Tornado on Santa Clara Peak…

Posted by on Mar 5, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

Tornado, decks permit, Gibbons

One time I’d found many decks of Engelmann spruce abandoned by the logging company that’d harvested Clara Peak on Federal land 30 years before. Maybe 300 limbed trees in those decks.

The road in they’d cut in years before was trenched diagonally every 50 feet when they left so there was no way for a truck to get in and steal their trees. But they never went back for them. I went to the Ranger Station near Española on a hunch that I’d get a permit to haul them out. It was hard to get cutting permits of any kind on Clara because the Forest Service had messed with the pooch when they let that Colorado outfit clear-cut land that wasn’t included in the bid as well as what was. And they hadn’t enforced cleanup guidelines so the land looked butchered. In the midst of virgin forest was this scar made even worse when an armed fighter bomber from Kirkland AFB crashed into it in a fog at 500 miles an hour.

So the rangers were touchy about this area, reluctant to even sell permits for family cutting or small operators like me. But on a miraculous day in July the chief ranger in Española sold me a permit for all the decks in that area, saying they were a fire hazard. We turned the twenty-five dollars the permit cost into fifteen thousand dollars worth of cured lumber, corbels, porch posts and vigas.
We were driving the loaded logging truck onto the main dirt road down the mountain one day and there were four Forest Service trucks parked there at the confluence of the bulldozed- in road and the main mountain road, and six or seven men in uniform waited for us. I’d dealt with some of them over the years arguing over permits, them getting on the radio to HQ, taking their time since this was what they were paid for. Now they had me. They were happy men. I handed them the permit signed by their boss and they passed it around a few times hoping for a more correct interpretation than the one it appeared to convey.
There was only one way to be absolutely sure that this permit was valid, and that was a radio call, but none of them volunteered. The Chief had a reputation.

They gave me the go. Dios mio, I felt good!! Five years of dealing with them wherever they found me cutting or camping, and now here’s the hidden Motherlode disappearing before their eyes!! They were gonna have to give bad news to the cuates and brothers and fathers they’d promised them to.

Neil Lane worked with me time to time. We’d worked together in the display ads department of The New Mexican in Santa Fe. We were at the edge of this logging devastation on Clara when we saw two cloud fronts heading at one another fast at the same level, it looked like. We couldn’t figure how two storm fronts could do this. But it happened and they met in soft collision a few thousand feet above us. There was absolute silence, the background noise of the woods gone. We saw a bunch of birds of all callings caught in an invisible wind, crows and meadow larks, hawks and sparrows and finches carried in a horizontal zigzag speeding along past us in utter silence.

And now we saw those clouds that’d collided were falling onto us, not lowering, I mean falling. It was zero visibility. From the time the clouds met to our seeing the wind pipeline of birds tumble past to standing here in an impenetrable fog only a minute had passed.
The fog began to lift as quickly as it had settled, pools of it in hollows nearby lifting away from the land as small clouds trailing along after mom. As we watched the mother cloud return to the sky a dead spruce isolated in the clear-cut to the west of us simply separated from the land and shot up a hundred feet or so along with the debris of its second death, and before it reached its zenith a loud boom blasted a hit of air that staggered us. The tree dropped back to the ground as vertical as it had risen and broke into pieces.

When we told Bob Gibbons about this at Kelly’s Bar in Santa Fe that night he told of staying in a ranger cabin on that mountain with his crew and a storm hitting with such power that when they went out in the morning the old road into the cabin was covered with blow-down, and a new one opened by the tornado lifting out a swatch of trees.

Bob really got me started in the business when he sold me his logging equipment on layaway when he went into the adobe home-building business with his mother and brother in the late Seventies. They were the first to build real adobe houses with vigas and corbels and coyote fences on five acre lots out toward Lamy, on the south side of that line of hills next to the Las Vegas highway. They called their development El Dorado.
His wood business had started when he won the contract for clearing railroad ties off an ancient narrow gauge line years near Apache Canyon maybe 80 years before. He said he pulled up and loaded nine thousand ties by himself. Later he felled trees for his one-man sawmill at Apache Canyon. That gave him some capital to throw in with his mother and their partner. Without him I’d’ve stayed a firewood chopper. But that would’ve been alright too. I had no ambition. I fielded what came my way, is all…

(From the soon to be published book, THE KID FROM SANTA FE, from Augusta Wind Press.)

One Comment

  1. I kept reading and reading, the suspense of unpredictability spurred me on and the joy of someone ” getting a windfall ” Yup you’re still in the passion of story telling real circumstances pal, and do it well.