Santa Clara Peak

Posted by on Sep 15, 2018 in Blog | Comments Off on Santa Clara Peak

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 they’d cut in 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 abandoned decks in that area, saying they were a fire hazard. We adzed 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 saw two Forest Service trucks parked there at the confluence of the bulldozed-in track and the main mountain road, and four men in uniform waiting for us. I’d dealt with some of them over permits, when they’d get on the radio to HQ, taking their time since this was what they were paid for, catching thieves.
Now they had me. Stealing Federal property. 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 and the crew the Go. God, 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 they’d promised them to.

Neil Lane worked with me time to time. We’d once been in the display ads department of The New Mexican in Santa Fe. Now here we were at the edge of this logging devastation on Clara when we saw two cloud fronts heading at one another fast at what looked like the same level. 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, and 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 zigzagging knot speeding along 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 pipeline of birds tumbling past to standing here in a sudden fog only a minute had passed.
Then the fog began to lift as quickly as it had settled, pools of it in hollows nearby lifting away from the land as tufts trailing along after mom. As we watched the mother cloud return to the sky a dead spruce isolated in the clear-cut west of us simply separated from the land and silently shot up a hundred feet or so along with the debris of its second death, then before reaching its zenith a loud boom blasted a hit of air that staggered us. The rocket 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 swath of spruce.

Bob really got me started in the viga business when he sold me his logging equipment on layaway when he went into the adobe home-building business with his mother and a friend in the late Seventies. Rational Alternatives built traditional adobe casas with vigas and corbels and coyote fences on four acre lots out toward Lamy and Galisteo. They named their development El Dorado, after the city of gold the early Spanish Conquistadores sought.
His wood business had started years before when he won the contract for clearing railroad ties off an ancient narrow gauge line. He said he lifted and loaded the few thousand ties by himself. Later he felled trees for his one-man sawmill at Apache Canyon where he lived. This gave him some capital to throw in with his mother and 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…