Archive for May, 2013

In or Out?

My first reading of Forrest Fenn’s Memoir was fascinating, the second was informative and the third left me with one monster question: “In the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe?” I kept repeating to myself. What bothered me wasn’t whether his treasure chest was “in the mountains somewhere NORTH of Santa Fe” or “in the MOUNTAINS somewhere north of Santa Fe.” My problem was with “IN THE mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe.” The question that still plagues even now is “How do we know if we are ‘in the mountains’ in the first place?”

Notwithstanding the absolutism of Senator Rand Paul and friends, there are things in this world that are relative and “mountains” is one of them. It’s like when I showed a colleague from Brazil the Santa Fe River at maximum flow—only drier. My colleague was a hydrologist of note who had taken his very first bath in the Amazon River and his expression on seeing our river was something like, “I’ve seen more water coming out of faucet leaks in most of the world’s departments of water conservation. I brush my teeth with more water than this. What did you say it was again?” And thus it is with “in the mountains.”

For example, if you find yourself standing in one of these crop circles just outside of Topeka and someone asks if you are in the mountains, you would probably say “no.” TopekaAfter all, these things only show up on relatively level ground and Kansas is, shall we say, “relatively level” and what’s more, the nearby mountains like the Appalachian Mountains are a thousand miles to the east, the Rocky Mountains a thousand or so miles to the west, the Black Hills a couple hundred miles to the north northwest and the nearest mountains to the south are several towering land-fills around Dallas. Some of you will even want to quibble about whether the “Black Hills” should be considered at all. My only response is that Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak in Appalachia is but 6689 feet while Harney peak in the Black Hills reaches all the way to 7242 feet which is more than 186 feet higher than the Texas land-fills.

So if Kansas doesn’t do the job, lets look at another example. San Luis ValleyOnce again you are standing in a crop circle—but here the circle is 7000 feet above sea level in the San Luis Valley of Colorado and the nearest really big hills are the San Juan Mountains to the west, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east, the Chuska Mountains to the southwest, the Taos Mountains to the southeast and a whole bunch of mountains to the north. Most of these mountain ranges are between twenty and a hundred miles from where you would be standing. Now are you “in the mountains?”

Here is something that may help.
That pinkish area is what Google Earth says is the “Rocky Mountains.” That is, you are “in the mountains” if you are standing anywhere in that pinkish area. Hard to believe, I know, but what the heck—its Google. What is also interesting about this figure, apart from that “mountain” thing, is that Forrest Fenn wants us to find something the size of my old eight-track cassette player somewhere in all that pink!
Okay. Now you are saying, “This proves it. Sleuthy Guy is trying to lead us astray again” and you would be right. But I will leave you with this from my old buddies at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Here is what they say about “mountainous environments” which is the same as saying that you are “in the mountains” if you are at an:
• Elevation of at least 8,200 ft.; or an
• Elevation of at least 4,900 ft. with a slope greater than 2 degrees; or an
• Elevation of at least 3,300 ft. with a slope greater than 5 degrees; or an
• Elevation of at least 980 ft. with a 980 ft. elevation range within 4.3 miles.

Now, that, you are saying, “is a fine piece of ‘sleuthing!’”

Except you would be wrong. What matters is not when we think we are “in the mountains.” What matters is when Forrest Fenn thinks he is “in the mountains.” I’m still working on that one because I doubt that Forrest Fenn has ever voluntarily read anything by UNEP.


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Forrest Fenn’s neighbor and friend, Olga, called for him one day and an agreement was made:

    “When I arrived, her attorney was present. The mood turned somber when she said she was dying of cancer and needed a favor. Her plan was for me to spread her ashes on top of Taos Mountain and in exchange, she would state in her will that I could have her little rooms at their appraised value. She loved the sacred old mountain with its strong ponderosa and aspen groves that blanketed its landscape so completely. She said her father’s ashes were there and she wanted to be with him again. The deal was soon struck, so we sipped black tea and nibbled on Oreos.”

John Nichols was having a bad day—the roof had leaked—again, the culvert that allowed him to cross the acequia to get to his small house was clogged and making a mud-hole of his driveway, the cesspool was overloaded and his neighbor’s cows had broken through the fence, urinated on his old VW bus and smushed his veggies. This is what he then did:

    “I went to the back field and performed a ritual that often calms me down. From the center of that small patch of brome, I stared at Taos Mountain. It always soothes me, that mountain. It is the most personal geological formation I have ever experienced. I feel closer to it than to any mountain I have ever climbed, from Monadnock in New Hampshire to Pyramid Peak in the high western sierras. I’m not even sure I know the real name for the mountain. . .”

Carl Jung, on a trip to New Mexico in 1924 paid a visit to Taos Pueblo and was ruminating on what it means to be “in a place,” especially one like the one he was in:

    “I stood by the river and looked up at the mountains, which rise almost another six thousand feet above the plateau. I was just thinking that this was the roof of the American continent. . . Suddenly a deep voice, vibrant with suppressed emotion, spoke from behind me into my left ear: ‘Do you not think that all life comes from the mountains?’ An elderly Indian had come up to me, inaudible in his moccasins, and had asked me this heaven knows how far-reaching question. A glance at the river pouring down from the mountain showed me the outward image that had engendered this conclusion. Obviously all life came from the mountain for where there is water there is life.”

SFGuy—somewhat of a Newbie to this Blog, in responding to a comment from Michael Hendrickson confessed:

    “I am from Santa Fe and am embarrassed to say I don’t know which mountain is Taos mountain. I thought it was Wheeler but I understand you cannot actually see Wheeler from Taos proper, it is hidden by the “foothills” between Taos and Wheeler. I have been web searching and one of the first pages that comes up is this wikipedia article:
    It says Taos Mountain isn’t any one peak but actually the group of mountains east of Taos.”

Now, I understand that Wikipedia is probably not the best place to get information on a great number of things, but this one I totally agree with. The Taos Mountains are a short outside rib of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that stretch from near the Colorado-New Mexico line to Tres Ritos. So I responded with:

    “‘Taos Mountains’ is how I know them. One of those peaks may be called ‘Taos Mountain’ by some people. If so, its a secret that I am not in on. Best wishes, r/”

And then, there appeared in the comments, this one from “Babylon Slim:”

    “Taos Mountain is the holy mountain that is part of Taos Pueblo and down which flows the Rio Pueblo, its source being Sacred Blue Lake. All is sacred because it is where they believe they came from. All of Taos Mountain is off limits to non-indians. They enforce this rigorously. No one even flies over it (unless it is on the back side) out of respect. I never even heard of anybody ever just flying over it until I read what ff wrote. Behind it is indeed Wheeler peak and kind of…Taos Ski Valley. The Taos (spanish for Tewa) indians are one of the only pueblo indian tribes that have never been forced off their land. Indeed they own most of the acreage all around Taos — where they let their ponies graze. Visit their website or better, visit them but don’t expect them to be very forthcoming. Go when they celebrate “Feast Days”, ask a bunch of questions, take pictures and one of the tricksters will throw your ass in the cool waters of the Rio Pueblo. Enough?”

You will notice, of course, that Slim’s comment has a number of errors like, for example, “Taos is spanish for Tewa.” Not to be picky or anything, but Spanish requires a big “S” just like Indians requires a big “I” and the members of Taos Pueblo speak “Tiwa” not “Tewa” which is the language of Ohkay Owingeh where I went to school; and, that the word “Taos” isn’t Spanish for anything. Rather it is what those early Spanish guys heard when the Indians said the word “Tua-tah” in response to the question of those same Spanish guys who asked on arrival, “A’onde hemo’ llega’o, carajo?” which is translated as “In the village” (by which I mean “tua-tah” not “A’onde hemo’ llega’o?”)

Nevertheless, since Babylon Slim had “unm.edu” attached to his name, I figured that I had better pay attention and did what anybody who grew up in Northern New Mexico would do. I sent an e-mail to “Taos Mountain Outfitters” which said:

    “OK People. With a name like yours, you seem to be the ones who can answer my question: Just where is Taos Mountain? What I have found, from in-depth looks at any and all maps and descriptions I can find as well as hiking into that area on numerous occasions, is the “Taos Cone” on the boundary between CNF [Carson National Forest] and TPIR [Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation] but mostly in the CNF (just east of Wheeler); and “Taos Peak” which in on the boundary between the CNF and the private lands around Eagle Nest (NE of Wheeler). Beyond that, I have found numerous paintings and photographs with the title of “Taos Mountain” but they are always of what I learned were the “Taos Mountains” or at least the southern end of that range, or, they are of the peak generally viewed as the highest from Taos which has the real name of “Pueblo Peak.” Then, of course, there are the casino, a fiesta, a hotel or two, a couple of spas etc. that have that name. Oh, and you.

    “I have found references by nobody I trust that said ‘Taos Mountain’ waters feed into Blue Lake and that the mountain itself is sacred to the members of Taos Pueblo. Now, the ‘Taos Cone’ is a sacred piece of real estate to Taos Pueblo as is ‘Blue Lake’ as you know. But I cannot see where any of the water falling on ‘Taos Cone’ makes it to Blue Lake and it probably doesn’t even make it into Rio del Pueblo unless one or two of your ex-staff members filled there canteens at Eagle Nest, trespassed to Blue Lake and did what understandably should never be allowed at Blue Lake. Help me out here (a bet is not involved so I can’t share a winning beer with you–unless, of course, you are inviting having won a bet of your own). Best wishes (and thanks), r/”

Then, lo and behold, the nice people at Taos Mountain Outfitters immediately answered my query (which makes me think that all of you new people from out of state should at least pay them a visit) with this:

    “Hi Richard,
    “Taos Mountain is actually ‘Pueblo Peak’ on any map of the area. This is located on private Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation land. No public access to this area. Taoseno’s refer to Pueblo Peak as Taos Mountain.
 Water from ‘Taos Mtn’ sheds into the Rio Pueblo. Blue Lake sheds into the Rio Pueblo also.
    “Taos Cone is located in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness. Taos Peak is located east of Wheeler Peak Wilderness. Water from the Taos Cone sheds into the East Fork of the Red River.
    “Pueblo Peak is a mountain summit in Taos County in the state of New Mexico (NM). Pueblo Peak climbs to 12,290 feet (3,745.99 meters) above sea level. Pueblo Peak is located at latitude – longitude coordinates (also called lat – long coordinates or GPS coordinates) of N 36.49114 and W -105.483064.
    “Taos Cone & Taos Peak are two separate peaks totally different from Pueblo Peak.”
    “Hope this answers your inquiry re: Taos Mountain.
    “Thank you,

Of course, some people (like me) who have suffered years in the vast wastelands of watershed management, will quibble a bit with this response. For example, my good friend Kim says that Taos Mountain is really Pueblo Peak and then says that Taos Mountain (sic) waters shed to Rio Pueblo when even I, with one good eye, can see that the water—where there is water—from Pueblo Peak sheds mostly to the Rio Lucero which meets the Rio Pueblo just above the small village of Ranchitos where you can find the home of John Nichols, by far my favorite writer about all things Northern New Mexico, and who, by his own admission, does not know the real name of the mountain that he and others including me, Olga, Forrest Fenn, Carl Jung, all members of Taos Pueblo, SFGuy, Kim and Babylon Slim so dearly love.

Pueblo Peak-Taos
If you want to, you can check these references to see that absolutely everything I have said is almost, maybe true:
Fenn, Forrest. 2010. The Thrill of the Chase. A Memoir. One Horse Land and Cattle Company. Santa Fe. Page 115.
Nichols, John and William Davis. 1979. If Mountains Die. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. Page 8.
A Mountain of Life. Office of the State Historian. Santa Fe, N.M. http://www.newmexicohistory.org/filedetails_docs.php?fileID=21246. Accessed May 7, 2013.
Actually, Wheeler Peak was at one time called “Taos Peak.” (Ungande, Herbert E. 1965. Guide to the New Mexico Mountains. University of New Mexico Press.Albuquerque. Page 53.)
Julyan, Robert. 1996. The Place Names of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque. Page 347.

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