Monday, November 25, 2019

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: Abó Ruins, New Mexico ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness: Abo Ruins, New Mexico" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 11/25/19.

Mission San Gregorio de Abó

In the 2009 documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Director Ken Burns spoke about the grandeur of a world known as Yellowstone National Park, as well as less familiar National Park Service areas, such as Abó Ruins, an integral part of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico.
Burns once said: “We are all co-owners of some of the most beautiful places in the world. And ownership suggests only modest, in this case, responsibilities. Go out and visit your property. Make sure it’s being taken care of. That is, be a good constituent of them, and make sure they’re being taken care of for future generations.”
Those words linger in my mind as I ride my motorcycle along some quiet highways in central New Mexico. At least once a year I travel to the badlands of New Mexico to reconnect with my heritage and explore some of the state’s many lesser-known national park areas.
My sister Elva and her husband, Robert Esquibel, live on their 40-acre ranch next to the Abó Ruins. I’ll take this opportunity to visit them and explore this area. They know that I plan to write a story about the area and they immediately offer some colorful history. Robert’s father, Nick, was a subsistence farmer and grew many crops, including pinto beans. He was also a schoolteacher and conservationist. We walk around the ruins and the history begins to unfold. “Federico Sisneros, Abó’s caretaker, is buried just over there,” Elva tells me. The small visitors center offers a wealth of history, but I can’t stop thinking about the man buried here.
The Sisneros family has been in New Mexico for over 13 generations. The early families attempted to settle in Abó but were attacked by Apaches and left; they returned when the area became more peaceful, building houses near the pueblo ruins.
Federico Sisneros was born in 1894, and when he was 5 years old his father gave him the responsibility to care for the Mission San Gregorio de Abó. Initially his job was to keep the family’s sheep from licking the old stones for salt. Eventually, the sheep would destroy the ancient walls, which were considered holy. Sisneros married and began a family of his own and continued to care for the ruins at Abó. In the early 1930s, he sold Abó with the understanding that it would be better cared for under the protection of the state of New Mexico. Sisneros continued to live nearby and care for the ruins.
In 1980, the state turned Abó and Quari, another state monument, over to the National Park Service. The sites were combined with Gran Quivara National Monument to form the new Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. Sisneros stayed on as National Park Service ranger, caring for and living next to the monument. He led numerous tours of the area.
I remember Sisneros from my days working for the National Park Service. He was considered at the time to be the oldest living park ranger. Sisneros’ lifetime devotion as a caretaker didn’t go unnoticed. In 1981, he received the prestigious Superior Service Award for his decades of work. I recall being very proud of him and his dedication, even though I never met the man.
Sisneros worked until the day he died, March 12, 1988. His final wish was to be buried on the north side of the ruins of San Gregorio de Abó. In a rare case of bureaucracy, the National Park Service honored his devotion and granted his final request.
Ken Burns’ challenge was admirably met by Federico Sisneros, Abó Ruins honored caretaker.

Federico Sisneros, whose ancestors assisted in resettling Abó in 1869, served as caretaker for the Abó Ruins site, 
now part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument; he became known as the oldest park ranger in America.
He was buried at the monument in honor of his final wish.

Text and Photography: Robert Griego

Visiting Abó Ruins can be an easy daytrip; enjoy a picnic while there.
Gran Quivira National Monument was established on November 1, 1909. Quarai and Abó, themselves national monuments since 1962, joined the Gran Quivira National Monument in the early 1980s. In 1988, the monument was renamed the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument; it continues to stand as reminder of a time when the cultures of the American Indians and the Spanish converged.
Stop at the visitors center for information on a variety of activities, including ranger-led tours, self-guided walks, picnicking, and stargazing.

One of my favorite motorcycle rides (256 miles) when visiting Abó is east on US Route 60 toward Mountainair, then south on NM 55, stopping by Gran Quivira, and then continuing south on US 54 to Carrizozo, then east on US 380 to Capitan, then south to Ruidoso, Tularosa, Alamogordo, and finally Las Cruces.
The Salinas Pueblo Missions Visitor Center in Mountainair is open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The three park Mission Units (Abó, Quarai, and Gran Quivira) are open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. Salinas Pueblo Missions is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The park may also be closed due to inclement weather. During winter, call ahead to check the status.
Admission is free.

For more information, visit

Monday, November 11, 2019

~ Our Desert Jewels: The Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall ~

Our Desert Jewels

The Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall

Text and Photography: Robert Griego

Einstein knew, that even at the speed of light, you could only be in one place at one time.

Veterans Day is a special time to thank, honor, and remember our veterans. 

This Veterans Day, two special events are occurring in the Antelope Valley and Sequoia National Park, nearly 200 miles apart. As fate would have it, and with a little help from friends, I attended both Veterans Day Celebrations over the last few days.

Sandy Smith, Executive Director for Destination Lancaster recently invited me to visit Lancaster to experience their downtown stretch, The BLVD which was recently named a California Cultural District. She also encouraged me to visit California State Parks in the region – Red Rock Canyon, Saddleback Butte, Vazquez Rocks, Devil’s Punchbowl, Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland, Antelope Valley Indian Museum, and of course the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

The Hanger - Lancaster, CA.

A week ago I heard about the mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall where bikers were invited to “escort” the Wall from Lancaster to Palmdale on Thursday, November 7, 2019.  “Sandy, this is a perfect opportunity to visit Lancaster and return to Three Rivers for another special Veterans Day event.  Do you know who is organizing the event?” Sandy’s not a biker but she knows someone who would know – Ron Emard, owner of Antelope Harley-Davidson.

I called Ron and he said, “Stacia Nemeth is the person that knows everything about this event. Later, I would stop by his dealership in Lancaster and visit with him. He is an amazing person, a bad-ass biker, and well respected in the Antelope Valley. I loved all the artwork in his shop, including his framed, historic Flag with 48 stars!

A safety briefing before the escort.

Bikers line-up in front of HW Hunter Ram of the West.

A warm welcome by Miss North Los Angeles and Miss Lancaster.

Stacia Nemeth is the Co-chair of the 10th Anniversary AVWall Committee. She was informative and passionate and within ten minutes of talking to her on the phone, I knew I had to be there.  

I left the very next day.  I wrote down what she said, “The escort begins at HW Hunter Ram of the West at 43226 10th St W, Lancaster and ends at the Palmdale Amphitheater at 2723 Rancho Vista Blvd, Palmdale. 

This wall is a bridge between Lancaster and Palmdale. I’m not sure how many bikers will turn out but thank you for joining the escort.”

Wonder Woman or Co-Chair of the 10th Anniversary AV Wall Committee.
Stacia Nemeth 

Later, the Basic AV Wall Facts brochure stated that “The full name of this wall is The Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall.  Because it was created in the Antelope Valley, it goes by the nickname The AV Wall and is a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Point Man Antelope Valley (PMAV) is the guardian of the AV Wall and is responsible for its maintenance, storage, and travel…The AV Wall is engraved with the names of more than 58,300 men and women who gave their lives or remain missing.”

From the moment I arrived at HW Hunter Ram, I was impressed. There were flags everywhere and what seemed like hundreds of motorcycles. HW Hunter Ram provided a new 2019 Ram 2500 Bighorn to pull the trailer containing the seventy-six panels. Wow, first-class!

The Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall ~ AV*WALL: 10 years of bringing people together.

We would be escorted by Michael Courtial, Deputy Sheriff of the County of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and four additional Sheriff units. He explained the route and emphasized, safety above all else. Sheriff units blocked off all intersections as we passed without stopping. Now that’s a bikers’ dream, red lights, and sirens for us. We proceeded down The BLVD and cars pulled over, honking their horns. I remember a small lady on a corner waiving her flag as we passed. Kids jumped up and down. 

Perhaps, the most touching moment for me was seeing a man standing proudly saluting, as hundreds of us passed. I’m sure his salute remained until the final motorcycle passed.

AVWALL, Palmdale Amphitheater. 

(left) Michael Courtial - Deputy Sheriff, Stacia Nemeth - Co-Chair, and supporting Sheriff's.

Lead escort motorcycle.

There are seventy-six panels carried by two people to either the West or East section of the Wall. It was an honor to help assemble the Wall, knowing that the names of many of my Barstow, CA high school friends are inscribed there.  

There are 76 men from the Antelope Valley on the Wall. 

Each panel was handled with honor.

The Wall goes up one step at a time.

Work of love for the "Wall that Heals."

Everything must be perfect.

The names almost blinded me.

My good friend, Gene Christiansen. This piece of paper has been in my wallet for years.

(left) Robert Griego, Robert Martinez, Joe Enriquez - Barstow, CA
Gene Christiansen ~ b. 2/16/49 ~ d. 2/6/1969
"You are not forgotten" ~ Panel 33W, Line 70.

Our Nation is stronger because of them.

There are 76 men on the Wall from the Antelope Valley.

Leo Griego, my brother was unable to attend the ceremonies but he told me that he has seen the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. He recently retired after 46 years as a Detective for the Barstow Police Department. Our family, and the Barstow community, are very proud of him.

Leo Griego (left) Vietnam Veteran, '66 - 69'
Army - 101st & 82nd Airborne.

The 10th Anniversary Ceremony was led by inspiring speakers. Mike Bertell, President, AV Wall Committee and a Vietnam Veteran, ’70 -’71 set the stage with these ending remarks:

“The Wall in D.C. is known as The Wall That Heals. Spending time at the Wall can leave a lifelong impression. I am honored to have brought that healing opportunity to tens of thousands of people over the past ten years…God Bless.”

There are five mobile Vietnam Memorial Walls and the AVWall is deemed the best in our country.

Mike Bertell, President - Outpost Leader, Point Man Antelope Valley.

Ron Reyes, Gold Star Son.

There were bad-ass bikers with tears in their eyes, including me. Guest speakers like Ron Reyes, a Gold Star Son – Jose Ramos, U.S. Army (retired) and Senior Advisor to the Director of the U.S. 50th Vietnam War Commemoration – Carl Hernandez (read his poem, Does This Wall Really Heal) honored our Veterans.  

One distinguished speaker quoted President Barack Obama:

“And one of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam, most particularly how we treated our troops.  You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor.”

Before heading home to attend the Veterans Day Celebration at Sequoia National Park, I managed to visit Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland and the Antelope Valley Indian Museum. The Antelope Valley is a region that I intend to return to visit some of the outstanding State Parks.

Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park.

Prime Desert Woodland Preserve.

The TownPlace is centrally located in Lancaster, with full amenities for an extended stay.

Colonel Charles Young Memorial Highway Dedication occurred on November 11, 2019, at Sequoia National Park. 

He was born in 1864 during the Civil War to parents who were slaves in Kentucky.  In 1889, he graduated from West Point and began his military career.  In 1903 while still assigned to the 9th Cavalry, he served as Superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, making him the first black superintendent of a national park. He helped define what Ken Burns called “America’s Best Idea.”

Foothills Picnic Area, Sequoia National Park.

Colonel Charles Young is honored.

Colonel Charles Young was honored by Woody Smeck, Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Renotta Young, CEO of the Colonel Charles Young Foundation, Devon Mathis, 26th Assembly District, Jon Jarvis, Retired NPS Director, Dr. Joy Kinard, Superintendent of Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, and Shelton Johnson, Park Ranger of Yosemite National Park. 

Woody Smeck (center) Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Colonel Charles Young is honored with this Memorial Highway.

This Veterans Day, a portion of State Highway 198 near the Sequoia National Park Entrance was renamed "Colonel Charles Young Memorial Highway."

Three Rivers, CA honors Colonel Charles Young.