All-Star Telescope Star Party, 2015

With 30 guests All-Star Telescope hosted another successful astronomy retreat at the Painted Pony Resort.  This marks their 7th visit over the past 5 years for a week of astrophotography in the high desert of southern New Mexico.  At night, the hanger becomes the congregating point for the astronomers while others enjoy the hot tub and courtyard area at the main house for other activities.  This year 2 daytime hikes were completed for a total of 11 miles, one hike up south fork canyon for some afternoon birding and a second hike across the high desert to the outcrops at the base of the Peloncillo mountainsDalton Wilson brought his drone and took some magnificent images of the estate and high desert, see below, showing 14 telescopes setup by the hanger.  The area around the hanger is ideal for astronomy since the main house, guest house, and bungalow are over 500' away and with minimal outdoor lighting does not interfere with astronomy activities.  At night only red lights, to preserve the astronomers night vision, can be seen moving around the telescopes in the New Mexican desert as they concentrate on capturing the perfect image of astronomical objects in the southern sky visible from the estate.  With dinners catered by Jackie Lewis of the George Walker house the guests reported having a wonderful time at this years star party and were discussing returning again next year.

Aerial view of 14 telescopes set up at the All-Star Telescope New Mexico star party.  Photograph by Dalton Wilson.
A view down the road in South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon with guests out for some birding.


Google+ and BAlvarius

I monitor visitor statistics on the blogs and websites associated with the Painted Pony Resort in an effort to understand what attracts people's attention resulting in a click to visit one of the sites.  I use a number of tools including StatCounter and those provided by Google to compare keywords, images, and subject matter to gauge performance.  It is pleasing when something created performs well and highlights efforts to promote the resort and area in an effort to encourage visitation.  I'm a firm believer that everyone should have the opportunity to make enough money to buy food for dinner and work to spread the business around when visitors are in residence at the estate.  This effort works particularly well when the estate hosts a wedding (there have been 8 so far with another one scheduled next month), since generally the immediate family stays on the estate while other wedding guests utilize local lodging sites in the twin cities of Portal and Rodeo.

Google's foray into social media several years ago with it's product Google+ at first seemed like just another attempt to compete with Facebook, but Google did a couple of things in launching this product.  They tied all the blogs they host to Google+ as well as images.  This immediately created another way for individuals producing content to get their material viewed by a larger audience.  This blog and the Sky Gypsies both now direct their feed to Google+ and the page's performance has done quite well, recently surpassing its' 1,000,000 viewer.  While the images produced and curated on Panoramio have done quite well (with about 1.37 million views), the rate of the Google+ performance is much better and better than both blogs themselves.  Based on this evidence it would seem Google got it right.  The obvious conclusion is that if a business provides online tools, users will make use of those tools and site visitation will follow.  To view BAlvarius' Google+ page follow the link.

Google + page for BAlvarius reached 1,000,000 views


The Road, Cultural Resource Inventory IX

In the 330 square miles of San Simon valley south of I-10 there are only 3 paved roads, Highway 80 (running north/south) Portal Road (running from Highway 80 west to Portal and the Chiricahua mountains, and Highway 9 (running from Highway 80 east to Animas), all other roads are dirt and have changed over time.  Old dirt road tracks are easily identified, being 2 tracks, which differentiates them the earliest "roads" which were single tracks suitable for foot and horse traffic.

Roads and their locations in many cases evolved from game trails to human foot paths connecting cultural centers and water sources which, as the traffic increased with the movement trade goods and people eventually became larger and more established allowing horses, carriages, and eventually automobiles.  In most cases these early culturally derived roads were supplanted by designed roads which followed straighter paths and the early roads were lost.  In the San Simon valley several lines of evidence suggest there was an early road running the length of the valley from Mexico north which has been lost.

1. Distribution of large archaeological sites representing large villages and trading centers.
2.  Early maps and Spanish descriptions of forays into the San Simon valley, as part of New Spain.
3.  Early maps of US explorers pushing westward to the west coast.
4.  Original land surveys of the area.

Archaeological sites of large villages are known along the San Simon valley.  Perhaps the best known site is at the San Bernardino wildlife refuge.  With springs and perennial water a number of sites were identified within the refuge boundaries.  Further north along the valley the Ruben ruin (a late Animas phase site) lies on the west side of the San Simon riverbed, east of the drainage from Horseshoe canyon.  Scattered every 8-10 miles these ruins represent larger occupation sites that would have had contact with one another along a "road" or trail.  This also explains the density of archaeological sites found along the riverbed, they predominate the east bank while the west bank has fewer sites in the vicinity of the estate (personal observation).

Early Spanish explorers in the area noted a number of "roads" connecting occupation sites and frequently the Spanish themselves used these sites for Presidios.  For example San Bernadino had a short lived presido and "roads" leading from the Presidio was used in the Spanish attempts to control the Apache.  This link shows an map of Spanish exploration including the San Simon valley during the period of 1779-1785.  Two expeditions,  The Vildosola of 1780 and the Peru expedition of 1784 traveled along the valley and would have utilized the "old road" connecting native settlements.   Early maps produced during the Spanish colonial period portray the area with varying degrees of accuracy until after the Mexican American war and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase as shown in the video below.

Perhaps the most notable map from the 19th century of the area showing "roads" was produced by the Mormon Battalion when they passed through on their way to the west coast in 1846 - 1847.  A Coyote road or bandit trail was marked running north/south through the valley just east of San Bernardino.  This "road" parallels the modern designed road, Highway 80, but its location was unknown until recently.

Enlarged section of the Mormon Battalion map showing the coyote road running up the San Simon valley.  Map courtesy of Project Gutenberg

Recent searches of the BLM General Land Office records uncovered an 1883 survey map of the township (T.28S., R.21W.) which includes most land encompassing much of the Painted Pony Resort and the future town of Rodeo NM.  This survey was commissioned by Epitacio Sandoval in 1882 at the cost of $650.00.  The resulting map shows several interesting features, the most important being the location of an early "road" along the east side of the San Simon Riverbed.  By the time the first topographic map of the area was produced in 1917 traces of the old "road" were missing but the town of Rodeo was well established.

1883 rodeo nm township map
1883 township map which includes the Painted Pony Resort and the town of Rodeo NM, north is up on the map.

The outline (red) of the Painted Pony Resort on the 1883 township survey map superimposed on satellite imagery showing the location of the early "road" along the San Simon Riverbed, north is up on the map.
The 1917 topographic map showing no evidence of the early "road" along the San Simon riverbed and only 2 tracks of modern dirt roads, north is left on the map.
The discovery of the 1883 township map neatly ties together early maps and descriptions of a road running along the San Simon valley with current land use and maps of the area.  While no traces of this early "road" have yet been discovered, the location of the presumptive Post Classic Mimbres hamlet ruin on the east side of the San Simon is explained the early "road" running along the riverbed as well as other sites such as the Trinchera at the mouth of Antelope Pass.  In addition, if the early "roads were controlled by the drainage patterns then other "roads" may exist along these drainages.

Addendum:  After scaling the township map and carefully placing the overlay on Google Earth evidence of the "old road" became apparent south of Rodeo.  A winding faint track was observed leading south from the "old road" on the township map along the San Simon riverbed.  The presence of a visible track lends support to the idea that this early "road" was the main thoroughfare along the valley.  Subsequent township mapping of these areas did not take place until after the turn of the century and no evidence of the "old road" was found.

A faint winding track which may represent a continuation of the "old road" along the San Simon riverbed.



Creating a Sense of Place

Creating sense of place is a useful way to enhance a visitors experience.  We all have memories of favorite places we have either lived or visited and central to those experiences is the sense of place.  Whether the landscape or the people, a sense of place embodies the idea of time.

At the Painted Pony Resort creating a sense of place revolves around an understanding the land, who was here before us and how was the land utilized.  This not only helps in current land use decision processes, but creates a sense of place.  Below is a short but very good about creating and preserving a sense of place.


Fun in the Mud

2015 started off with a bang for the first set of guests at the Painted Pony Resort.  Thirty five guests for a weekend retreat and it rained.  While the estate receives over 300 days/yr of sun shine, it does sometimes rain here in the boot heel of New Mexico and everyone is thankful for the rain.  The high desert receives on average about 12"/yr, enough to keep the desert alive and well, but it can make things more difficult for short periods of time.  Unfortunately the weather and guests coincided for this retreat and I received a phone call late Friday afternoon that some guests had gotten stuck.  So I hopped on the tractor and headed over to find out the problem.  I found a vehicle with a trailer off the side of the road in the mud surrounded by guests.  After hooking up a tow strap to the rear trailer hitch, the vehicle was pulled out of the mud and back onto the road.  While I hooked the trailer to the tractor the guests piled back into their vehicle and headed on to the estate.  The tractor easily pulled the trailer back and the first problem was solved.  Several hours later I received word of another problem with guests over in the air park so I got back out with the tractor and found another trailer and vehicle in the mud.  After making a wrong turn a whicle pulling a dual axle trailer was having problems.  After unhooking the trailer the vehicle was able to navigate the mud and I turned the trailer around and loaded the trailer tongue into the bucket and pulled it about 1/2 mile back to the turnoff.  Driving in reverse on the tractor pulling a large dual axle trailer in the mud was slow and eventually I had to stop and reorganize.  On more stable ground I reversed the tractor and was able to pull the trailer in rain.  Getting back to the estate the trailer was quickly unloaded and the fun began.  Even with the rain the guests had a good time and I look forward to more retreats.  Fortunately the weather started to clear Sunday and the guests were able to enjoy some of the views from the estate. 

I should note that I have not looked at the road to the estate yet but suspect there is some road work to do after an inch of winter rain and lots of vehicles.

A muddy tractor after pulling vehicles and trailers out of the mud.



It is easy to get lost in southern New Mexico, whether distracted by the views of the landscape or just trying to find your way.  Online and GPS maps of the area were out of date with roads that did not exist, directions that would not work, and guests coming to the Painted Pony Resort would often have some difficulty finding the place.  So additional maps to the estate were created and online mapping services were provided with updates to allow guests to find their way. 

A view this morning though provides evidence that getting lost in New Mexico is not limited to those driving.  Upon exiting the trailer this morning I noticed the contrails from 2 jets above the Peloncillo mountains.  One was a zigzag line while the other shorter one was straight.  My conclusion - another visitor to the area got lost.  I don't know if it is true but but it is consistent with guests sometimes having trouble finding the estate.  Unfortunately the jet could not pull over and ask directions, the runways on the estate are to short.

Lost, not lost
Presumably not lost, a launch from White Sands Missile Range did occur yesterday according to their facebook page and is the most likely explanation for the zigzag contrail.


Merchandising the Painted Pony Resort

Recently, the owner revived an idea we had discussed and worked on in the past, specifically merchandise from the Painted Pony Resort.  We discussed a number of logo options and the owner decided on a prehistoric sun sign similar to that found on the New Mexico state flag.  The sun sign is meant as a reminder of the deep blue cloudless sunny skies New Mexico is blessed with, and that the estate experiences more than 300 days/yr of cloudless skies.  Of course the estate name is prominently displayed as well at the registered trademark "An Escape To Tranquil Beauty".  After much searching, a vendor who could provide all the items we wished and in quantities that fit the initial budget, we settled on Discount mugs.  The logo was chosen and an image cleaned and formatted for printing.  After uploading the final design the products were ordered including hats, tee shirts, travel mugs, and can koozies, all useful items a guest would use on a visit to the estate.  All the items arrived in a timely fashion after approving and online proof of each item and the quality of each was good.  I immediately snagged a travel mug since I consume coffee constantly and was in need of a new mug for use on the tractor and Kubota.  These 14 oz mugs do not leak and hold enough coffee for several hours of work on the estate.  After building a small glass case to display the items which was placed in the computer room, samples of each item were arranged for viewing.  Now guests may purchase a memento of their visit to the estate, or pick up an item they would find useful during their visit.

Travel mugs, hats, tee shirts, and can koozies from the Painted Pony Resort

Merchandise display case in the main house computer room.


Cave Creek Canyon: Revealing the Heart of Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains

The first major publication from the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon is back from the publishers and available for purchase.  With 45 chapters, each written by a local expert, the book covers topics including background on the sky islands, geology, all the different types of wildlife, and much much more.  A true labor of love this will be the goto book about the Chiricahua Mountains for the next several decades.  It is available at the Chiricahua Desert Museum or may be ordered from the museum.  It should also be available from Amazon at some point.  There will be a book signing party at the desert museum on Jan 31st from 3-6 PM, where all the authors will be available to sign their chapters for those wishing individualized copies.

friends of cave creek canyon
The new book from the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon



This year has seen a bumper crop of tumbleweed on the landscape.  Since the guests at Christmas I have been hauling dead tumbleweed from around the Painted Pony Resort.  The quarter mile of fence at the north end of the estate has been cleaned 4 times to keep the driveway open.  The west fence line has also been cleaned and worked has centered around the houses, filling the tractor bucket and placing the dead tumbleweeds over the fence so they can continue their free range existence on the surrounding state land.  A problem arises with old fence lines where the buildup of tumbleweed can take down a fence so I'm always adding new t-posts to old fence lines to insure they stay in place, keeping cattle out and protecting existing landscape restoration efforts.  While cleaning yesterday I found this monster 5' tumbleweed by the front garden.  Coming from somewhere south of the estate it was completely dried and spreading seed as it rolled north crossing fence lines on the landscape.  Fortunately, herbicide keeps all graveled areas free of major tumbleweed problems but garden areas always have a crop of free range tumbleweed which I pull before they get big.  The only way I know to get rid of tumbleweed on the landscape is to out compete them with native grasses which means landscape restoration, encouraging both topsoil deposition and new grasses on the estate, but there is nothing I can accomplish with the surrounding state and federal lands except encourage and promote wise land management practices.

A 5' tumbleweed

a second view


Creating an Online Presence

Creating and building an online presence, whether for business or personal pleasure is not an easy task.  The number of failures far exceeds the number of successes as exemplified by some of the material available online.  Presenting oneself to the planet is a delicate task, requiring forethought and planning to avoid embarrassment or worse.  In this age of "me" or individualized presentations exemplified by the rapid rise of social media sites, without sufficient care an off chance remark easily leads to to dissatisfaction and at worst a backlash.  Presenting something positive and avoiding a backlash is especially important if the online presence is in support of a business.

The guiding principle utilized in material posted to the blogs or websites is nothing is published that my mother would not find enjoyable to read or see, followed closely by - if in doubt don't publish it.  These 2 simple canons prevent 95% of potential errors, followed by the realization that "language is our common currency and some days my wallet is empty" or we all make mistakes and sometimes it is better to admit the mistake and push ahead.

Equally important for the creation of a effective online presentation is the question - is it about people and personalities or is it about ideas and concepts.  With the rise of social media the people and personalities approach is encouraged.  A good example of this is the foxification of news reporting where Fox has been highly successful in the people and personality approach to news.  But frequently the people and personalities over shadow the ideas and concepts (the news as facts and information) and this can easily lead to problems and a back lash.  To circumvent this potential problem a nom de plume or pen name is used on the blogs so readers may concentrate on the material presented and not the individual presenting it.  Pen names have a rich history and it a convenient way to focus attention away from the individual.  It also provides a mechanism to participate in the individualized presentations of social media.  The nom de plume BAlvarius serves such a function allowing the focus to remain on the ideas and concepts while at the same time providing a personality for those interested.  While many adopt a nom de plume for less than savory reasons, mainly to attack others from a perceived position  of anonymity, the pen name is best used to convey ideas and concepts, letting the reader make up their own mind about the quality and content.

One of the fundamental principles in building a successful online presence is once the material is out there how do people find it?  How to connect with a potential readership?  A number of mechanisms are promoted by various sources, just Google "building blog readership".  Many claim to have a number of secrets to increase readership, some of which are useful and some not.  Many of the techniques are geared toward driving traffic to a monetized site as a way to generate profit.  To avoid these approaches no ads are used on the blogs creating an environment free from distractions which can reduce the quality of a visit.  Instead, everything presented is created here expressly for the enjoyment of readers, no recycling or aggregation which would rely on the work of others.  Photography is main tool used to create material for consumption and living in a landscape that is easy on the eyes helps.  Electronic devices from phones to desk top computers have embedded cameras supporting the notion that our species is very visual and responds well to images.  But where to place all this created material and how to direct potential viewers back to the source?  With photographs there are many online resources for the storage of photographs, see below, and many of these sites allow one to create back links providing a pathway back to the source.  In addition to visuals participating and commenting on other sites is also a good mechanism for providing links back to original work.  In Blogger, links lead back to a Google page and in others a website link may be added to the avatar when commenting allowing interested parties to find out more.  This was used successfully by some businesses which commented on posts that were high in the Google rankings as a way to provide links to their particular business which related directly to the topic under discussion.  While some may consider this a form of spam, presenting the opportunity for a visitor to visit another business seems reasonable.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned from all this effort was the 1% observation.  That is only 1% will ever find the site, and only 1% of those will take the time to view the material, and of those only 1% will like it.

A visual representation of back links created to Blogging from the Boot Heel and ultimately to the Painted Pony Resort

BAlvarius out geocaching.