Margaret O’Hara of the Santa Fe New Mexican reports on a major dinosaur find in northwestern New Mexico. A private landowner in the San Juan Basin, which is rich in both fossil fuels and fossils, discovered a massive bone in the ground. It turned out to be a humerus from a Torosaurus latus, a cousin of the triceratops. The Torosaurus was a beast — its skull, alone, is some 10 feet long — that roamed the sultry swamps of the Cretaceous seashores here 66 million years ago. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see the actual skeleton anywhere near it’s former stomping grounds. Dinosaurs unearthed on private land are usually sold at a premium to museums or even individuals which seems wrong somehow, but hey, that’s capitalism for ya (the San Juan Basin Torosaurus will reside in a Danish museum). Interested in furnishing your living room with a T-Rex? One’s being auctioned off later this month for $5 million or more. Read more on the San Juan Basin’s deep history:
As long as we’re talking about the San Juan Basin … It might surprise some folks to hear that Farmington, New Mexico, had the nation’s largest percentage increase in home prices during the last quarter of 2022, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Why is it surprising? Because one of the region’s main economic engines, the San Juan Generating Station and associated coal mine, shut down at the end of September, which in theory should have sent a lot of high-wage earners and homeowners packing. And yet, that appears to have boosted home values, perhaps because the idea of one less pollution-belching coal plant makes the place more appealing to Zoom Boomers and retirees. But even with the big jump, Farmington remains relatively affordable. The median sale price is $380,000, which isn’t exactly cheap, but you can still find an actual house there for less than $200k. Compare that to a median sale price of $685,000 in Durango, just an hour north, where $350k will get you a 500 square foot condo built in the ‘80s — if you’re lucky. That’s why Farmington is more and more becoming the home to Durango’s priced-out workforce.
Once upon a time, those Farmington folks could have commuted to and from their Durango jobs via rail — a route that currently is devoid of any public transit whatsoever. A century ago, a pretty big swath of the West was spiderwebbed with rail lines, built to help industry colonize the region and exploit its natural resources. But they also provided transportation and mobility for folks in even otherwise isolated areas. Prior to the railroad’s 1882 arrival in Silverton, for example, townsfolk and supplies had to cross high mountain passes via horse and wagon in the summer and by ski/snowshoes in the winter. Even though the train could get blocked for days, weeks, or even months due to avalanches on the tracks, it was till a far more efficient way to travel and haul freight.
From Durango, lines extended north to Silverton; west to Dolores and beyond; east to Arboles, Chama, and Alamosa; and south to Farmington. The Farmington line was called the Red Apple Flyer after its main freight: fruit from orchards in the Animas, La Plata, and San Juan River valleys bound for distant markets. Most of the lines were abandoned and dismantled in the 1950s and 1960s, after the advent of the automobile.
Jonathan Romeo of the Durango Telegraph reports on a group called Tracks Across Borders that is working to preserve the legacy — and what remains of the infrastructure, such as bridges and water tanks — of these abandoned rail lines. They are, unfortunately, too late to save some places. The San Juan River-side community of Pagosa Junction-Gato, for example, was dismantled and moved (though the old church remains). It’s a cool effort. Now how about reviving some of those old lines?
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Could the Zoom Boom be busting? I doubt it, but it just might be cooling off somewhat. For those unfamiliar with the term or phenomenon: When COVID first washed over the nation and many jobs went online, it freed a certain class of worker (e.g. white collar or “creative class” desk jockeys) from being tied to the office or even the city in which their employer was based. So they fled to smaller towns and cities, often Western ones with access to public lands and recreational opportunities, driving up housing prices in the process and exacerbating wealth inequality.
But what happens when the tech industry that employs a lot of these Zoom Boomers starts laying them off by the thousands? For starters, it reduces the number of folks who can bring their high-wage jobs to places like Durango or Moab or Salida, thereby easing the intense pressure on the housing market and potentially, maybe, someday bringing housing prices back down a bit. But what about those who have already moved and settled in a new place? According to a recent report in Bloomberg, they either have to find new online work — which is getting more difficult — leave their new “consumer communities,” or get in-person work there.
I suppose since those laid-off workers are dispersed all over the place, this new phenomenon probably isn’t being felt on a community level yet. But if the layoffs continue or the online economy shrinks substantially, will there be a mass exodus from the Zoom Boom towns? Or will the local job markets be flooded with telecommuters looking for brick-and-mortar or service work?
To finish up I wanted to show y’all this pretty nutty snow chart from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains east of the San Luis Valley. While the San Juan Mountains west of the Valley got hammered with snow all winter, the Sangre de Cristos received scant snowfall. At least until almost mid-March, when things shifted rather suddenly. In a matter of days the snowpack at the Medano Pass SNOTEL station went from less than 50% of the median to nearly 500% of normal. Granted, this station doesn’t have a lot of snow even in big years, but still it’s a pretty dramatic chart. Other SNOTEL stations in the area followed similar, albeit less drastic, precipitation patterns.
Jumping (or leaping) to a different subject(I tend to do that!) Why is it that the lay community has absolutely NO issue in believing in the dinosaur story & bones that of course, prove that story - yet complete disbelief when equine/horse bones - proven to be hundreds of years old - BEFORE the Spaniards pulled up to our shores with their horses, not only science-proven, but verified by Native Americans' ancestor stories passed down to them.
Sorry, Jonathan - for dropping that here - just saying....