ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s note: A previous version of this story contained incorrect information about the closing of the road to Sandia Crest. Access will remain open to homes and businesses from N.M. 14 up to the Forest Service boundary.
Talk about good timing. When Donna Sobien in February chose Sunday as the date for an annual family reunion at the Doc Long picnic area in the Cibola National Forest, she barely got in under the wire before authorities declared the picnic area would close today because of high fire danger.
“We just timed it perfectly; boy, did we sneak it in,” she said, as she continued making sandwiches at the Ashbacher family reunion, while about two dozen family members enjoyed a picnic lunch and renewed old ties.
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“My name is Donna Sobien, not Clair Voyant,” the Albuquerque woman said. “If I had scheduled it for next week, I would have had to move the reunion to our backyard, and that’s not as much fun, and where would everyone have parked?”
Also attending the reunion was Somerset Gallmeyer, who supported the closures, adding that she’d like to see stiffer penalties for people who cause a fire through carelessness.
“I always see cigarette smokers toss their cigarettes out the window, and I’d like to see those people charged with attempted arson,” she said.
Cibola National Forest officials plan to close most of the Sandias at 8 a.m. today, including Highway 536 at N.M. 14, which is the road to Sandia Crest. However, access to homes and businesses on Highway 536 will be allowed up to the Forest Service boundary, about 2 miles west of N.M. 14.
People can still get to the crest via the tram, but can’t go into surrounding forest land. The foothills trail, or Forest Trail 365, all along the west length of the Sandias, will remain open, as will Elena Gallegos Picnic Area. Also remaining open are Forest Roads 242 and 413.
Drought conditions and very high fire danger prompted officials to close all areas of the Sandia district in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, while the Rio Grande bosque was also closed, though access is still available to the river on bike trails, through ditch levees, or well built designated trails. The entire Mountainair Ranger District is also closed.
The closures will continue through the end of the year or until significant rains ease the drought.
Meanwhile, firefighters continued to battle the Thompson Ridge and Tres Lagunas fires in northern New Mexico. At the Tres Lagunas fire north of Pecos, several bear sightings prompted officials to warn residents not to leave food or garbage where bears can get to it.
On Sunday in the Albuquerque metro area, trails were packed with hikers at several popular hiking spots, as they took advantage of last minute treks before restrictions go into effect today. In interviews, most supported the closures.
“Until things get better, I think it’s the right thing to do until the rains come back,” said Aaron Dixon, hiking the lower portion of La Luz trail with Tonya Munding and her 9-year-old daughter, Ashton Munding, along with their dog Paxton.
“I just don’t want to see the mountains burned anymore,” Ashton said, adding that she likes to hike in the mountains “because of how old they are, and how big the rocks are, and how pretty the colors mix together in the rocks.”
Finishing their hike at the Pino Canyon Trail at the Elena Gallegos Picnic area, Lyle and Kimberly Pino said they opposed the closures. Both said they didn’t think the closures would prevent careless behavior by some people.
Lyle carried his 2-year-old son Sebastian, followed by Kimberly, carrying 16-month-old daughter, Leah, in a baby backpack.
“I can understand why they’re doing it,” Lyle Pino said. “But I can’t see how it’s going to help anything.”
Kimberly Pino said hiking is a different kind of recreation she and other people enjoy, adding it’s going to be hard for her family to find another suitable hiking spot.
“It’s really unfortunate,” she said.