Gary Chappel is bundled up tight against the cold. Despite the hooded parka, the skin surrounding his bearded face is pink and his nose is red.
It is 6 a.m. this weekday morning at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, south of Socorro, and the 60-year-old physician from Winter Haven, Fla., is patiently waiting for sunrise. His gloved hands hold a rather large camera, while another with an enormous lens is mounted on a tripod.
Just after 6:30 a.m., the horizon to the east begins to illuminate. The soft but constant chatter from ducks, snow geese and sandhill cranes gets progressively louder as the sky turns shades of amber, red and purple.
With a sudden thunderous flapping of wings, tens of thousands of birds become airborne in the first wave of a morning flyout.
Chappel presses the shutters on his cameras, capturing moments in time that will never be repeated in exactly the same way.
He is not alone. To his left and his right, lined up along a dirt road that runs adjacent to a large wetland area, are other people outfitted with camera gear. They, too, awoke early in the morning darkness and cold to see, hear and photograph the wintering water fowl in their stunning natural habitat.
As things settle down, Chappel reviews some of his shots on the preview screens of his cameras. He stops at a photo of birds, frozen in various poses of flight, juxtaposed against a fiery sunrise.
The 27th annual Festival of the Cranes will be held Tuesday through next Sunday at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro.
Among the 142 events scheduled are tours, lectures and workshops on identifying birds, bird behaviors, and photographing and videotaping of birds.
Some of the events are free, though many require a fee and have limited space.
For a description of events and details, go to festivalofthecranes.com.
Today in Albuquerque, the Return of the Sandhill Crane Celebration takes place with free events scheduled from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m. at the Open Space Visitor Center, 6500 Coors NW.
Events include walking tours, bird displays, lectures and live music.
Call 897-8831 for more information or visit cabq.gov/openspace/visitorcenter.html.
“Wow! This is why I do this,” he says, exhaling cloudy wisps of moisture into the cold morning air. “Photography is really an excuse to come here. How else would I ever get to see something like this? There’s nothing like this in Florida. I’m a radiologist, so I look at pictures of people all day. This is much prettier and less depressing.”
Established in 1939, the Bosque del Apache is located along the Rio Grande Corridor, “a main migratory flyway in North America,” says Sean Brophy, the assistant refuge manager. “We get a tremendous abundance and variety of birds, some using the refuge as a stopover during their annual migration, but also many thousands of others that stay here through the winter.”
The refuge is 57,331 acres, of which 10,000 are managed as wetlands, Brophy says. In all, more than 530 species of birds can be seen throughout the year in addition to more common four-legged critters, including mule deer, coyotes, javelina, raccoon, beavers, bobcats and the occasional mountain lion and black bear.
Photography hobbyist Raybel Robles, 28, a resident of Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, was in the right place at the right time when he unexpectedly photographed a coyote stalking and setting its jaws into a snow goose.
An accountant assistant, Robles said he and his girlfriend, also a hobby photographer, planned their visit around a trip to the Bosque del Apache.
“I heard about it in an online forum for people who photograph birds, which is my main subject,” he says. “Finding different birds to photograph is very challenging but also very rewarding when you get a great shot. If it was easy, you’d get bored quickly.”
Robles, who was in his third day visiting the refuge, says his most lasting impressions are “images of the birds with the mountains in the background, and the beautiful light.”
Larry Kimball and his wife, Barbara Magnuson, both professional photographers from Cotopaxi, Colo., have visited the Bosque del Apache about a half-dozen times in the last decade.
“It’s spectacular. It’s not like anything you can see anyplace else – the sheer number of birds, the colors, the killer sunrises,” says Kimball, 67.
“I love coming down here, particularly at this time of the year with the autumn colors,” says Magnuson, 62. “It’s different each time we come, and we don’t know what to expect. Last year, we saw coyotes lying in the grass waiting for some snow geese. The birds, the wildlife, scenery, colors – there are just so many options and potential subjects.”
Mike Cohen, 64, a retired attorney from Lighthouse Point, Fla., has been visiting the Bosque del Apache every day for nearly two weeks. He parks his camper van at a nearby RV park.
Although mainly interested in the sandhill cranes, the numbers of other bird species make the entire spectacle “kind of overwhelming and magnificent.”
Cohen was waiting along a field where a couple of thousand snow geese were feeding in the grass.
“It’s exciting when in a sudden burst they all take off at once,” he said. “I’ve got one camera set up with a fast shutter speed to capture action all in focus, and one camera with a slow shutter speed and a neutral density filter to purposely blur the shot, making it more artistic.”
For Phoenix resident Gerry Vandaele, 73, photographing the birds and wildlife at the refuge is his way of sending the message that nature is important and to see it now, while it’s still here.
“I worry that the wildlife will disappear and we won’t be able to see it anymore,” said the retired phone systems engineer. “I’m trying to capture the moment because, you never know, it may not come again. Different species are becoming extinct all over the world. I worry about that for my grandchildren.”
By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer - Las Cruces Bureau
PUBLISHED: Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 12:05 am
CIUDAD JUÃREZ – This border city, forced to its knees for so long by drug violence, is slowly getting back on its feet.
Once famed for its nightlife and frequented by Hollywood stars – and more recently demonized as the world’s deadliest city – Ciudad Juárez is struggling to remake its image to its residents and the world.
Pedestrians on a new plaza in front of the Museum of the Revolution in Ciudad Juárez. Vehicle traffic once clogged this area but was redirected in an effort to make it more appealing to pedestrians. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
The city’s modest revival can be seen in the remodeling of storefronts downtown, along a newly created pedestrian avenue in the historic center, at the packed outdoor markets where locals shop for trendy clothes, in the crowds lounging around the city’s historic plaza on a sunny weekday morning.
Mayor Enrique Serrano says the city government has secured more than $225 million from the Mexican federal government for redevelopment projects to remake key areas of the city, most notably a planned rehabilitation of the shabby historic downtown, but also a new convention center and a hospital, road repairs, new street lamps, public pools and neighborhood parks, and a new rapid transit bus line.
Serrano finishes a sentence: The plans sound so ambitious “as if it was a lie.” Or as if the city now hopes to do all it could not do during the worst years of shootouts and massacres.
Changing how people see the city “is a question of time and work,” Serrano said.
He writes off public relations campaigns as creating “false expectations” but says he wants people to know the city is enjoying “relative calm, so that people come back, the Americans from Albuquerque who came to our restaurants, to our nightlife, to our markets.”
War and peace
Murders have dropped dramatically in a city known up until recently as the world’s most violent.
The traditional flow of visitors to Ciudad Juárez from New Mexico – of families traveling to reunite with relatives, of party-going college students looking for a good time, of tourists curious for a taste of Mexico so close to the U.S. – all but stopped as Mexico’s drug war heated up in 2006 and the city became a violent focal point.
In a three-year period through 2010, during which criminal organizations battled for control of this key entry point to the lucrative U.S. drug market, more than 10,000 people were killed in Juárez, according to Chihuahua state statistics. Widespread extortion and kidnapping financed a bloody turf war and drove tens of thousands of residents out of the city, many to towns in New Mexico and Texas.
Then, the mayhem began to subside.
Homicides dropped to under 500 last year from more than 3,000 in 2010 – a rate now comparable to some U.S. cities. Other crime indicators like kidnapping and extortion have plummeted.
Gateway to Mexico
Things have gotten good enough that the new city government plans an ambitious makeover of the historic downtown and a popular entertainment district known as the Pronaf, while the tourism department plans to hawk the news of Juárez’s recovery from El Paso to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, despite the mayor’s stated disinterest in marketing campaigns. A tourism outpost is planned for the El Paso Saddleblanket store on I-10.
“The objective is to transform the gateways to Ciudad Juárez, which are also the gateways to Mexico,” said Adrian Gonzalez Jaimes, secretary of tourism for the city. “The project downtown is about that, to help its resurgence and revival. It takes time.”
The city may still have a long way to go, but its residents – and an adventurous few tourists – have returned to its markets and bars, malls and museums. That’s in part thanks to the success of the city’s first effort: convincing residents to shed their fears and return to their normal lives.
The city circulated a video last fall meant to rekindle residents’ pride in themselves and their troubled border city. The video – which opens with hard-working Juárenses rising at dawn and shows all the best aspects of the city’s industry and culture – made the rounds of social media.
“What happened in Juárez – no one was ready for that,” said Gonzalez Jaimes. “But I can tell you that today there are many more good things than the bad we had during that time. We have been working to raise consciousness with our people and the result is this: We have commercial corridors that are totally full on weekends. The nightlife that had basically stopped is back.”
Signs of life
Rich Wright, an El Paso-based writer, began advertising walking tours to Juárez a few months ago.
About his ad, he said, “I thought, ‘This will be a performance art piece.’ I was amazed when someone called.”
He has guided a handful of people on tours of Juárez’s history and its bars and says he is skeptical of the city’s urban renewal plans – of its ability to follow through and its commitment to preserving the city’s historical areas.
A seedy downtown district known as the Mariscal, famed for its bars and brothels, has been torn down. On a recent walk, Wright pointed to a small, newly paved square ringed by abandoned, half-demolished buildings – where there is no sign yet of new construction.
A few streets over, a different remodeling project offers a bright spot.
“You can no longer compare (Juárez today) with the turbulence, the chaos,” Carlos Rocha, an attendant at the Museum of the Revolution at the Border, says of the recovery.
Housed in the stately former Mexican customs building and remodeled in 2011, the white-walled galleries feature memorabilia of the life and times of Mexico’s revolutionaries, especially Pancho Villa. On Sundays, the museum hosts puppet shows for children.
On the newly paved pedestrian walkway of Avenida 16 de Septiembre, Joel Alberto Rivera manned a cart loaded with jugs of agua fresca – drinks of pineapple, cantaloupe and milky horchata. The city is building tunnels to push vehicles below ground in the congested downtown. People now stroll the wide avenue in peace.
“It’s just a few,” Rivera said, “but now you are starting to see tourists.”
CRYSTAL – Jasper Peshlakai’s niece stumbled through the door of his small house on top of a hill in the middle of the forest late at night last week, smelling of alcohol and nursing deep scratches down her arms.
Jasper Peshlakai stands In front of his home atop a hill near Crystal on Thursday, recounting the story his niece told him about the niece’s kicking a mother and her 13-month-old child out of her truck. The child was found dead the next morning in a culvert. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
The unexpected Jan. 30 visit from his niece, whom he hadn’t seen in around five years, became even more alarming when she told him that she had abandoned a woman and her 13-month-old child a couple miles down the hill, Peshlakai said. The niece told Peshlakai that she and the woman had gotten into a fight while drinking and driving on the way to visit her uncle, so she kicked the woman and the child out of her truck and continued up the hill to her uncle’s house.
Peshlakai said he urged his niece to go back down the hill and get the mother and her toddler.
“But she just kept changing the subject,” Peshlakai told the Journal on a chilly afternoon this week in the small Navajo Reservation town. “Next thing I know, she was tired and went to bed.”
Shortly after 7 a.m. the next morning, Jan. 31, the body of a young child was found in shallow, icy water in a metal culvert at the bottom of the hill. Most Crystal residents politely declined to say what they knew of the death, but several others described seeing a parade of local and federal law enforcement combing through the scene that morning, in addition to a woman seated on the dirt road, distraught and wrapped in blankets.
The FBI, which said it is continuing its investigation, has not released the names of the mother or her child. FBI officials said they have questioned the mother and are waiting for the results of an autopsy from the state Office of the Medical Investigator. A Navajo Nation Police Department captain, reached Friday, said he was not familiar with the case, and a Navajo Nation Department of Justice official said that the case will likely be prosecuted federally.
The cause of death has not been released, and it’s unclear whether the mother was ever arrested or just questioned.
A spokesman for the hospital at Fort Defiance told the Navajo Times that the mother of the victim was treated at the hospital’s emergency room. However, an emergency room employee reviewed hospital logs and told the Journal that the hospital had no patients the morning of Jan. 31 who could have been the mother. The hospital spokesman did not return repeated calls for comment.
Peshlakai said he told investigators about his niece’s visit and what she had said. He said the they were very interested in her whereabouts, but he didn’t know what to tell them. She has no phone, he said, and he doesn’t know where she has been living for the past five years. She was gone when he returned from a day trip to Gallup on Jan. 31, he said.
He also said he has no idea where his niece met the mother or where they were coming from, and he didn’t know whether the two were related or even friends. Temperatures in nearby Navajo, N.M., that night hovered just above freezing.
When asked whether he felt any blame or guilt about the child’s death, he said he has been running through scenarios in his mind since that night – but he just doesn’t know yet. He also said he doesn’t have a phone.
All of the Crystal residents who were willing to talk about the death said they don’t know who the mother was or where she was from. In the 2,000-population town, residents said, it’s pretty clear when someone is an outsider.
Word about the child’s death spread quickly through the town that morning.
Jacey McCurtian, president of the Crystal Chapter, told residents in a community meeting Jan. 31 not to speak of the case as the investigation runs its course, residents said. About a dozen residents approached by the Journal in the Crystal senior center and in remote homes dotting the hills in the area declined to comment about the death, often saying first, “I can’t say anything,” then later, “I don’t know anything.”
But a few were willing to briefly discuss what they saw.
Longtime Crystal resident Franklin Mose said he walked near the culvert on the morning of Jan. 31 and spotted what he thought was a white, shining rock inside the culvert that runs below the dirt road that leads up the hill. He later returned to see a flurry of police activity and learned that he had actually seen the child’s naked body, face down in the water.
By Thursday of this week, when a Journal reporter and photographer walked by, the creek had mostly frozen over. There was no sign that a child had died there less than a week earlier.
Another Crystal resident, Jerry Kee, who was born in a hogan on the same hill and lived on the same plot of land his whole life, said a Navajo Police Department officer knocked on his door last week, asking for the Peshlakai house.
He said his son, on his way to Gallup early Jan. 31, saw the mother sitting at the scene wrapped in blankets while police investigated. He did not know her, but stopped to talk to her briefly.
Just because the woman and her child were likely not from Crystal doesn’t diminish the tragedy, Kee said.
“It’s kind of really shocking,” Kee said. “It’s heartbreaking for all of us. It’s just a little baby.”
Story by Lauren Villagran/Journal
ANAPRA, Mexico – One frigid Saturday morning in a neighborhood at the rough edge of Ciudad Juárez, a cheerful group of mothers and children, many of them with special needs, gathered at a clinic founded and run by New Mexico’s Sisters of Charity.
A few mothers tended chiles and potatoes on the stove while the children played Candyland near an artificial Christmas tree, while others helped out feeding the youngsters who cannot feed themselves. Behind a curtain dividing the two-room clinic, mothers and one father performed the physical therapies the nuns have taught them, as they struggle – with spare resources – to care for their children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other conditions.
Proyecto Santo Niño began in 2003 as a free health clinic where Dr. Janet Gildea, a Catholic sister and family practitioner, offered medical services to one of Juárez’s most troubled and impoverished areas. Over time, it evolved to specialize in providing physical therapy to poor families with special needs children, an especially needy group that is often underserved by Mexican health services. Today, the clinic serves some 30 families who flock there from all over the city.
“This is a very special place,” said Lucy Trejo de la Torre, whose daughter Nena suffers from a degenerative neurological condition, Lennox Gastault, and autism. “Because in Juárez, it’s very difficult to find therapies for our children. Why? Because they are very, very expensive. So you either eat or you go to therapy.”
How to help
Tax-deductible donations can be made out to the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati specifying “Proyecto Santo Niño” on the memo line and mailed to:
Sisters of Charity 260 Sombra Verde Anthony, NM 88021
Gildea and two other sisters, Carol Wirtz and Peggy Deneweth, teach the parents that they are the ones best-suited to perform the therapy – physical and sensory exercises, reiki and other therapeutic activities – because they know their children best, and they can practice what they learn at home.
“Sister taught us how to do physical therapies but also reiki,” Trejo de la Torre said. In reiki, practitioners place their hands lightly on or just above a person, with the goal of taking advantage of the person’s own healing response or energy.
“It’s been wonderful because it goes much deeper, and the children are very relaxed, very tranquil,” she said.
The morning’s high spirits and holiday cheer masked the week’s double tragedies. Just a few blocks away, a family held a wake for a special needs child who had died the day before. The children are so fragile, Gildea says. So is life in a city that until recently had been the central battleground of a brutal drug war and where the violence, although greatly reduced, continues. Another special needs child lost her father and cousin earlier that week to gunfire.
The concrete-block clinic had no running water when it opened a decade ago. Neither did many homes in Anapra, a settlement that has gradually become part of greater Juárez. The city eventually paved the main road and delivered basic services, although most offshoot roads are dirt and pocked with holes. Three days a week, the Sisters travel from La Union, N.M., in Doña Ana County, over the border and into Anapra.
Gildea says she founded the clinic to offer family medicine to the community, but that changed when a woman arrived with a severely underweight newborn, a “peanut-sized baby,” she said, with Down syndrome. The woman came again and again asking for help and advice on how to care for him.
“For him, we started the early infant stimulation,” Gildea said. “She would run into people with special kids and would say, ‘You need to take him to the nuns!’ So they started coming, and that’s how Santo Niño started here. It’s been just one amazing story after the next.”
The baby boy only lived to be 15 months old and weighed 10 pounds when he died – the kind of tragedy that prompts people to wonder, ” ‘Why does God allow this?’ ” said Gildea. “Well, his little life … He was the founder of this place that has taken care of so many more special kids. We’ve had several children who have died, but each one has brought a special thing to us and has done something with their little life, if only letting us give ourselves to help them.”
The spirit of the place
While brothers and sisters play on one side of the clinic, the therapy begins in the other room.
Juan Martinez Treviño, his 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son attend to Luis Pablo, who is 16 and suffers from a severe form of cerebral palsy. His arms and legs are thin as bone and, stretched out on a bed, he fills only half of it. The family prepares him for hydrotherapy: a relaxing dip and massage in the clinic’s hot water jacuzzi.
Trejo de la Torre pitches in, as does another mother, together lowering Luis Pablo into the water but holding onto him firmly. He cannot speak or walk or hold himself upright, but he grins and shrieks with joy in the bath.
In the opposite corner, three women – all mothers whose special needs children have passed – lay their hands on Oscar, a 3-year-old with an unidentified syndrome; his mother, Maria Eugenia Valverde Diaz, lost two previous sons to the same affliction. The women are quiet as they practice reiki, and Oscar dozes. Photos of their children who have passed are pinned on the wall beside them.
“We share the majority of the pain,” said Isidra Sanchez Herrera while feeding Oscar earlier that morning. “For those of us who have already gone through it … Since (my son) died, I felt worthless. We’re worth so much to them.”
That is the spirit of the place: All of the parents, most often the mothers, care for each other’s children and lean on one another for support.
“In a way, this place supplements the absence and failings of the state,” said Cristina Coronado, who began volunteering at the clinic during a battle with cancer. “If this space wasn’t here, there would be many families who would just be living in a country where the resources for health and education aren’t a priority.”
Trejo de la Torre says the Sisters “are the best thing that has happened in the mothers’ lives here, because they have taught us so many things. The therapy isn’t just for (the children), it’s for us, too.”
Singing of the National Anthem during a 4th of July celebration in Roy, New Mexico.