Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Things to do in (or near) Northern Rio Arriba County

In New Mexico, we're not just about desert

Since I sail in two different primary venues, that means I have two different areas to promote. In the previous blog post, I covered 25 things to do in Sierra County, near Elephant Butte Lake, and now it's time to cover things to do in Northern Rio Arriba County, near Heron Lake. Since the lake is practically on the Colorado border, some of these adventures go beyond the county, but they're all close enough to the lake to take as a day trip.

  1. Get a feel for the region with a visit to the Ghost Ranch Piedra Lumbre Education and Visitor Center, outside Abiquiu. While the center no longer has the live native animals that it had back when it was a living museum, it still has exhibits on the geology, ecology, history, and culture of the region.
  2. Visit the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, where you can still see bullet marks in the walls from the raid led on the courthouse by civil-rights activist Reies López Tijerina in 1967.
  3. Take a whitewater rafting tour down the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River. Plan to get wet and also to see spectacular canyon scenery as the river plunges between colorful sandstone canyon walls.
  4. Hit the Central United Methodist and Humane Society thrift shops in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The Methodists are especially good for clothing, while the Humane Society is big on furniture, appliances, and housewares. Both carry a substantial selection of books.
  5. Take a hot mineral bath in Pagosa Springs. As in Truth or Consequences, there are a variety of prices and styles of baths available.
  6. Go lake fishing. Because of its high altitude, Heron Lake abounds in cold-water fish that don't usually live this far south, such as lake trout and kokanee salmon. Fish from the bank, bring your own boat (taking precautions against mussels, of course), or hire a guide. Clients of our favorite, Don Wolfley of Stone House Lodge, regularly show up in the "Catches of the Week" section of the Albuquerque Journal's fishing reports.
  7. Take a ride on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. This narrow-gauge train takes all day to cover 63 miles of twisting track that crosses the New Mexico-Colorado state line 11 times along the way while carrying passengers through spectacular scenery that can't bee seen from the highway. The fall colors are especially awesome at the end of September and the beginning of October (exactly when the trees turn depends on the weather each year).
  8. Go for a retreat at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. This community of Benedictines believes in simplicity and quiet. Visitors don't have to be Catholic; they should, however, be interested in peace and solitude for meditative thought. If you don't want to drive 13 miles down a dirt road to get there, but you want to experience some of the calm, you can buy the monks' CD of Gregorian chants in many gift shops in the area. Their Monks' Ale (yes, they have a microbrewery) is also available at many supermarkets and liquor stores in New Mexico.
  9. Visit Wolf Creek Pass, way up on the Great Divide. Just be sure, if you happen to have a truckload of Rhode Island Reds, that you haven't stacked them taller than the snow sheds on the other side, and check to see that your brakes work.
  10. In late summer, attend Chama Days, the village's annual fiesta. It's a small-town fair with a Northern New Mexico flair; the parade includes units from a dozen different area volunteer fire departments, as well as some super-decked-out lowriders.
  11. Speaking of lowriders, Española bills itself as the lowrider capital of the world. In July, as part of the Española Fiesta, you can attend a lowrider rally, with hundreds of stunning vehicles.
  12. Go fly fishing in the Rio Chama, the Rio de los Brazos, or many other smaller local streams. It's more challenging than fishing in a lake, but for fly-fishermen, I've noticed it's the art of casting and outwitting the fish that keeps them happy.
  13. Dine at the High Country Restaurant and Saloon. This is the finest eatery in Northern Rio Arriba County, where people go for special occasions. The food is great, and prices are reasonable. The bar stocks a good array of micro-brews on tap. Sunday brunch is an event, with a buffet, plus an egg station where the chef will construct a custom omelet or cook up your eggs exactly the way you want them – even over-easy.
  14. During holiday season, take a drive through the village of Los Ojos, where on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, the streets are lined with luminarias, a Northern New Mexico holiday tradition. Originally, small bonfires were lit along the road to light the way for the Christ Child; the bonfires have been replaced by votive candles in paper bags. On a windy night, it's definitely a labor of love to keep those candles lit.
  15. Shop at the Chama Valley Supermarket. In early 2008, the old market's roof caved in under a heavy snow load; the rebuilt market is bigger and better, but it still keeps the needs of a small, rural, mountain community in mind. It carries a little bit of everything, from staples for low-income locals to gourmet fare for tourists who arrive in quarter-million-dollar RVs; from gardening supplies to tractors; from gourmet cat food to cattle feed; from toasters to entertainment centers.
  16. Take a hike. The Friends of Heron and El Vado State Parks have been working on a trail around Heron Lake, plus there are trails on Forest Service land all over the area.
  17. Go birdwatching. In one of the great conservation success stories, the osprey has made a recovery to the extent that there are several nesting pairs who return to Heron Lake every summer to raise their young, plus a few other pairs elsewhere in the region. In early July, the state park sponsors an Osprey Fest to celebrate the birds. But osprey aren't the only birds in the region worth watching; visitors to the park have a chance of seeing everything from broad-tailed hummingbirds to bald eagles.
  18. Eat at Cookin' Books. No, this isn't an accounting firm; it's an eatery that serves a variety of creative deli-type foods, and it's also a bookstore that carries a fairly specialized selection of works by local authors, literary fare, and books with a spiritual theme. If the soup of the day is Hungarian mushroom, you're in for a treat.
  19. Volunteer at the Chama Valley Humane Society. As is typical of small-town humane organizations, these folks could always use more help. If you can walk a dog or socialize kittens (also known as playing with them), the Humane Society can use your help. If you don't have time to spare, they could also use donations of money.
  20. Go camping or RVing. In Chama, you can find a full-service RV park that is the northernmost member of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (Texas counts New Mexico as "Region 8"), as well as several others. If you're on a lower budget and/or don't need so many amenities, both Heron Lake and El Vado Lake state parks offer camping sites with full hookups for $14 a night and primitive sites for $10 a night.
  21. Attend community events at Shroyer Center. About once a month (more often during the summer), there will be a breakfast or a dinner or an ice cream social or a chili cook-off or … something. Shroyer Center is the community center for the Laguna Vista community, and most of the events are fund-raisers for the center itself or the Laguna Vista Volunteer Fire Department. These events have two foci – food and fellowship. While Laguna Vista is a gated community, it's pretty easy to get invited in as a guest, especially if you mention to one of the real-estate agents who live there that you might be interested in buying a vacation property. Of course, if you're a friend of mine and Pat's, there's no problem on that front.
  22. Go hunting. Pat and I don't hunt, but we have friends who do, and they say that this end of Rio Arriba County has some awesome game to shoot at – we have colossal elk, lots of deer, turkeys, and a lot of other game. Hunting is not allowed in Laguna Vista (unless you're a mountain lion) or in the state parks, and on the Jicarilla Apache reservation it's allowed only if you hire a guide and pay big bucks (the advantage is that these guides are really good), but there are other lands, both public and private, where it's easier to get permission to hunt.
  23. Go off-roading on the backside of El Vado Lake. According to Gerald, it's hard to get to, there's nobody there, and it's fun. Plus there are great views at less cost than $600,000.
  24. Paddle a kayak around Heron Lake. If there's not enough wind to go sailing, a kayak is just about the best way to get around. Heron is a no-wake lake, meaning that motorboats aren't allowed to go any faster than trolling speed. The upshot is that it's very quiet – everybody there is sailing, fishing, or paddling.
  25. Come to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where you can take a bath in the Jacuzzi tub (our well water is full of the same minerals that Pagosa Springs has), and finish the day with cocktails on the deck, which, like Tillerman's, is on the front of the house and faces the lake.

So there you have it: things to do near Five O'Clock Somewhere. You still have a few hours to make your own contribution to the project by writing about non-sailing activities near wherever it is that you sail … until midnight tonight (Samoa time).

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Things to do in Sierra County

I'm about to miss my own deadline, so I'd better get cracking

In my How to get the spouse to come along writing project, I have challenged readers to come up with lists of things besides sailing that can be done near their home sailing venues, so sailors' non-sailing travel companions have something to do, and so sailors themselves can have something to do when the weather doesn't favor sailing. The deadline that I set for that project is July 31, so that means I'd better get to work on my own answers to the problem.

So here are some activities available in the vicinity of Elephant Butte Lake:

  1. Get started with a visit to the Geronimo Springs Museum for an overview of the history and culture of Sierra County. Part of the charm of this gem is that it is not slick or fancy like a big-city museum; rather, the people who have put together and maintain the exhibits show a great love for what they do, and the small-town feel of the place is beautiful.
  2. Have a soak at one of the many hot mineral baths in downtown Truth or Consequences. They're available in all price ranges and all styles: natural pools, semi-constructed pools, classic tile bathtubs, hot tubs, family-style, clothing-optional, you name it. One of my favorites is the Charles Motel and Spa, where the baths are like those in a classic sanatorium from the 1880s through the 1930s.
  3. Get a massage or other spa services, available at many of the same places where you can take a bath.
  4. Float down the Rio Grande on an inner tube or in a raft or kayak. The water may look calm, but when the farmers downstream are taking their irrigation allotments, that current is powerful. The rapids may not be world-class, but they're just right for getting wet and beating the summer heat.
  5. Go birdwatching. In the desert, a large body of water like Elephant Butte is a mecca for wildlife. In addition, being close to the Mexican border means that Sierra County gets many species that aren't seen in the rest of the United States. You can wander around Elephant Butte State Park on your own, or you can take a guided tour, either on land or on water.
  6. Dine at Los Arcos Steak and Lobster House. If you are a carnivore, this is the place to eat. Sierra County is beef country, and the folks at Los Arcos know how to prepare it. The seafood is also good, especially for someplace more than 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. From 5 to 7 p.m., the early-bird specials are a bargain, especially given the high quality of the steaks.
  7. Visit Spaceport America. No, it's not a whimsical amusement park; it's a real, honest-to-goodness spaceport, the first commercial spaceport in the United States. It's still under construction, but when it's complete, tourists with a huge pile of money to spend will be able to take a flight on Virgin Galactic into space. Already, the spaceport launches scientific experiments and special payloads such as cremains – one of the most famous "passengers" to get such a launch is James Doohan.
  8. Eat at Hodges Corner. This eatery offers great prices and hearty, down-home cooking with a New Mexico flavor. The fried chicken is the best in New Mexico (sorry, Mom, yours comes close, but Hodges' is better), and it beats most of what I've had even in the Deep South. You can also get such classics as liver and onions, chicken-fried steak, and meatloaf, plus New Mexico favorites like massive smothered burritos. Breakfast is especially great – the cook gets over-easy eggs perfect. (I wanted to provide an online link to the restaurant, and I predicted, accurately, that Roy Hodges would not have created a website for his restaurant, but I couldn't find an online review of the place either. I'm going to have to correct that oversight by writing my own online review.)
  9. Go fishing. You can bring your own boat (be sure to have it and your trailer steam-cleaned before launching if you come from someplace with quagga or zebra mussels); use of the boat ramp is included with your state park admission fee. You can rent a boat at Marina del Sur or Rock Canyon Marina. Or you can hire a fishing guide, who will provide the boat and guide you to the best fishing spots. Elephant Butte is most famous for all sorts of bass.
  10. Go geocaching. In honor of the New Mexico State Parks' 75th anniversary last year, the Parks Division placed a special geocache in each of the 75 state parks. In addition, there are several independent geocaches in the area.
  11. Take a hike. The Friends of Elephant Butte Lake State Park have been helping to expand and maintain the trail system, so there are plenty of good places to explore.
  12. On Labor Day Weekend, head south about 40 miles to Hatch to take in the Hatch Green Chile Festival, celebrating the harvest of New Mexico's most famous food crop.
  13. Visit Ralph Edwards Park and enjoy the playground, skate park, picnic area, and free wi-fi.
  14. The second Saturday of every month, enjoy the evening Art Hop in downtown T or C, when most of the galleries and some of the other businesses are open late into the night. The hot springs have attracted many alternative healers, new-age philosophers, and others to the area, and the result is a vibrant arts scene.
  15. Take in a movie at El Cortez, a classic movie theater built in the 1930s and currently kept alive by a couple who run it more as a labor of love than as a money-making operation. The atmosphere and the prices (for tickets and snacks) are both something out of the past (although they don't have Junior Mints).
  16. Head up the road to the Camino Real International Heritage Center. This stunning museum is, alas, located somewhat off the beaten path, so far fewer people will bother to go there than should. A joint project of the governments of Mexico and the United States, the museum celebrates the history of the region, especially the highway that formed a lifeline from Veracruz, through Mexico City, to Santa Fe during the Spanish colonization. On Sundays, admission is free for New Mexico residents.
  17. Shop for used bargains at one of the dozen or so thrift shops, including one run by the Humane Society.
  18. Check out the used books and bargain-priced remaindered new books at Black Cat Books and Coffee – where you can also get, as the shop's name implies, coffee, tea, and awesome homemade baked goods. You may also meet the current resident black cat.
  19. Visit the half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Veterans Memorial Park. Because T or C has a veterans' hospital and an excellent veterans' home, there are a lot of veterans in Sierra County, and there is a strong commitment to honor the fallen.
  20. The first weekend in May, enjoy the Ralph Edwards Fiesta. It's a classic sort of small-town fair, with a parade and carnival and various other activities – with the twist that it honors a nationally famous game-show host who caused the town to acquire its current name.
  21. Buy vintage clothing, jewelry, and accessories at one of the boutiques in downtown T or C, where you can find just the right non-conforming fashion statement.
  22. Go bats. The most famous bat cave in New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns, which is about a three-hour drive away. But about once a month during the summer, there's a tour you can take if you have a sufficiently rugged vehicle and make a specified donation to the Geronimo Springs Museum, onto Ted Turner's Armendaris Ranch, which abuts most of the eastern shore of Elephant Butte Lake. The tour departs from the museum in early afternoon, visits some wildlife-viewing and habitat-restoration sites on the ranch, and arrives at the mouth of a cave about sundown, in time to watch the bats pour out on their nightly foray to devour half their weight in mosquitoes.
  23. During the holiday season, about two weeks before Christmas, there's the Floating Lights Parade on Elephant Butte Lake, in which people who have boats decorate them (often quite spectacularly) and then participate in a parade to display the lights. Shore activities include bonfires and local civic organizations setting up booths and trailers giving out free food to anyone who wanders in – visitors can sample dozens of different recipes for posole and chile con carne, plus a lot of other tasty dishes – and drinks too, especially hot apple cider and hot chocolate.
  24. If you love a scenic drive, take all or part of the Geronimo Trail National Scenic Byway. This loop passes through the Rio Grande Valley and up into the Black Range and around and about. You'll see small villages, ghost towns, panoramic views, desert scenery, mountain scenery, old mines, apple orchards, and all sorts of other things. Some of the mountain parts of the drive are especially fun in a small, nimble car, as the road does awesome twisty hairpins; other parts of the drive are unpaved, so four-wheel-drive might be a good idea in bad weather.
  25. Volunteer at the Humane Society's no-kill shelter. This animal shelter takes in some pretty hard cases, animals that have been abused or that have disabilities (such as deafness) that in other shelters might mean the animal is euthanized. But at this shelter, animals get the best possible treatment. The shelter works hard to find adoptive families for all of the animals, no matter their special needs (I know of at least one person who adopted a deaf cat and has never regretted it), and for those animals who don't find an adoptive family, the shelter provides a nurturing environment. One friend of mine, upon reading the Humane Society's brochure, said, "I wish I was a cat, so I could get that kind of treatment." Note: this shelter provides services for more than just cats – dogs, rabbits, horses, goats, guinea pigs, and all sorts of other critters find a home here.

Coming up next: Activities near Heron Lake.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Writing project update

There's still time to enter!

So far, the turnout for the Getting the spouse to come along writing project has been rather disappointing. We've had four responses from three people. On the flip side, we have 117 or so exciting things to do in those people's three locations.

First, Tillerman weighed in with 50 great things to do in and around Tiverton, Rhode Island. Apparently, he envisions his friend sticking around for a very long time and provided plenty of suggestions for the spouse to enjoy, finishing up with cocktails on Tillerman's own back deck.

Not to be outdone, Captain JP responded first with The Ultimate London Walk by the Thames, which included 50 stops along the way, for the tourist with lots of stamina and good walking shoes. He followed that up with an additional post, Escaping London, in London, with nine more activities, starting with hiring a bicycle to ride along the Thames Path.

Finally, Greg and Kris give us Things to do near the Sailing Club on the Willamette, with about eight more activities.

There's still time for more participants to submit entries; this project is open until July 31. Simply compose a blog post, or post a response in the comments here, telling about things besides sailing that can be done near your local sailing venue, so non-sailing travel companions can enjoy themselves, or for sailors to do when the weather isn't suitable for sailing. As with the previous project, all participants will get a complimentary pint of their choice the next time they find themselves in New Mexico, and if multiple participants show up at once, a VIP showing of Pirates of the White Sand is a distinct possibility.

So keep those entries coming!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Darkness at noon

Except here it was actually in the evening

This evening, Albuquerque time, the longest-duration solar eclipse of the 21st century was happening across southeast Asia and parts of the Pacific Ocean. The very best place to watch this eclipse, where the totality would last the longest, was out in the Pacific, a couple hundred miles east-southeast of an island called Kagoshima, which is, in turn, somewhere east-southeast of Iwo Jima. So that's where my folks, Gerald, Jer, Fuego, MaK, Z-Dawg, and assorted friends and relatives were, on an Italian cruise ship. (Two days ago, my blog had a visit from somebody claiming to be in Italy but also claiming to be in the UTC+9 time zone (Japan, Korea, central Australia), but I don't think it was a member of that particular party, since the visitor came on the usual search.)

So I decided to see if I could catch at least part of the eclipse live over the Internet. Now that I'm lugging my behemoth of a laptop to work every day and accessing high-speed Internet at work, it seemed feasible – especially since my lesson plans for this evening involved a lot of time during which the students would be working independently without any lectures from me. At the location where the eclipse would be longest, the penumbral phase would begin about at mid-class break, and totality would occur shortly before class ended.

But when I set out to find Websites where I could watch the eclipse, even from locations not at the best place, I found surprisingly little. There was a location that required a plugin that I didn't have (something having to do with making Firefox compatible with that other horrible browser). There was a location that invited me to come to the Griffith Planetarium in Los Angeles to watch a webcam feed there but that didn't give a link to that webcam. There was a location that asked "subscribers" to log in and gave non-subscribers an opportunity to give a credit-card number. There was a website that theoretically had three cameras on different islands along the eclipse's path, but while the names of those islands really looked like hotlinks, they weren't; they were plain text set in a different color with underlines.

In the end, I never found a single webcam that would show the solar disk. I did, however, find one site with two webcams that would at least show how dark it got. They were about 650 feet apart, pointed in opposite directions, and they were right at the very best spot, because – you guessed it – they were mounted near the bridge and on the stern of the ship that all those other people were on. This wasn't streaming video; the webcams updated themselves once a minute, and I had to refresh to get a new view – but still, I could at least get some idea of what was going on.

The view from the stern of the ship was particularly dramatic, as the sky grew darker over the churning wake – I'm guessing the captain was steering along the center line of the eclipse path as fast as was reasonably prudent in order to get a few extra seconds of totality.

It never really did seem to get all that dark. Part of that may have had to do with my wi-fi connection resetting itself, so there was a gap of time while I convinced the computer that it really did want to reconnect, but depending on exactly where the ship was, the eclipse had probably reached totality before the connection failed. When I did reconnect, 20 minutes later, it was much brighter, and the ship had slowed to the point that there wasn't much wake.

So in the end, it wasn't all that exciting, but, hey, I got as close as I could to being along on the voyage. A lot of the people who were on the trip have great cameras, so I should at least be able to see the shots they got. Meanwhile, I have bookmarked the ship's webcams, so I can keep track of the rest of the journey.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the water (at last) with Zorro

The drought is over

It has been a long time since Pat and I have been sailing, or since we have seen Zorro. Pat has had to take repeated trips to South Texas to deal with the Old Soldier's health problems and other affairs. Meanwhile, I've been working – normally, I would take the summer off from teaching, but with Pat not currently working, we have needed the income. In addition, Zorro's employment has kept him away from the lake much of the time (it's nice for him to have not merely a job, but one he's well suited for, but it involves a lot of travel out of town). And he keeps having girl trouble: He just wants to have a good time with no commitment, but the women he's been dating lately have, after about two dates, started talking about moving in with him, getting married, getting rid of the cats, changing his housekeeping style, changing his lifestyle, and generally trying to do a total makeover of his personality – in other words, making him into not-Zorro. He's been spending a lot of his time and energy trying to get disentangled from them.

So none of us got in any sailing during June, and while Zorro had managed to get in a bit of sailing on his own last weekend, the last time Pat or I had been sailing was the Race to the Elephant at the end of May. We also had not seen Zorro since that weekend, and I was getting especially stressed-out and depressed. I needed a good dose of Zorro.

Finally, this weekend, the universe has come into alignment (which may or may not have anything to do with the solar eclipse that Gerald, Jer, Fuego, and others will be watching in just a couple of days). Pat and I were at the lake at the same time as Zorro, and we were able to go sailing with him.

Friday afternoon, we headed for the lake. When we left Albuquerque, we were in hot, dry, windless conditions. By the time we got to Socorro, we were in thunderstorms that had not been predicted in the weather forecasts that we had seen, with very little rain but a lot of gusty wind. When we arrived at the lake, the clouds were heavy, the wind was screaming, and there was lots of lightning. We met Zorro, Carguy, and Carguy's girlfriend at the marina; they reported that up until just before Pat and I had arrived, sailing conditions on the lake were fantastic. Zorro had been on Constellation, and Carguy and his girlfriend had been on Caliente, which Carguy has just repurchased from Ribbons, and they had had about three hours of winds in the vicinity of 15 knots. They had just gotten in to the marina and tied up when the gale started raging.

It was a little disappointing to have missed out on that afternoon's great sailing, but it was good to see Zorro again. Pat and I went to dinner with Zorro (during which time a squall moved through, with fierce winds, lots of lightning, and about 10 minutes of heavy downpour), and then we joined Carguy, Carguy's girlfriend, Dino, and a couple of Dino's workers at a house on the river that Dino has recently purchased that he's remodeling into a vacation rental (3 bedrooms, 2 baths, spa tub in the master bath, fireplace in the living room, and a fantastic deck over the river where one can sit and be soothed by the whooshing sound of the rapids just downstream, for just $1000 a week). Dino, Zorro, Pat and I relaxed on the deck in the dark, listening to the rapids and the occasional night bird, catching up with each other's lives. Dino had a fishing rod in a holder mounted on the rail of the deck, with a line trailing into the water, but he didn't seem to be expecting to catch anything.

Pat and I then headed for our lodging for the weekend, the guest room of Cornhusker and Bassmaster's house. Cornhusker is off on an adventure in the Pacific Northwest with a friend, but Bassmaster is, at least sometimes, around.

Saturday morning, we ended up sleeping in extra-late. Pat attributed this to "cumulative fatigue" from all of the stress that we have both been under, although there may have been other factors. Zorro phoned about ten, saying that the wind was looking really good and he was going sailing; we might be able to get in touch with him later.

Eventually, we got moving. Pat wanted to take care of some sailing club business with the State Parks people. While we were working on that, Zorro phoned. He had just had a fantastic time on the water, in 20-knot winds that were left over from the front that had moved through the previous night. Single-handing in those winds, in the hot sun, had made him tired and hungry, so he was going to get some lunch and then go out sailing again. Pat and I arranged to meet him for lunch and then get out on Constellation with him for the rest of the day.

It was beautiful. As the frontal system moved away, the winds abated, so they were generally in the 10-15 knot range. Carguy and his girlfriend were out on his Newport 28 with some prospective buyers, and we sailed to them, sailed with them for a bit, sailed away for a while, rejoined them for a while … and so forth. Meanwhile, Zorro put Pat through some fairly rigorous training on foredeck duty and headsail trim. This is really good, as Gerald is now at college and not usually available to run things on the front end of the boat, and so I'm going to have to depend on Pat for all of that. Conditions were stiffer than Pat is accustomed to, especially when trimming the spinnaker, so he got a workout. He also seems to be getting more coordinated – today, he clocked me over the head with the spinnaker pole only three times, and he stepped on my toes only twice.

Several times, we thought about going back in to the marina. There were some heavy clouds hanging just northwest of the lake, but they never came in close. We kept an eye on them, but as long as they held off, we were having just too much fun sailing to quit. We sailed up and down the lake several times, which gave Pat a whole lot of practice with that spinnaker. What finally led us to head in to the marina was the fact that we were running out of daylight. If there had been a full moon, we might still be sailing; but it's approaching new moon, so there's no light to sail under once the sun is gone.

Once in the marina, we helped Zorro put his boat away, so he could go back to El Paso. He said he had thought about staying over another night and sailing more on Sunday, but he didn't think there would be enough wind to make that worthwhile. Later I checked the weather forecasts, and it looks like he made the right call – the forecasts are nearly unanimous that there will be very little wind Sunday. Pat and I may go out with Carguy and his girlfriend on Caliente, and Zorro thinks that would be good – they're almost total beginners on the Etchells, and in gentle conditions, Pat and I can teach them things.

I guess that means we've graduated to the next level. There's an old saying in medical school about learning procedures: You watch one, you do one, you teach one. Then you've learned it. So Pat and I are now at the third stage, at least according to Zorro.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What is a view worth?

And what is a true rural experience?

Gerald has chosen to "monetize" his blog, (Enter Title Here). That means he has allowed the host that sponsors his blog to put some advertising in the blog's sidebar, and if somebody clicks on one of those ads, he gets a tiny fraction of a cent (something like a hundredth).

It has been interesting to see what ads have shown up. Early on, when he had a lot of posts about his Jeep, many of the ads were related to that vehicle – places selling parts or offering customization or things like that. When he posted about helping to take care of the Old Soldier, the ads started coming up with recommendations for home-health-care options and lawyers who could help with guardianship issues.

Lately, Gerald has been putting up pretty pictures of Northern New Mexico scenery. The ads are now coming up for vacation rentals in Northern New Mexico, and for real estate in Northern New Mexico. The vacation rental ads seem quite reasonable – after all, a person looking at Gerald's photos of dramatic scenery in the aftermath of a thunderstorm sweeping through Abiquiu might be inspired to go there. One of the real-estate developers, however, seems to be utterly unrealistic.

Many, many long years ago, my folks and a couple dozen other families came together to form a land-owning cooperative. The idea was that these 24 people would buy a big chunk of mountain ranch land. Then each family would get a small piece of land upon which to build a vacation home, and the rest of the land would be run cooperatively as open space. At the time, this was an extremely novel idea. It didn't completely work. A few families did build vacation homes, but those tended to be primitive, as the land was remote enough that electric power couldn't be brought in, and without electric power to run wells, there was no running water. The co-op got some money from grazing leases and timber sales, but not much. The folks sold their share of the co-op a few years ago.

About the same time as the folks sold their share, people in California discovered this idea – a big tract of thousands of acres, with residential lots in environmentally friendly areas, often on the perimeter, and the rest owned as a cooperative, as a conservation tactic. This developer whose ad now shows up on Gerald's blog seems to endorse this philosophy. At first glance, it seems good: Rather than tearing down the forest to put up McMansions that all want to have the view but in the process of trying to get the view destroy it, restrict the number of McMansions, and preserve both the view and the natural environment that produces that view.

When word first arrived that a major developer from California had bought this ranch in order to develop it, the reaction in the Chama Valley was mixed. Some people thought it would be devastating; all of these rich Californians coming into the valley would wipe out, or at least marginalize, the local culture, which had been in place for hundreds of years. An influx of Californians might also artificially inflate real-estate values, as it had already done in Santa Fe, making property values go up to the point that families that had owned their homes for generations would lose them because the property taxes would go up. On the other hand, some argued, having all of these rich Californians moving in would mean that they would be spending money in local stores and employing local people to clean their houses and drive their cars, and so it would be good.

The developer certainly expected to gain a lot. The ranch has a total of 5700 acres, of which 4000 acres are to be reserved as conservation green space. The subdivision plan envisions the rest of the ranch being divided into 81 residential lots. The first batch of lots (with no utilities in place and no development except for possibly an access road) range in size from 11 acres (for $650,000) to 51 acres (for $795,000) and in price from $415,000 (for 14 or 18 acres) to the aforementioned $795,000, 51-acre lot.

As it turns out, all of the locals' worries and hopes are, at least for now, on hold. With the economy taking a nose-dive, especially in California, there aren't any California millionaires buying these lots. In this first batch of 24 lots, the developer has sold one, and one other is under contract. The rest are still up for grabs.

So what does a buyer get in exchange for paying $650,000 to get 11 acres? Mostly, a view. I looked at the map on the developer's website, and that lot is at the end of a peninsula of lots, on top of a point looking out over a canyon. It probably has some really good views.

But what kind of view is worth $650,000? The developer's website doesn't indicate a view all that much better than what I get at Five O'Clock Somewhere. OK, so my view includes a couple of other people's vacation cabins, so it can't pretend to be isolated from civilization. But my view includes a lake, and the $650,000 lot's view doesn't.

It is interesting experiencing this developer's website, at least to the extent that it can be experienced over a low-speed connection. The site is graphics-heavy, and there's a video that's apparently supposed to be the core of the presentation. What little I could get over a dial-up connection consisted of the sound of coyotes beginning to howl. I wonder, why would anybody spend $650,000 to buy a lot upon which, after spending more money to bring in utilities and then spending even more money to build a house, one could then hear coyotes howl? One can buy a $15 tent at Wal-Mart, or, if one prefers the finer things, a $35 tent at REI, pitch it just about anywhere, and hear coyotes howling.

Now here's an interesting thought … how much is a view really worth? If that view in the proposed development is worth $650,000, then the view from Five O'Clock Somewhere ought to be worth at least a couple hundred thousand. And what about the San Jose Church in Los Ojos? What's that view worth?

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Writing project: Getting the spouse to come along

Let's do the Chamber of Commerce thing

Here's the scenario: You have a buddy coming from a long way away to sail in your local sailing venue. But the weather's lousy, so you need to find something your pal can do (besides becoming a couch potato in your living room), some activity that's special or unique to your area, so that, even when the weather clears and you both get out sailing, he'll remember that other activity as well.

Or maybe your buddy has a spouse or significant other or family members who, alas, aren't into sailing. In order to get your friend to come sailing with you, you have to convince her travel companions that they won't be sitting around doing nothing while she has fun sailing.

So here's the challenge: Tell about activities that can be done close to your local sailing venue, besides sailing. This can be just about anything: shopping, sightseeing, dining, museums, outdoor activities, spa treatments, wacky local traditions, whatever. Concentrate on the offbeat; for example, if you're in the New York City area, everybody already knows about the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty – tell us about something that isn't on the radar of the average tourist.

As with the light bulb joke project, contributors will be awarded, upon their next visit to New Mexico, a pint of beer at either Socorro Springs Brewing Company or the High Country Saloon. A new bonus is that if three or more contributors show up at the same time to claim their beers, I may be able to arrange a VIP showing of the short film Pirates of the White Sand, which will soon be available in a final director's cut; one of Fuego's buddies manages an art cinema in Albuquerque and can arrange a showing at some time when there aren't paying customers (i.e., during the day on weekdays).

Also as with the light bulb joke project, I will be counting entries by the number of activities you recommend rather than the number of posts, so go ahead and recommend multiple activities. A bonus of this particular writing project is that you don't have to be a sailor to participate – if you live near someplace where people can go sailing (and that's just about everywhere), you can make recommendations for sailors and their travel companions.

The deadline for this project is July 31, so get those entries flowing, either by posting on your own blog and putting a link in the comments here, or by posting the entry in the comments.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Update on the Old Soldier

He's doing better, and that's a relief

Last week, the Old Soldier suffered a setback. The nursing home's physical therapist arrived for his rehabilitation session and found him unresponsive. An ambulance was called, and he was taken back to the hospital, where he was found to be suffering from aspiration pneumonia (caused when food that's supposed to go down to the stomach ends up in the lungs instead) and a very high fever. Pat was not immediately able to get to South Texas to take care of things, but he arranged for other relatives to help.

The folks at the hospital were able to clean out the lungs, and the Old Soldier was in good enough condition to go back to the nursing home even before Pat got there. By the time he got there, the Old Soldier was doing very much better – he's still very weak physically, but his cognition is improving to the point that he pretty much recognizes Pat, and he's able to crack a joke. This is far better than a month ago when Pat and Gerald went down to South Texas in the wake of the Old Soldier's first major medical episode.

Now, the challenge is giving the Old Soldier opportunities to rebuild his mind. As it is currently furnished, his room is conducive to nothing but boredom, but Pat is working on changing that. When the Old Soldier first arrived at the nursing home, the staff arranged for him to have a small television set; that was removed when he went to the hospital, but when Pat asked about it, the supervisor told him she would return it. Pat also observed that the Old Soldier's hands were fidgeting, in search of something to fiddle with; Pat came up with the idea of playing cards and dice, items the Old Soldier was very familiar with in his wartime days, and that he continued to derive pleasure from decades later at the VFW and on junkets to Elko (the Old Soldier has always been stingy and eschewed Vegas).

Pat also had a brief look at the Texas State Veterans' Home in McAllen, where the Old Soldier is on the waiting list to get in. He reports that it is beautiful, set way back from the road, with park-like grounds. I can just imagine the Old Soldier, if he recovers more of his senses, running a craps game among the other old soldiers, the same way he ran craps games among his fellow soldiers in WWII. He refused a promotion from corporal to sergeant, because the promotion would have meant he had to stop running his craps game.

So the current game plan is to put up pictures in the Old Soldier's room of people and places he's supposed to know, and to have relatives visit and talk about family. And the nursing home people are going to bring back the television so he isn't condemned to boredom when there aren't relatives visiting. And we're going to put cards and dice in his hands.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Review: Pirates of the White Sand

The best 14 minutes you'll ever spend

Over at Proper Course, Tillerman has posted his next group writing project: write a review. He goes on to explain that this can be a review of anything at least somewhat related to sailing, such as equipment, books, even movies – although he notes, "your choice is somewhat limited there."

Limited, maybe, but there are some good sailing-related movies out there. One obscure gem is Pirates of the White Sand, which debuted at the 2005 Duke City Shootout film festival. Written by the Seeger Brothers, the script won the festival's Federico Fellini award, earning the brothers a chance to bring the film to the festival, in which directors are given one week to film and edit a 14-minute movie.

The crew experienced some serious technical problems, such as a failure of communication between the film-editing computer and the film-industry expert provided by the film festival to assist the production that resulted in all edited footage being lost just hours before screening time. But after a seriously intense all-night editing session, an extremely rough cut was available for the final public gala, at which, despite the technical issues, it won the Audience Choice award.

The film itself is a rollicking adventure involving a crew of unruly pirates, colonial Spanish gold treasure, and nuclear weapons. The pirates, led by Captain Moab (Miguel Martinez), descend upon the remote roadside café run by the ever-efficient Ruthie (Deborah Chavez), in their "ship," the Crusader, a 1964 Lincoln Continental. This is the same model used effectively in The Matrix as a trans-dimensional transport device; it serves a similar purpose in this film.

The pirates have been on a search for treasure, a vast trove of gold looted by the Spanish from the Aztec empire, hidden somewhere in what is now the White Sands Missile Range never to be found again. While the pirates are on the trail of the treasure, someone else is on the trail of the pirates, in helicopters and big black SUVs.

After many weeks "at sea," Moab's crew is eager to unwind at Ruthie's café, enjoying "grog" (beer served in a pitcher labeled GROG that Ruthie keeps on hand for the pirates) and, of course, green chile cheeseburgers. The action is frenetic, matched with a punk-rock adaptation of the sea chantey "Here's to the Grog" that underlies the action and also emphasizes the anachronisms that run throughout the film.

Martinez does excellent work as the pirate captain, bringing a wide range of emotions to the role, as the swaggering leader of a crew of brave men, and also the man who is thoroughly in love with Ruthie but knows he will never be able to have her, as his pirate life keeps him from being able to settle down. It is easy to see why he won the Best Actor award at the Shootout. As the film industry's presence in New Mexico increases, look to see Martinez in small but memorable parts in future blockbusters. His talent should take him far.

The directing is good; director P.L. Fuego keeps the pace brisk, although in one or two places the action seems to drag. In on scene, in particular, a sight gag involving a nuclear warhead doesn't quite work right. Mostly, however, the audience will be carried along nicely by the action.

The film is, unfortunately, not widely available. Fuego has been working on a director's cut that fixes the technical problems that marred the film-festival version and adds some material that had to be left out because of the Shootout's time restrictions. He might let you have a copy if you ask him nicely, or you might be able to find a friend of his who has a copy and copy that. Uh, yeah, pirated Pirates.

Disclaimer: I know these guys. Oh, all right … I'm related to them. Uh, yeah, they're my brothers. Still, it's a good film. If it sucked, I just wouldn't have written the review.

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