Back in the early 2000s, a bunch of boys from the football team at Los Alamos High School hatched a creative plan to ask their dates to senior prom. Laura Tietjen fondly recounts the story of how her boyfriend suggested a romantic walk to the edge of White Rock Canyon and waited for her to look over the edge.
“PROM?” was spelled out in old car tires at the bottom of the canyon.
“It was kind of sweet,” Tietjen says. “I thought it was exclusive to me, but I found out later that his teammates each used it to ask a girl.”
One man’s trash …
The White Rock “talking tires” had been used as an old-school message board of sorts for decades, and many local residents had fond memories revolving around the discarded wheels, especially as teenagers. Pot leaves, peace signs and vulgarities were also depicted by the tires on the canyon floor, and in March of last year, Los Alamos County decided it was time to haul the trash out of nature.
Peterson rallied volunteers, and over the course of a month, 108 tires were schlepped up the steep canyon by about 20 people. “Twice a week, sometimes on weekends and evenings, groups of volunteers – some County employees, some Mountaineers (a local rock climbing group), some from Los Alamos and some from White Rock – made the two-mile trek to remove tires,” Peterson said. “It was something else.”
According to the Illegal Dumping Act, “a person shall not store or dispose of scrap tires or tire-derived products in a manner that creates a public nuisance, promotes the breeding or harboring of disease vectors or creates a potential for fire.” There are also petroglyphs alongside the unofficial trail to the tires that have been vandalized and are protected resources.
A car tire weighs about 22 pounds, and some of these, discarded on the canyon floor for decades, were weighted down with accumulated sand and water. Peterson drilled holes in some tires before they were strapped to pack frames. “Instead of getting muck on our backs, we’d drain them and make sure no spiders and lizards were living in there,” he says.
Another man’s tradition
Residents of Los Alamos and White Rock aren’t shy about voicing their opposition to the actions of local government and community leaders, and social media commentary flared briefly around the tire removal project. Facebook commenters called the tires “iconic” and entertainment for teens with little else to keep them out of trouble in a small, rural town. They likened it to a community art installation that encouraged kids to connect with their friends. Some foretold that more tires would soon take their place, noting that it’s easier to get them down than up.
Others compared the talking tire removal to the end of the traditional painting of the rocks that formed a giant “LA” on the hill above Los Alamos, another hot-button issue among locals.
One longtime Los Alamos activist recalled the that “LA” dates to the 1950s, and that environmentalists erased the letters from the hillside in the 1960s. The high school tradition of painting the rocks evolved into an annual paint fight that spattered white paint on every rock between Perimeter Trail and the “LA”; the persistent paint remains. The Santa Fe National Forest has rebuffed efforts to renew the practice.
When he’s not managing volunteer crews, clearing the trails of downed trees, and writing proposals for new open space projects, Peterson is communicating and collaborating with the various trail users to make sure their needs are heard.
He filled his current position over two years ago after working in open space programs in Bernalillo County for many years. “There’s a lot of support for open space projects in Los Alamos, a lot of passion, which is a good problem to have.”