The air is certainly clear and crisp on the SMU-in-Taos campus and in the library a new exhibit is adding to the holiday spirit. The exhibit shows local decorations of Ojos de Dios (eye of God) made with sticks and bright yarn and Farolitos (commonly referred interchangeably as Luminarias).
Probably the most important engagement that the Dragoons from Cantonment Burgwin participated in occurred on March 30, 1854. The Santa Fe Weekly Gazette reported that this action “was one of the severest battles that ever took place between American troops and the Red Indians.” The Jicarilla Apaches had been raiding settlers in the area and in response, Lt. Davidson led approximately 60 Dragoons from Burgwin and engaged in an unauthorized attack on the Apache encampment near Pilar, then known as Cieneguilla. The Dragoons were soundly defeated with twenty-two killed and a further thirty-six wounded, along with a loss of twenty-two horses and much of the troops’ supplies.
Consulting resources from the Fort Burgwin Library, SMU-in-Taos Director Mike Adler and Biology Professor John Ubelaker along with some Taosenos who had studied the battle accounts struck out to find the battlesite in the Carson National Forest. The Fort Library has a collection of copies of Cantonment Burgwin postings and correspondance from the Arrott Collection of Fort Union.
Well, so much for Fall. It snowed three times at the SMU-in-Taos campus last week. Weather at the Fort is typically 10 degrees colder and much more likely to get snow than the town of Taos. We were so excited to see the beautiful snowy landscape that we drove up to U.S. Hill on highway 518.
Halloween at the Fort brought out students dressed in very impressive costumes. A prize of $20.00 per student was awarded to this group. After the contest, the students drove into Taos for a well deserved night on the town.
Along with the colder temperatures, a new fishing season began. At Eagle Nest Lake the kokanee salmon begin spawning around the first of October. Because these adult salmon die after they spawn, fishermen are allowed to “snag” them using large treble hooks. Here I am with my catch of the day. – and dinner that night.
Fall has transformed the campus into a picture postcard complete with the vibrant golds and yellows of the aspen and cottonwood trees.
This past weekend was the 27th Annual Taos Mountain Balloon Rally. The early morning sky was filled with brightly colored hot air balloons that resembled Christmas tree ornaments.
The third block of the Fall term has begun. Classes this block include Statistics for Modern Business Decisions, Media and Technology, Introduction to Environmental Sciences
and Plant Biology. Also, the semester-long course, The Taos Experience, team taught by Director Mike Adler and UNM-Taos Professor Sean Murphy continues to the 18th of December.
On Saturday October 3 and Sunday October 4, locals and visitors could view the ancient trade of wool weavers and spinners as vendors came together for the 26th annual Wool festival in Kit Carson Park. Alpacas, sheep and even exotic rabbits were on display along with a shearing demonstration. The temptation is great to purchase some of the beautiful yarns to knit that warm winter sweater during the Taos snow days.
Another prescribed burn was conducted by the Carson National Forest at Picuris Peak near U. S. Hill. Smoke could be seen rising into the autumn sky near the SMU in Taos campus.
Beginning September 10th, a new lecture series in conjunction with UNM Taos has begun for SMU-in-Taos students. The lectures will alternate locations between the SMU-in-Taos campus and the UNM Taos campus.
The first lecture was Agua y Cultura and featured Sylvia Rodriguez, author of the book Acequia, water sharing, santity, and place. Along with Dr. Rodriguez were Enrique Lamadrid, Literary folklorist and University of New Mexico Professor of Spanish who took his class to a small village in Mexico to study the acequia system and Estevan Arellano, local acequia mayodomo.
Maria-Elena Reyes served as moderator for the lecture. Approximately 85 people attended this first lecture.
Students from the Inaugural Fall class of SMU-in-Taos were recognized before the lecture.
A lightning strike started a fire on the mountain ridge above Fort Burgwin and the Carson Forest Service decided to let it burn as a prescribed fire. Smoke could be seen from the SMU in Taos campus all last week. Many people stopped in at the campus to alert us to the smoke, but we were assured by the Forest Department that they were monitoring it.
We hiked to the top of the ridge and along a Forest Road off of Highway 518 but could not get a view of the actual fire. The smoke looks closer depending on the direction of the wind.
Last night after dark I heard a strange noise from the library apartment through my open back door. I went out on the porch and the two Fort dogs, Duke and Blanca were sitting on the porch but looking back towards the nature trail that runs along the creek. The noises continued and eventually Duke, the male boxer, got up and ran to a tree about 150 feet from the porch. I went in and got a flashlight and spotted a small baby black bear clinging to the tree trunk where Duke had chased him. I called for Garnett and we called Duke back and eventually got him closed up in the apartment. Blanca, the part wolf dog, had sense enough to stay in her spot in the flower bed beside the apartment door.
Garnett and I watched as the black bear climbed down and kept “bawling” realizing that the mother bear could not be far behind and would come to her baby’s rescue. We spotted a second cinnimon-colored bear cub in the same close vicinity as the first, then heard a louder answer from the mother bear. The sounds they used to communicate were quite distinctive and I’m sure I’ll never forget them. Eventually two eyes (about 4 feet from the ground and about a foot apart reflected in the bushes nearby. We decided to back up closer to the apartment door.
The cubs finally scampered off in the direction of the bushes and then we heard some splashing from the creek. Duke was released from protective custody a while later but continued to bark from the porch until after midnight. Seeing an adult bear at Fort Burgwin is not that unusual or dangerous if you use common sense and accepted procedure (stand tall to look big, don’t smile and show your teeth) but running into cubs separated from a concerned mother bear is VERY dangerous. We will see if they return tonight.
Today (Wednesday) a motorist traveling along Highway 518 stopped into the Fort to report that he say lightening strike the top ridge of the mountain behind the Fort. Sure enough dark then white clouds of smoke continued to drift from the top of the mountain all through the afternoon and night. A call to the Carson National Forest office in Taos revealed that they did in fact know about the fire and were monitoring it.
Between bears and forest fires, I’m not sure how much I’ll sleep tonight.
The SMU in Taos campus is at the confluence of the Rito de la Olla (Pot Creek), and the Rio Grande del Rancho (called the Little Rio Grande), In the spring, with the snow melt, the two small rivers fill and create good fishing. But in August, the rivers has shrunk to mere trickles from lack of rain or perhaps from beaver dams built upstream. Neil Tabor, SMU Professor of Geology, takes time out from teaching to teach his son Omaha how to cast a fishing pole.
Anyone who comes to SMU in Taos soon gets to know the two fort dogs, Duke and Blanca.
Both dogs were walk-ons to the campus years ago. The caretaker, Joaquin Martinez, adopted them and nursed them back from neglect resulting from their homelessness. Duke is mostly boxer and is very friendly. He even escorts the students on hikes up to the ridge behind the fort. Duke is very good at sniffing out field mice who take up residence in the student’s casitas. Duke has a touch of thievery in his system, as he once ran off with a hiking boot left out on the library porch. There was no hiking until the shoe was eventually located across the fort compound. Duke is such a busy dog…. he has to rest…
Blanca appeared on campus with a broken rope around her neck. She also required tender loving care to calm and reassure her. It is believed that she is part wolf. She can be heard howling with that eerie lonely pitch that we all associate with the wilderness.
She and Duke team up to be effective hunters. While they know better than to tangle with mountain lions and bears that inhabit the hills and ridges around the fort, they do keep the wild animals at a distance from the campus.