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Morning Word: SolarCity to Compete with PNM

Land commissioner and others accused of ethics violations

Morning WordThursday, March 5, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
The sun could be providing energy for thousands more homeowners soon. The state didn't get Tesla, but here comes SolarCity. That plus, we've got the scoop on auditioning for the second season of Manhattan and a look at all the legislative news.

It's Thursday, March 5, 2015

Already under pressure from environmentalists and regulators, the Public Service Company of New Mexico could be facing some stiff competition soon. SolarCity plans to set up shop in the state in the next few months and offer homeowners affordable loans to purchase solar panels to generate their own electricity.
The timing of the new SolarCity announcement was a surprise for Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Bernalillo. On Tuesday, the New Mexico House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill she sponsored that would expand the solar tax credits on purchases and leases of solar systems. The next day, SolarCity, which is one of the nation's largest residential solar financiers, announced its expansion to New Mexico. 
 US Sen. Martin Heinrich said he welcome company’s announcement.
“Solar energy’s future in New Mexico is as bright as our sun—our tremendous solar resources should be harnessed as an engine of economic and job growth for our state. SolarCity’s decision to come to New Mexico is great news for our residents, our economy and our environment.” 
Dan Mayfield has details at ABQ Business First  

A Kirtland Air Force Base spokesman has threatened to cut off KUNM reporters’ access to the base following the station’s report on its Safe Drinking Water Act violations.

Read more here. 

The state public lands commissioner, his son and an Otero County commissioner are being accused of ethics violations.
Two Otero County residents have filed complaints with the state auditor and the state attorney general alleging that State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, along with his son, attorney Blair Dunn, and an Otero County commissioner, colluded for financial gain with public money and violated state law in connection with government contracts. 
Blair Dunn called the lawsuit "frivolous."

Staci Matlock has details. 

Doña Ana County Treasurer David Gutierrez is in hot water. He’s accused of offering a co-worker $1,000 to have sex with him.

See more at KOB. 

If you’re planning to get out of town for business or spring break and thinking about parking your car at the Albuquerque International Sunport’s public garage, you better make sure your vehicles registration is current. Investigative reporter Matt Grubs found out travelers are getting a lot of tickets.

See it at KRQE. 

A Navajo lawmaker doesn’t want medical marijuana legalized in his nation because it contradicts tribal values and traditions. While other tribes are considering the option, Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie thinks legalizing marijuana would "drive up crime rates and drug addiction" on the vast reservation that extends into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.

Read more at the Las Cruces Sun-News. 

Employees working in the medical marijuana industry here in New Mexico may have to submit their fingerprints and undergo criminal background checks.
House Bill 527, sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, would authorize the state Department of Health to use the National Crime Information Center for criminal background checks of primary caregivers, employees and certain contractors of licensed nonprofit producers. Also subject to the checks would be manufacturers, couriers and laboratories approved for the medical marijuana program. Those found to have convictions for trafficking or distributing illegal drugs would be permanently disqualified from working in the program. 
Steve Terrell has more. 

Former professional football player Nate Jackson want the National Football League to drop its ban on marijuana.
Jackson said he avoided opiate painkillers as much as he could during his six-year career from 2003-08. Instead, he self-medicated with marijuana so that he wouldn’t retire addicted to prescription drugs like so many of his contemporaries.  
Read more here. 

Gov. Susana Martinez is pushing new initiatives to protect caseworkers at the Children Youth and Families Department.
Under current law, it is a felony to commit assault or battery on paramedics, school employees, and sports officials like referees and umpires. However, assault and battery on a child abuse caseworker is not a specific offense, even though they routinely find themselves in stressful and potentially dangerous situations involving child custody and safety. 
Read more at KRWG. 

Good news for uninsured New Mexicans. Joey Peters found out that folks who missed out on the initial signup will be eligible to take advantage of a second open enrollment period March 15 to April 30.

More at SFR. 

Laura Paskus has a new essay on her recent journey and experiences at Chaco Canyon.
For centuries, this landscape has yielded what people needed. Once it was corn and beans, clean water, sandstone and timber. Then came the drought. There were wars and conquests. And in the past half-century, while the San Juan River irrigates thousands of desert acres, we’ve also forced the land to surrender coal and uranium, oil and gas. 
Read it at SFR. 

Members of the Independent Community Bankers of America have elected the CEO of Centinel Bank to head their association this year.

Read more at the ABQ Journal. 

New Mexico Legislative News: 

  • An effort to raise the minimum wage has failed in the state Senate. Milan Simonich has more on the Democrats voted against it – Santa Fe New Mexican
  • It looks like the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce is prepared to call for a special session if their priority bills don’t get passed before the regular session ends – New Mexico Political Report
  • After years of saying no, lawmakers now think it’s ok to purchase lottery tickets using a debit card – Las Cruces Sun-News
  • Senators also want to limit college lottery scholarship funding and use more of the revenue to increase prize amounts – Santa Fe New Mexican
  • Retired police officers who return to work could cost the state Public Employees Retirement Association almost $69 million next year – Dan Boyd
  • The Senate Conservation Committee has passed a bill that would give lawmakers more oversight of a Gila River diversion project – Ollie Reed. 
  • Lawmakers have reached a compromise on a bill that requires hospitals to make prices more transparent – Santa Fe New Mexican

The Albuquerque Isotopes have a new logo for the upcoming season, but not everyone likes it.
John Traub, the 'Topes general manager, told Business First on Wednesday that the team is not replacing the old, beloved logo but simply adding more logos, and more branded merchandise, to sell. "People are not realizing it's an addition," Traub said. "The old uniforms, white, black and gray will stay." 
Read more at ABQ Business First. 

Fans of Sam Shaw’s Manhattan have a chance to appear in the WGN America show. Producers are looking for extras and casting for the second season gets underway Saturday in Santa Fe.

Details on the auditions are online. 

Obamacare Enrollment Extended

Those without insurance can register from March 15—April 30

Local NewsWednesday, March 4, 2015 by Joey Peters

Uninsured New Mexicans who missed out on enrolling in health coverage this year are in luck.

Though the latest open enrollment period under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) ended last month, a new special enrollment period will now begin on March 15 and last through the month of April. 

The decision for this "extra enrollment" period comes from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

"I think they were beginning to realize that many people are still not aware of health option changes and still certainly not aware of the penalty changes," says Barbara Webber, executive director of Health Action New Mexico

The ACA imposes penalties on people who don't have insurance and don't qualify for subsidies. For 2015, that penalty jumps from $95 per adult to $325 per adult and is imposed during taxes for 2016. But uninsured people who didn't register for coverage are eligible to sign up during the extra enrollment period at BeWellNm.com, the website of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange.

And if uninsured people register for coverage during the extra enrollment period, they can get out of most of the fees for next year. They'll instead pay a prorated fee to cover the time they weren't enrolled in an insurance program in 2015.

Webber says that despite the health care law being in effect for nearly two years, a sizable segment of the country still isn't aware of the ACA's requirements. 

"We know that, based on polling, 30 percent of people are still not aware that they have to have health insurance," she says. "It's just hard to reach everyone. Not everyone reads the papers. Like any federal program, it takes a while for people to get on board with it."

Spokeswoman Amanda Molina says the same resources that were available during the latest open enrollment period, namely staff support from enrollment counselors and certified agents, will be available during the extended period.

A total of 51,857 New Mexicans signed up through the exchange during the latest enrollment period, which occurred from Nov. 15, 2014 through Feb. 15 of this year.

Morning Word: Pearce Votes Against Funding Homeland Security

Supreme Court reconsiders Obamacare

Morning WordWednesday, March 4, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
Thousands of federal workers in New Mexico are breathing a little easier today now that their salaries have been fully funded. Is today the beginning of the end for Obamacare? The Supreme Court takes another look at the law. That, plus the latest from inside the Roundhouse.

It's Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A few days after funding the Department of Homeland Security for another week, Congress has approved the full $40-billion budget, but not with the support of US Rep. Steve Pearce, R- New Mexico. He remains opposed to the president’s executive action that defers immigrant deportations.
“DHS plays a vital role in our national security. However, the Congress cannot allow President Obama to continue acting without regard for the law. The House did not live up to its commitment today. When sworn in as a Member of Congress, each individual takes an oath to uphold and honor the Constitution. We failed in that mission with this vote.” 
Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham, both Democrats, voted for the budget.

Read it at the Albuquerque Journal. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is headed back to the US Supreme Court today and there’s a lot at stake with federal subsidies for people enrolled in health care exchanges, which could collapse if the plaintiffs prevail.

Read it at The New York Times.  

Gov. Susana Martinez has settled a lawsuit with the Associated Press that will make some of her security officer’s travel records public.

The AP has details. 

Construction is about to get underway for some big water projects in Las Cruces.

Read more at the Las Cruces Sun-News. 

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and three city councilors have racked up thousands of dollars in out of state travel expenses in the last year.

Read more at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

Carol Wight, the executive director of the New Mexico restaurant association, believes the state has a big problem with new unemployment insurance program rules that have tripled premium prices. She says New Mexico's economic recovery will continue to lag if it's not fixed.
Read her view at ABQ Business First. 

Sarcastic remarks made by Public Lands Commissioner Aubrey Dunn’s son Blair Dunn, an American Lands Council attorney who wants federal lands transferred to the state, have offended some groups opposing the transfer.
Native American leaders are highly motivated to be well schooled legally, in order to protect their peoples' interests against the further diminishment of rights and treaties by the dominant white establishment. Native leaders should be applauded, not disparaged, for their eloquent and determined defense of their people, lands and culture. 
Read Jim Klukeert’s take here. 

Students around the state continue to protest PARCC tests, but they’re being warned if they go to another school’s campus they could be charged with trespassing.

See more at KRQE. 

Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera says the tests only measure what is being taught in class.

See her interview with Ryan Luby. 

In Carlsbad, health officials are working to make the transition to a new mental health and substance abuse treatment company as seamless as possible.

Read more at the Carlsbad Current-Argus. 

San Juan County commissioners have approved $775,000 for new programs to combat homelessness and substance abuse.

Read more at the Farmington Daily Times.  

New Mexico Legislative News: 

  • A new poll shows that three-quarters of New Mexico’s business leaders support an independent ethics commission – KUNM
  • The House Safety and Public Affairs Committee has approved a measure that would require political action committees to reveal the names of their donors – New Mexico Political Report
  • Senators have blocked a bill that would give the governor more say on capital spending – Santa Fe New Mexican
  • But lawmakers have approved another measure that would give local small businesses a better shot at landing state contracts – ABQ Business First
  • A bill that would restrict the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico has advanced – Santa Fe New Mexican

Street View

03.04.15

Street ViewTuesday, March 3, 2015 by SFR
Somebody is promoting bike safety with street art.

We see what you’re up to, and we like it! Send you best shots to streetview@sfreporter.com or share with #SFRStreetview for a chance to win movie passes to the CCA Cinematheque.

Something Strange in Your Neighborhood?

Call John Lorenzen

PicksWednesday, March 4, 2015 by Alex De Vore

“Santa Fe is one of the most haunted cities and there are more ghosts here per acre than in any other city in the country,” Santa Fe Hauntings’ John Lorenzen tells SFR. “But it’s not like Hollywood movies at all…spirits aren’t really concerned with people and most are pretty friendly.”

A lifelong fan of the paranormal, Lorenzen has led walking tours of the spookier aspects of downtown Santa Fe for the past 15 years and provides ghost-lovers with an inside peek at the spooky and eerie events that have occurred in places such as La Posada, La Fonda, The Palace Restaurant and Saloon, the Palace of the Governors, the Oldest House and more.

“It’s all based on the supernatural buildings that are reportedly haunted—I know they’re haunted,” he says. “For example, one night at The Palace a manager and waitress were closing up at three in the morning and they both very clearly saw the shadow of a 6-foot tall cowboy crossing the foyer, or I was told by a security guard at the Palace of the Governors that they saw an empty dress flying down the hallway one night.”

Lorenzen says that ghosts can be categorized as either intelligent spirits who can speak with the living, revenants who utilize objects to communicate or poltergeists.

“In German it means ‘noisy spirit,’ and they don’t usually show themselves,” he says. “There are also demons, but they’re fairly uncommon; I’d say something like 1 percent of spirits are evil or negative.”

The walking tour lasts about two hours and comes with a coffee or tea drink included to help fight off the parched feeling that comes along with ghost proximity. Lorenzen stresses that wearing comfortable shoes is a must, and children under 5 might not enjoy the subject matter.

“You’ll learn about the history of the city in addition to the ghosts,” Lorenzen adds. “I’m basically a reporter and a storyteller rolled up into one.”


Santa Fe Hauntings
5:30 pm Saturday, March 7. $10-$20
Liquid Outpost
211 Old Santa Fe Trail,
995-0165


3 Questions

with Candice Hopkins

3 QuestionsWednesday, March 4, 2015 by Enrique Limón
On Wednesday, IAIA/MoCNA’s Brown Bag it series contienes with a free chat with Candice Hopkins, the interim chief curator at the Cathedral Place cultural institution. Along with her post there, Hopkins has the distinction of being one of three curators for SITE’s hugely successful Unsettled Landscapes exhibit.
                                          
There is so much talk about the extinction of the curator. As a young curator on the forefront, how do you react to this?
If there is an extinction, I haven’t heard it! However, the over-emphasis placed on curators over the past few years is starting to wane and this is a good thing. A curator’s job is to create a resonant context for art, and traditionally be the caretaker for a collection, not be the star of the show.

Unsettled Landscapes in particular was an all-female curated exhibit. Will this be a theme in upcoming SITE biennials?
The next curators for SITE’s new biennial series were just announced on e-flux. There are five: four women and one man. The consistent trends, I think, are sense of collective exhibition-making as well as the focus on Latin America and Native North American art. Three of the five curators were born in Latin America, and one, Kathleen Ash-Milby is Navajo, originally from Albuquerque..

What’s the importance of local series like Brown Bag it?
Brown Bag it was formed as a way to showcase the great ideas and talents of staff at IAIA. By offering the talks during the lunch hour and on the Plaza, it is a way to share knowledge in an informal setting. In my case, I will reflect on two major exhibitions that I have been a part of, one in Canada and one in Santa Fe, and consider how these exhibitions have shaped understandings of art by Indigenous artists. 

The Inner War

'Queen and Country' picks up where 'Hope and Glory' left off

YayWednesday, March 4, 2015 by David Riedel

War is hell. And preparing for war is hell. At least, it was in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. In Queen and Country, preparing for war—that is, basic training—is dull, dreary, and an excellent opportunity to make mischief. For that matter, the time after basic training is ripe for shenanigans, too.

 

Picking up nine years after Hope and Glory leaves off, John Boorman’s latest (and last) film, Queen and Country, carries its predecessors same traits. It’s a comedy set during war, and it’s highly effective considering most great war movies focus on the horrors or the battles or the psychological torture (Saving Private Ryan, Das Boot, The Bridge on the River Kwai). There aren’t as many war comedies, and somehow the worst war comedy ever, Life is Beautiful (and one of the worst movies ever made), walked off with a slew of Academy Awards.

 

Hope and Glory, on the other hand, is a fine war comedy. Set during the blitz, its protagonist is nine-year-old Bill Rohan, and one of the greatest days of his life is the day his school is demolished by a German bomb. Boorman, who also wrote Hope and Glory, manages to make the London bombings a playground for Bill without disguising the terror that goes along with randomly being attacked in the night.

 

Now Bill (Callum Turner) is 19 and being shipped off to fight in Korea, but first there’s basic training. Queen and Country, like its predecessor, is sweeter than most war films, and more sentimental. But like Hope and Glory, there’s a gravity to it that eventually rears its head. Though Great Britain had a smaller stake in Korea (and therefore the events of Queen and Country necessarily don’t have the same stakes), there’s still something about being locked away for two years without say in the matter (Bill is conscripted) that makes life unbearable.

 

So Bill, who doesn’t believe in the Korean War—or in capitalism or communism—sets out to make life as bearable as possible while stuck teaching typing to other conscripts. At least he doesn’t have to go off and fight; that would be quite a different movie.

 

Bill makes friends with a like-minded scallywag, the delightfully named Percy Hapgood (Caleb Landry Jones), and as non-commissioned officers, they have a sweet set-up; they can make trouble for their overbearing boss, Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis, who disappears into this showy character role), who likes to write them up for offenses such as not having the top button done up on their uniforms.

 

Along with Redmond (Pat Shortt), a lazy corporal, they make Bradley’s life hell. Until they discover that Bradley suffers from post-traumatic stress. And Percy gets in serious trouble for a prank involving the regimental sergeant major. And Bill falls in love with a woman who suffers from severe depression.

 

This film is laugh-out-loud funny, but its sadness sneaks up on you. Even the minor wars—if there is such a thing—are ultimately hell. Queen and Country is a fitting end to Boorman’s storied career.


 

QUEEN AND COUNTRY

Directed by John Boorman

With Turner, Jones and Shortt

The Screen

R

115 min.


Vampires, Transcended

What We Do in the Shadows is an unexpected take on old favorites

YayWednesday, March 4, 2015 by David Riedel

You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you skipped out on What We Do in the Shadows if you’re skeptical of vampire films or fake documentaries. What We Do in the Shadows is both, but it transcends the tired tropes of mocks and bloodsuckers and turns into an uproarious movie about petty grievances—when those with the grievances happen to be hundreds of years old and survive on human blood.

 

Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are a group of vampires living in a house in Wellington, New Zealand, barely tolerating each other, and waiting for a large gathering of other vampires that takes place each year. Bored one night and looking for fun (and food), the guys turn Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire.

 

But Nick is kind of an idiot and the guys hate him. However, they love Nick’s human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), so they don’t kill Nick in order to hang out with Stu, who’s friendly and shows them how to use the Internet (excepting Nick, the vampires are all at least 150 years old).

 

That ain’t the half of it. There’s also a spurting jugular or two, lots of dirty dishes, bat fights, vampire hunters, werewolves (who, whenever they use bad language, admonish each other by saying “we’re not swearwolves”), and true love. Hilarious. See it.


 

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi

With Clement, Waititi and Brugh

CCA Cinematheque

NR

85 min.


7 Days

03.04.15

7 DaysWednesday, March 4, 2015 by SFR
1

LAND COMMISSIONER MOVES ART FOR PUMP JACK

Fear no oil.

2

SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT DECIDES TO STAY

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

3

TV ANCHOR BACK AT WORK AFTER SPAT

We’re not sure why another angry white guy gets so many headlines.

4

LOOSE LLAMAS GO VIRAL

Because TV news really does matter.

5

CITY CLEANS MORE GRAFFITI THIS YEAR THAN LAST

Maybe that new pump jack will get another coat of paint next.

6

ARIZONA HEALTH PROVIDERS TELL NM TO PAY UP

Get in line—right behind the minimum-wage workers.

7

EX-GOV. GARY JOHNSON FAKES HEART ATTACK IN POT DEBATE

He’s running for president again. Also a funny joke.

Touching Chaco

Confront the lessons of the past and consider the course of the future

FeaturesWednesday, March 4, 2015 by Laura Paskus

On the fall equinox, at the tail end of monsoon season two years ago, dense, dark clouds rumbled into a quadrant of Northern New Mexico’s pale blue sky. Above the two- and three-story ruins at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the skies were still bright. But the clouds, followed by virga and then by rain, meant the long drive out—14 of the 20 miles back to the highway are unpaved—would be a tricky one.

Until then, we would watch the sky. And walk among the remains of the people who dwelled here in the San Juan Basin during ancient times. Between AD 850 and 1250, thousands lived in Chaco Canyon. They built deep, round kivas underground and monumentally tall structures, with sandstone pieces so elaborately chinked and fitted together that mud mortar has kept them standing for centuries.

In his book Anasazi America, University of New Mexico archaeologist David Stuart writes of how the Chacoan people inhabited 40,000 square miles of the Four Corners region. He explains that the “vast and powerful alliance” between the 10,000 to 20,000 small farming villages and almost 100 district towns or “great houses” was reinforced by economic and religious ties. Hundreds of miles of well-worn ancient pathways, as wide as roads, are still visible from the sky.

A view from the sky shows roads crisscrossing the landscape of the Four Corners
Laura Paskus

The people who lived here also celebrated and mourned. Fell in love, argued with one another and stared up at the stars at night. Their feet touched the warm sandstone. They drew water from a running river and watched sticks burn to coals in their cooking fires.

Like now, there were good days and bad days—until the drought of 1090, when the bad days began outnumbering the good. According to archaeologists, during the second century, children under 5 comprised between a quarter and a half of all burials. The farming districts around Chaco—which supplied the great houses and also had the highest child mortality rates—began faltering. By the late 1000s, writes Stuart, firewood, clean water, game and wild plant food had all become scarce.

It had taken the pre-Puebloan people more than 700 years to “lay the agricultural, organizational, and technological groundwork” that created the Chacoan culture, writes Stuart. The classic period, meanwhile, lasted only 200 years—and collapsed “spectacularly” within 40.

Before leaving, we walked along a trail near the base of a tall sandstone cliff. Near the ruin of Pueblo Bonito, the iconic structure that most people snap pictures of when visiting the park, seven or eight birds delighted in the waves of air from the stormy sky. They would dive from the top of the cliff, twirl around one another, and pull up just above the ground. They were turkey vultures, the vee of their wings distinct against the sky. I’d never seen those big, serious birds act that way. As we continued walking toward the great house, we stepped into their game. They flew so close above us we could hear the air through the feathers of their wings. Carrion eaters, the vultures are good reminders of mortality.

The clouds darkened the remainder of the sky. And the turkey vultures retired to a cottonwood in the wash nearby. We left and made it home, grateful for the rain that blessed our own hard drought.

Laura Paskus

But the same thing that delivered us to the canyon—my gasoline-powered pickup truck whose four-wheel drive also got us out that day—contributes to the destruction of cultural artifacts and threatens the future of the people who still live in small, tight-knit communities throughout the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico.

Today, there are 22,000 natural gas wells in the region, some dating back to the mid-20th century. And as companies have sought to glean oil from the tightly packed Mancos Shale thousands of feet below Earth’s surface, the federal government has started approving oil wells, too. If you’ve taken NM 550 in the past few months and driven north of Cuba, you’ve seen the trucks and rigs, the newer wells flaring 30- or 50-foot flames into the air.

There’s no doubt that the park is worth protecting from the press of oil and natural gas wells; Chaco Culture National Historical Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And as a former archaeologist, I appreciate the connections between the past and the present and how we can learn from the past to better plan for the future.

But it says something about our culture today—right here in New Mexico, at this moment—that it’s so much easier for people to connect with stone and story than with flesh and blood. 

"It’s so much easier for people to connect with stone and story than with flesh and blood."

Just about a year after that stormy equinox, I join a handful of reporters and then-Councilman Mark Martinez, of the Pueblo of Zuni, to fly above Chaco Canyon in a six-seater Cessna 210.

On a clear October morning, we take off from the Farmington airport, flying over the San Juan River and the Navajo Nation’s thousands of acres of irrigated lands. In the distance, I can see Shiprock and also the lumpy heft and steaming towers of a coal-fired power plant. Banking away from the city, we headed south. Bruce Gordon, the pilot and executive director of ecoFlight, points out the remains of ancient roads and buildings.

When I’m driving through the San Juan Basin, the desert scrub seems to stretch into nothingness. From the air, I see hogans and trailers at the ends of long, straight roads. Or round corrals adjacent to a few venerated green cottonwoods surrounded by brown.

The washes and arroyos that rarely merit a second glance from ground level are from the sky squiggly and magnificent. The badlands are rust and orange, white, gray and black.

From left, Laura Paskus, former Zuni Pueblo Councilor Mark Martinez, Alastair Bitsoi, Erny Zah and an unidentified man on the tarmac in Farmington.
Julie Ann Grimm

Then we spot the well pads and tanks, the natural gas drilling rigs and waste ponds. From above, it looks as though someone’s fired a giant paintball gun. Globs of industrial development are strung together with roads like cobwebs.

I’m almost embarrassed to recall all the times I’ve driven out to Chaco, using the trip as an escape from cell phones and computers, the city’s noise and the dull demands of 21st century life. Meanwhile, it’s that development all across the basin that makes my modern life convenient and leisurely.

That long (sometimes mucky) road into the park does indeed preserve that feel of returning to earlier times. Out at Chaco, it’s quiet. And at night, it’s very dark. The driving loop within the park is paved. But just walk away from the road, stare at the sky and the ruins, and you will feel entirely alone.

From the air, I realize what a fantasy that is. For centuries, this landscape has yielded what people needed. Once it was corn and beans, clean water, sandstone and timber. Then came the drought. There were wars and conquests. And in the past half-century, while the San Juan River irrigates thousands of desert acres, we’ve also forced the land to surrender coal and uranium, oil and gas.

Laura Paskus

My forehead pressed against the glass of the Cessna, I wonder how long it will last this time.

After landing back in Farmington, Martinez talks about what the flight meant to him. People at Zuni, particularly the religious people, are worried about development approaching the ruins. He’d been told that another 1,500 oil wells could be drilled in the basin within the next 15 to 20 years.

Chaco is sacred to not just his Zuni people but to many Native cultures, he says.

For Native people, the land isn’t an escape. It’s a return.

“We call that our spiritual place and (it’s) part of our umbilical cord to our migration route. So that’s very important to us, and we’ve never left those homelands. They’re part of our spirits,” he says, standing on the tarmac. “Our ancestors still live upon the lands. Every time we visit, we do offerings to greet them. Even though we don’t see them, they’re still in existence.”

When non-Native people visit the park, he imagines them wondering about the people who lived there. They seem to miss the people who still live here, their far descendants—the ones who really feel forgotten.

Since that flight last fall, the US Bureau of Land Management has temporarily deferred approval on oil leases close to the park’s boundary. Activists celebrated. But of course, political whim could reopen the process.

And the Chacoan landscape isn’t only about the park.

“It’s also about the larger landscape,” says Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, who had a 17-year career as an archaeologist in New Mexico and Arizona. Now she’s an attorney for WildEarth Guardians. She explains that the 53-square-mile area currently within the park’s boundaries was the center of a larger community extending as far north as Mesa Verde in Colorado and to the south of Interstate 40. All of those sites together, she says, tell a story.

Allowing development up to the boundaries of the park creates something “almost like a little playground,” she says. “You don’t get that sense that there was a living community occupying that landscape and the descendants of the community are still there.”

Today, that living community includes the Diné, or Navajo people, who have homes on the reservation and on allotments, private lands deeded to individual families in the 19th century.

The hike to Peñasco Blanco, an unexcavated great house exposed on the landscape, is one of the lesser-traveled routes at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Julie Ann Grimm

In mid-December, Lori Goodman arrives outside the Counselor Chapter House on the Navajo Nation. A handful of people, mostly women, stand in the dirt lot, soaking in the New Mexico sun on a day that probably should have been a dozen degrees colder.

“Quite a sight, huh?” asks Goodman, who volunteers with the nonprofit organization Diné CARE—or Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment.

She’s talking about the oil rigs we had all passed to get here. In this area, the BLM has approved about 100 new oil wells, some of which popped up alongside the unpaved roads that run through Counselor and south of the highway toward Ojo Encino.

Later we drive deeper into the reservation and then climb atop a pine-covered hill to look out at the landscape. A small ranch, marked by a windmill and a few barking dogs, spreads out beneath us. The air is warm and smells like sage or pine, depending on which direction the wind is blowing.

From behind the mesa that flanks the ranch, we spot a flame. Then another farther to the right. Below us is a well pad with big green storage tanks. Turning again, we see another flare.

Here, on the eastern edge of the Navajo Nation, there are about 900,000 acres of allotments—and this is where most of the current oil drilling and proposed leasing is occurring. For a one-time payment, sometimes as much as $100,000, hundreds of individual families have signed agreements with drilling companies. Yet with the money come lasting effects.

“People that we’ve been meeting with, they’re telling us how this intense development has really interfered with their lives and livelihood,” says Goodman as we walk back down the hill. “Numerous roads have been built, just in this rush to get the oil out. And so regular roads that were just to people’s homes are now truck roads. The amount of traffic going by—it’s scary. We were driving in a small car, and these huge semi trucks were passing us, and we kept pulling off the road because we’re little and they’re huge.”

Even though I’m just a reporter covering this issue from the outside, a lot of it feels like familiar ground.

And so, a confession is necessary: What’s been happening, as Chaco Canyon has become a rallying point to stave off new oil development, awakens in me the deep discomfort I felt as a young archaeologist on my first field project in New Mexico.

From our motel in Gallup, our crew would drive about 45 minutes to where we were excavating sites alongside a road that was being widened. On that drive, sleepy each morning and sunburned each evening, we’d pass thin-walled trailers, rez dogs dead or dying on the edge of the road and worn-looking men stumbling along the way.

In retrospect at least, most of my time working on field projects was stunning. We’d spend weeks and months getting to know not just the archaeology of the project area but also the plants and weather patterns. That work electrified me physically, intellectually and emotionally.

Yet, I’d often feel uneasy at the end of the day.

Contracted by governmental agencies mandated to comply with federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, we contract archaeologists—also called consultants—worked in tandem with developers to ensure dams and pipelines, highway projects and cell phone towers were completed.

As I learned more about the federal laws, spent more time on the ground and met people whose families have lived here for centuries, I wondered: As a society, why do we seek knowledge of those who died centuries ago while failing to listen to those who are still living?

There are a lot of answers to that question: It’s critically important to learn about the past. The dead deserve more than to have their bones crushed beneath bulldozers. Knowledge of the past helps us understand who we all are today and what we might do to survive tomorrow.

But there’s another answer that’s harder to admit: The dead are easier to objectify and manipulate.

Consider this like a long-distance relationship. It’s easier to adore—even defend—someone from afar, building the entire narrative yourself by stitching together finite moments, of passion or joy, without having to live with the hurts and injustices, annoyances and abuses of reality.

During the second century, when the rains and snows stopped arriving with regularity in the Four Corners, I imagine that people felt some combination of hope and helplessness. Hope that next season would be better, that the stores of food could be renewed again after this one tough year. Hope that gods would answer prayers. Then helplessness as more children died. As water became scarce and wild game disappeared. As crops failed to survive the dry summer and the walk for firewood became too long.

Today, most Americans have at least a cursory understanding that the greenhouse gases—including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases—we release into the air when burning fossil fuels are changing the planet’s climate.

Many also understand that those changes are increasing global surface temperatures, melting polar ice and causing sea levels to rise. Despite that knowledge and the technologies we’ve developed, we still hover between hope and helplessness.

Yet, I hear the same mantra again and again, from farmers, water managers and neighbors: Let’s hope that next year’s snowpack will be better and that when it melts, reservoir levels will rise again. Let’s hope that this year’s monsoon season will bring enough rain to sustain the season’s crops. Let’s hope things get better.

Less publicly, people will admit feeling helpless: How do we stop the entire planet from going to hell?

Sometimes, we comfort ourselves with small actions: clicking “like” on the Facebook post of an outraged friend, ignoring the fact that our phones and computers are charged with electricity from a coal-fired power plant; driving to a public meeting to proclaim our opposition to fracking, while stopping to buy a tank of gasoline on the way; casting corporations and oil field workers as the enemies—the angry villains who have inflicted this travesty of energy development and subsequent climate change upon us—while feeling helpless to change the habits that are condemning us to hopelessness.

Towns like Farmington and Aztec, or even Lybrook and Counselor, aren’t cleverly planned and marketed, the way charming and historic Santa Fe is. But if there’s a place in New Mexico to confront the lessons of the past and consider the course of the future, it’s the Four Corners.


Our addiction to fossil fuels is most obvious here in the southwest, says Mike Eisenfeld, energy coordinator for the nonprofit San Juan Citizens Alliance. In addition to the tens of thousands of wells, the region has coal mines and coal-fired power plants. And whether it’s from coal, oil and gas or uranium development, the air and water pollution in the San Juan Basin serve as proof, he says, of “our continued inability to think about ways to create electricity other than from burning stuff.”

It’s a shame, he says, that the Four Corners is considered a sacrifice zone—a place where America’s pursuit of energy independence always comes home.

“My experience here is this is a tremendous living community, full of history and vitality, and it’s just a shame that some of these monikers have stuck,” he says. “The current president’s ‘all of everything’ energy policy is not well-thought-out at all—because the areas that have been impacted for years and years by oil and gas and coal and uranium and other schemes and shenanigans are going to just be constantly hit with the idea that we need to be relied on for more and more and more.”

Despite the changing climate and the energy challenges, humans keep plugging away, doing things the same way we always did. And even when we do create new technologies that increase energy efficiency or draw power from renewable resources, we don’t apply them rapidly or often enough.

Eisenfeld mentions how the oil wells near Lybrook on the eastern Navajo Nation are flaring off nitrogen and natural gas: “It seems so wasteful and so poorly conceived and heartbreaking that as a society, we’re willing to squander things that have environmental problems and economic value,” he says. “I don’t think, until you live in a community like this—where there are well pads in every park and well pads in your communities and well pads next to your schools, and compressor stations and processing and central delivery points.

“I think in my mind, I thought that like natural gas just came out of the ground clean and wasn’t really that big of a deal. My opinion has changed a lot.”

It’s frustrating, he says, to not know what to do about the way humans have fundamentally altered our natural systems. He’s not just talking about the landscape of an ancient civilization pocked with wells and mines. He’s referring to the hand New Mexicans have in altering the entire planet’s climate.

Last year, NASA revealed that a giant plume of methane, a greenhouse gas, is seeping from the Four Corners region. The data, from 2003-2009, showed that coalbed methane seams and oil and gas infrastructure in the area have created the largest “methane hot spot” in the United States.

When our fall comes—as the Southwest continues to warm, surface water supplies decline and the evidence of our actions is visible even from space—we won’t leave behind remains as beautiful as those at Chaco. We’ll leave behind seeping gases and rusting pump jacks, poisoned wells and crackling pavement.

A few months after talking in Farmington, Eisenfeld drives the back roads around Counselor, trying to grasp the scale of the new oil development. I follow behind him as he rushes to see one more well pad, one more rig, before darkness descends completely.

After sunset, we park at a cleared, flat spot. It seems like an old natural gas well pad, but I can’t quite make out the infrastructure in the darkness. He’s stopped here to watch the flare from an oil well. It’s about a quarter-mile away, but we’re talking loud over its roar.

Then, without warning, Eisenfeld hops back in his truck and takes off again.

As he pulls away, a great horned owl sweeps up, landing on a pole atop an elevated metal tank.

My heart’s still thumping from the surprise of the bird’s giant wings. I want to watch this owl forever. Or as long as my eyes can see through the dark. But I need to get moving. I don’t know the route back to the highway.

As his taillights disappear down the gravel road and around a corner, I remember what he’d said to me a few months earlier. I remember his urgency.

“I’m 52, and I’m kind of going, ‘All right, what’s going to happen in my lifetime? And what kind of planet are we leaving our kids?’”

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