triple and quadruple rigs are entangling and killing too many fish some fishing guides have complained, he said.
In an effort to limit damage to the river’s trout population the guides have suggested restricting tackle to just two flies, he said.
Wethington said there have been no studies of angler induced, trout mortality on the San Juan’s quality waters but most trout living in the river show evidence of having have been caught at least once and are expected to either die of old age or at the hands of an angler.
Wethington said anglers will have a chance to comment during yet to be scheduled public hearings and or by mail before the state Game Commission considers the rule change.
Originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section.
See related article for more information.
Monday, December 10, 2007
As dawn broke I gazed up at the purple tinged clouds and absently chewed on a piece of dried fruit. At my feet lay a pile of elk pellets and a slew of hoof prints, the tree upon which my rifle rested bore fresh antler marks and I eyed the nearby watering hole expectantly.
We had gotten up early that morning in a scene reminiscent of my Army days. Men in camouflage and boots, the clatter of gear and rifles, nervous anticipation cloaked in bravado.
We crawled up the mountain in four-wheel drive, the two pickup trucks grinding along the rutted jeep trail in low gear, our headlights barely piercing the darkness.
We emerged from the woods upon a mountaintop meadow.
It was here where I tried the evening before to sneak up on a group of grazing elk but when the wind came up on my back, they caught my scent and scattered.
We were just out scouting then but today it was for real and this was my first elk hunt.
We followed another road off into the trees and stopped at a fence line where we parked the truck and then headed off on foot down to a nearby watering hole.
It was here where we hoped to ambush some elk at dawn.
I looked off downhill and all I could see of my hunting partner was his blaze orange cap bobbing about in the hazy, morning light.
Waiting and watching in the tree line I had a chance to reflect on how I ended up on this solitary mountaintop with a military surplus, M-1 rifle and a hunting license.
I had earned the rifle competing in several shooting matches sponsored by the now disbanded Caja Del Rio Gun Club back when they had a range south of Santa Fe in the early 1990s.
That range has since been bulldozed to make way for some soccer fields.
The rifle cost $165 and arrived in the mail, sent by what was then the government’s Division of Civilian Marksmanship.
Built during WW II by the Springfield Armory, the rifle shoots straight and far. Truly a beautiful piece of machinery and other than a 1961 Dodge pickup and several longtime friends, it’s the only antique I own.
I’d never considered using it for hunting until now.
When my friend Mike Giddings first invited me to go on this trip, I was hesitant.
I’ve been an avid catch and release fisherman for years and would much rather shoot pictures than wildlife.
A bull elk photographed by the author during a trip to Yellowstone National Park in the fall of 2003.
But I had to admit I was intrigued by the idea of bringing home my own meat.
My friends who hunted argued that due to the limited number of natural predators out there, hunting was necessary to help keep the state’s elk population in check. And the meat is high in protein, much leaner than beef, range fed and completely organic.
But more importantly hunting was a time honored New Mexico tradition that brings family and friends together for great outdoor adventures.
“It’ll be a blast,” they said.
Yeah, tell that to the elk, I thought.
But I had to agree that one should know where their food comes from and play a hand in obtaining it.
So Mike started planning. He wanted to return to an area high in the mountains above Angel Fire where he had hunted once. He hadn’t had any luck on that trip but liked what he saw up there.
Mike did his homework and found the success rate in this particular unit was pretty good and since we were after a cow or young bull, we stood a pretty good chance of bringing home some meat, he said.
As luck would have it we each drew out in the Department of Game and Fish’s annual July lottery and our hunt was on for early November. It only cost $65 to apply and buy the license.
Upon hearing the news, another good friend, Glenn Jaramillo of Glenn's Garage in Santa Fe, told me we were going to need plenty of help if we managed to drop one of these 500-lb animals.
A veteran of many a hunt, Jaramillo offered to come along and help us with the hauling and butchering and anything else he could do to make the trip a success for us.
Glenn invited his buddy, Ron “Randy” Santistevan of Cerro, to come along too and we now had two hunters with years of knowledge and experience to help guide us on this trip.
As the hunting date grew near so did our anticipation and we got together frequently to discuss tactics and go over the list of gear to bring.
I went down to the department store and bought a camouflage hunting jacket and a blaze orange baseball cap.
I spent weeks humping around the hills south of town with a fully loaded backpack and my rifle to condition myself for the mountains.
I familiarized myself with the state hunting rules and regulations and read a good book about elk hunting.
And when the hunt date arrived I felt like I was ready, butterflies aside.
We set out for the mountains on a beautiful Indian summer’s day, hauling two travel trailers behind the pickups, headed north just like I’d seen others do over the years.
Now I was in one of them and it felt good.
From the left: Glenn "Chewy" Jaramillo of Santa Fe, Ron "Randy" Santistevan of Cerro, Mike "Chico" Giddings of Los Lunas and the author during their first hunt together in Northern New Mexico during the fall of 2007.
We found a suitable campsite in the national forest just off the road at the base of the mountain, set up quickly and then headed uphill in time to catch the sun setting.
Sure enough there were signs of elk everywhere and then we came across the herd I spooked at the water hole.
That was last night and now I was snapped out of my daydreaming by the sound of someone blowing an elk bugle and cows responding, way off down the hill.
I couldn’t believe it. They were here.
The ensuing silence was deafening, my every footstep sounded like a stampede as I picked my way out of the tree line and headed downhill.
I could see Mike’s neon orange hat up ahead in the high grass, kneeling by a small pine watching the meadow below through his binoculars.
I crouched down and then low crawled to a crest in the meadow alongside Mike. When I peeked through the thick, dry grass it was just in time to see a herd of elk coming out of the tree line.
They were just a couple of hundred yards downhill, maybe a half dozen or more strung out across the meadow.
Mike took the first shot and I watched as one stumbled and fell in the grass.
The rest scattered, several ran back into the tree line, some continued across the meadow and one stood looking uphill.
I said I had her and when she turned broadside I got off two good shots before she disappeared from view.
We hustled down the hill and when we got there we were baffled to find no sign of the two elk.
We were sure we’d hit them and searched frantically for them.
We followed deep hoof prints left by the fleeing elk that led back into the woods and off down the steep side of the mountain. We didn’t find any blood trails and soon lost those tracks in the deep forest.
We went back to the spot where we thought they had been hit and finally found a faint stain of blood on top of some grass.
Looking more closely I found a trail of bright, red blood leading off into the opposing tree line.
I followed while Mike stayed behind looking for sign of the other elk.
I was alone in the woods, heart beating in my ears, trying to quiet my deep breaths when I saw the wounded elk slowly limping off through the trees. I felt a rush of apprehension as I crept up behind it, stopping when it stopped but steadily gaining ground on it.
It finally came up lame and looked back at me as I emerged from behind a tree.
I dropped to one knee and sighted down the barrel and for the longest time we just looked at each other.
I felt a pang of guilt, maybe regret, but when it turned to try and limp away, I pulled the trigger and got off a clean shot, just behind its shoulder.
The elk fell and lay dying. It was brutal, bloody work but it was done.
We called in Glenn and Randy on the radio, located the other elk in the tree line and our hunting was done.
We had bagged two elk within hours on our first day and as the guys set to work skinning and butchering the animals, they couldn’t stop telling us how lucky we’d been.
Most hunters have to pay more dues, they said. Waiting in tree lines for hours on end, numb to the bone from the cold, hiking endless miles for days on end until the hunt ends and they go home empty-handed.
They might be right about that but we also came prepared, got up early and found a good spot.
That,and having good friends at your back, counts for something too.
The author looks over one of the cow elk taken during his first hunt with friends in Northern New Mexico in the fall of 2007.
This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors section. Also see related blog article.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
A 13-year-old Mississippi boy suffering from cancer enjoyed a hunting and fishing trip of a lifetime here in New Mexico recently thanks to a local outfitter and the Catch-a-Dream Foundation.
“It was great,” Riley Carson, an eight grader, said in a telephone interview from his home in Grenada, Miss. “Just like a dream.”
Carson bagged himself a six-point, bull elk near La Jara and then landed a 20-inch rainbow trout on the San Juan river during a weeklong trip in October, said Walt Taylor of Red Top Mountain Outfitters.
“I’ve guided grown men who couldn’t hold a candle to this boy,” Taylor said of Carson. “I’ve never seen a young man hunt as well as he did. He showed remarkable poise.”
Carson regularly hunts in the woods near his hometown in rural Mississippi and loves the outdoors, says his dad, Ronnie, who works at the local paper mill.
“He’s the real deal,” he said of his son’s hunting prowess.
Deer are so prolific in Mississippi that the deer hunting season runs for four months and the bag limit is 10 animals, Carson said.
But Riley’s carefree, outdoor life was interrupted this past summer when a routine dental checkup revealed a cancerous tumor in the roof of his mouth.
Riley had to undergo surgery and is now in remission but requires regular checkups at a Houston cancer center due to his cancer’s aggressive nature. Read more about Riley’s medical affairs at the Carson family’s online journal .
During the ordeal, the Catch-a-Dream Foundation, a non-profit organization based at Mississippi State University’s Extension Service in Starkville, received Riley’s application for his dream hunt, said Bill Smith, an Extension Associate assigned to the organization.
But Carson’s application came in too late to qualify for the usual process of obtaining an elk permit this year, Smith said.
“We didn’t want to let it wait till next year though,” Smith said.
Smith said he took a personal interest in Riley’ case because he was a Mississippi boy. Smith began looking for help in finding a hunting permit for elk when he was referred to Taylor’s son, Paul, who is a veterinary student at the university.
Paul Taylor referred Smith to his dad out in New Mexico and they were able to locate an available landowner’s permit that could be used in Taylor’s usual hunting unit, Smith said.
Smith then arranged for the Carsons to fly out to New Mexico for a week’s stay at the Taylors’ cabin and a guided hunt and fishing trip in late October.
The Taylors contributed to the cost of the elk tag, provided outfitter’s services and accommodations while the Catch-a-Dream Foundation picked up the travel and all other costs, Smith said.
“These families needn’t worry about what we’re spending,” Smith said. “It’s a chance for them to take a trip of a lifetime, be away from the hospital for a week and fulfill their child’s dream.”
The foundation has helped 140 families since it was established in 2000, including two from New Mexico, a Los Lunas girl who went fishing at Navajo Dam and a boy from Mentmore who hunted deer, Smith said.
The foundation was the idea of Bruce Brady, a Mississippi native and avid outdoorsman, who wrote for Outdoor Life and was a cancer victim himself. Brady wanted to fill the gap created when the national Make-a-Wish Foundation decided it did not want to fulfill any wishes involving hunting, Smith said.
The leading request in 2006 of the Phoenix, Az. based Make a Wish Foundation was a trip to Disney World, according to information posted on its website.
Smith acknowledged that some might find the Catch-a-Dream foundation’s mission controversial.
“But we’re not forcing this on anyone,” Smith said. “We’re here for people who desire to do this.”
Smith said the organization received 64 applications in 2007, hopes to fill 50 and is only limited in its ability to serve by the contributions it has received.
Some of the major contributors to the organization have included Wal-Mart, Georgia-Pacific, Coca Cola, Cabela’s, Mossy Oak, Shell Oil, Kroger and Winchester Ammunition.
Smith said the foundation fills a special niche and serves a useful purpose in providing relief to children and families mired in medical problems.
Taylor said he thinks the program is beneficial and wants to help more children enjoy the same opportunity.
“I’d like to do it again,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he and his brother, Jared, who operate the guiding business have also donated their time and services to the Navajo Mission out of Farmington. They regularly take kids fly-fishing on the San Juan River and guide a parent and child team on a turkey hunt, Taylor said.
The Carsons couldn’t say enough about the trip and all the wonderful people who stepped up to help them.
“We have never been treated so kindly,” said Riley’s mother, Teresa, who works as a teacher’s aide. “The whole town (La Jara) was real precious to us.”
A crowd of neighbors appeared in the wake of Riley’s kill and helped dress out the animal, she said.
“We pride ourselves on our hospitality here in the South but it was a good or better out there in New Mexico,” said Ronnie.
For more information about the Catch-a-Dream Foundation see their website .
This article has also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican's Outdoors