Thursday, July 30, 2009

Master Gardeners Anchor Farmers Market at Ardovino's

Malls have anchor stores and so do farmers markets - those vendors who attract the most traffic. At Ardovino's Desert Crossing, one of those mainstays is the El Paso County Master Gardeners Association which sells the farm fresh produce Master Gardeners raise in east El Paso.

This week they will be selling tomatoes, 4 varieties of squash, cucumbers, jalapeños and Serrano chiles, and eggplant according to the Master Gardeners Association President, Joe Falkner. I know by experience that their tomatoes are meatier, firmer, juicier and far more flavorful than those found in the grocery store chain. I also know that their current batch of jalapeños are zesty and good on meat, with eggs, in a salsa or just by themselves.

Master Gardener, Linda Doughtie, talks about herb gardening

Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who give time educating the public about gardening issues. Farmers Market patrons of Ardovino's Desert Crossing in Sunland Park can get gardening and other tips each Saturday from 8:30 until 9 a.m. on the patio. Admission to these programs is free.

The August schedule of the Master Gardener educational programs at Ardovino's Desert Crossing Farmers Market is:
August 1 Garden Fresh on the Grill, Jim Hastings

August 8 Groom and Feed Roses Now for Fall Bloom, Bill Hooten

August 15 Weeds and Grubs in the Lawn, Joe Falkner

August 22 Square Foot Gardening, Ed McElroy

August 29 Construct Your Own Recirculating Fountain, Jim Hastings
Besides their talks at the farmers market on Saturdays, Master Gardeners offer a Second Saturday Gardening Program at the El Paso Garden Center, 3105 Grant Avenue. On August 8, Joe Falkner will discuss "Preparing for Fall Gardening" with tips on getting your garden shaped up in the fall and thinking ahead to spring. Again, the lectures are free and no reservations are required.

For more information, call 566-1276.

By the way, Ardovino's Desert Crossing restaurant is simply one of best places to eat (and drink) in the El Paso/Las Cruces area.

A Walk Through Time on Scenic Drive

A view from Scenic Drive

Here's the press release that you will want to read:

Scenic Sundays “A Walk Through Time”, August 23rd, 8 – 10 a.m.

Walk, ride, or pedal your way up El Paso's Scenic Drive and learn about the history and environment of the El Paso/Juarez region!

Sunday, August 23rd: Scenic Sundays presents A Walk Through Time, with talks by El Paso historian Leon Metz, UTEP Geologists, and expert Naturalists.

Hike or ride your bike on a traffic-free Scenic drive and enjoy learning about the natural wonders of the El Paso/Juarez region all the way up to Scenic Point, with stops to enjoy refreshments and experience the Chihuahuan desert.

Learn about the layers of rock that make our Franklin Mountains! Have fun learning names of fossils and plants along the road! Learn about how Native Americans lived in the El Paso/Juarez region! Travel through time as you climb to Scenic Point on the ridge!

Hosted by Celebration of Our Mountains, UTEP, The Dinosaurs of Mt. Cristo Rey, Texas Master Naturalists, Pedicabs, City of El Paso District 2, Newman Park Neighborhood Association

YOU CAN GET INVOLVED! Contact the Dinosaur Tracker – or

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Bridge No More

Once upon a time, a bridge spanned a portion of the trail to Mundy's Gap. The 2006 El Paso flood took care of that. Here are pics of before and after. The first picture was taken in October of 2005. The second was taken this past Tuesday, July 21, during the Sunrise Hiker trek to and over the Aztec Caves to the Mundy's Gap Trail.

Local Hikes still has the bridge in its trail summary. Built by the rangers of the Franklin Mountains State Park just a couple of years before the flood, there are no plans to reconstruct it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

National Defense Authorization Act Could Convey Castner Range to Conservationists

Mike Gaglio, Biologist and Managing Member of High Desert Native Plants LLC, sent word about language in the National Defense Authorization Act that seeks to convey Castner Range to eligible conservation groups. The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coaltion has been working hard to preserve Castner Range:

Congressman Sylvester Reyes is working to preserve Castner Range. He included the following critical policy language in the current National Defense Authorization Act.

The committee understands that the Department of Defense ceased operations at the Castner Range Complex at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1971. In testimony, the Army indicated that Castner Range is “wholly impractical to use for any range activity.” The committee is interested in maintaining this land for a conservation purpose.

The committee encourages the Department to enter into an agreement in furtherance of conveyance with eligible conservation entities.

Send Congressman Reyes your thanks: 310 North Mesa, Suite 400, El Paso, TX 79901, 915-534-4400, or e-mail:

Senate Armed Services Committee has their markup of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act the last week in June. Let your Senators know how you feel about including in the Senate version of the NDAA, language similar to the House version that voices support for preserving Castner Range.


Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

284 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510-4304

Legislative Aid, Steve Rubright

Regional Director, Jesse Hereford,

Senator John Cornyn
517 Hart Senate Office Bldg.,
Washington, DC 20510

Legislative Aid, Dave Hanke
Deputy Regional Director,
Jonathan Huhn,

By the way, Mike is also the President of the Frontera Land Alliance.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Find Flemish Desem Bread at Ardovino's Farmers Market

Robert Ardovino says that visitors to the Ardovino's Desert Crossing Farmers Market will find many new things tomorrow: peaches, five different types of squash, watermelons, corn, and plums. Customers can also purchase grass fed beef and free-range chicken. To top it off, green chili will be roasted!

At the Coffee Stream you can get fresh squeezed carrot/apple, grapefruit and orange juices. I always like their market fresh burritos; but there is also garden grown carrot zucchini muffins as well as bagels with organic tomatoes, cream cheese, red onion or lox.

You will also be able to find Flemish Desem Bread baked by Bread of Life, a small family bakery run by Anne Landry. Anne tells me:
"Our favorite bread is a Flemish Desem and it takes 2 days to make. None of our breads use white sugar or white flour. In fact, some of our unmatched artisan breads such as Desem use no sweeteners at all. The Flemish Desem bread is our family favorite containing only the "desem" or "desem baby" starter, made from organic Kamut and pure water along with spelt, sometimes wheat, purified water and Celtic sea salt. A complex process of feeding the desem "baby" produces a beautiful crusty topped bread with unmatched flavor and nutrition. "
Bread of Life uses only freshly ground wheat, spelt, Kamut. They also use local raw honey and garden fresh Italian parsley, basil, onions and other herbs.

They make a long list of other breads: multigrain, honey wheat, Italian herb bread, cinnamon raisin bread, Hawaiian Coconut bread, focaccia bread and more.

Anne can be contacted at

If you have never been to Ardovino's Desert Crossing or their Saturday Farmers Market, here is an easy map with directions. The Farmers Market runs every Saturday from 7:30 until noon now through mid-October. The restaurant hours are Wednesday - Saturday 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday lunch from 11 until 3 p.m. and Sunday 3 to 9 p.m. The Mecca Lounge is open late for cocktails.

More Critters at the Park

Sunset Hiker, Angela Chavez, took the above pictures during our hike to Loop 3 and the Lower Sunset Trail at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park yesterday. She writes:

I think that the lizard is a female Chihuahuan greater earless lizard (Cophosaurus texanus scitulus, according to the Peterson Western Reptiles guide). On the drive back out of the park, I spotted a large tarantula in the road, and shooed it back across the road so it wouldn't get run over."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Desert Springs Land Study Seems to Skirt Open Space Requirements

If a developer wants to get away with not complying with the City of El Paso's open space requirements, he will have a hard time sneaking past Dr. Rick Bonart, the newly-elected Chairman of the Open Space Advisory Board. Dr. Bonart called an emergency meeting of that Board this past Monday - in fact the first meeting of the newly appointed Board. The issue: the Desert Springs Land Study scheduled to go before the City Plan Commission this Thursday.

It would seem that the developers of Desert Springs just north of Trans Mountain Road and not too far south of the Franklin Mountains State Park have taken a bit of the land set aside for open space by the previous Enchanted Hills Land Study. The proposal for this residential and commercial area seems to slice and dice an arroyo. City Engineers are proposing to take an 1100 foot arroyo to an "undisturbed" area of just 30 feet - less than 3% of the original width. 3%! Remember: an arroyo is defined from rim to rim and not from the width of the bottom channel.

Open Space Committee member (and newly-elected Vice Chairman) Charlie Wakeem expressed concern that the Desert Springs Land Study might get approval without being vetted properly. Member Lois Balin said that there must be a re-design in order that the approved definition of arroyo is met. A motion made by Jim Tolbert asks that the City Plan Commission delay a decision on the land study until the Open Space Board has had plenty of time to review it. The motion passed unanimously.

There are two other disturbing features to the plan:

Concrete will line the sides of an arroyo unlike a TXDOT solution for the same arroyo on the other side of Canutillo. Do City Engineers want a hodgepodge of flood control devices from start to finish? It seems that they do in order to control flooding with their mammoth ponds and unnatural concrete.

There is no requirement that native plants be used for flood and erosion control. It seems that the City will be happy to use any plant - native or not.

The City Plan Commission meeting will meet this Thursday, July 16, at 1:30 p.m. in the 10th Floor Large Conference Room at City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Neighbors Do Have Options To Stop Crazy Crazy Cat Development

Contrary to what the El Paso Times reported, neighbors opposing the Crazy Cat Mountain development known as Kern View Estates No. 2 do have options to stop the development. Finally reporting on the matter 5 days after the meeting, the EP Times would have us believe that there is nothing in a strong property rights state such as Texas that can be done to prevent development of any private property. (One wonders about the slant of their story - but that is another posting for sure.)

Among those invited to attend was Charlie Wakeem whose expertise on development and open space has been built on many years of involvement with open space, stormwater and open space master plans, and arroyo and zoning issues.

According to Mr. Wakeem there are four ways to preserve open space on privately held land: regulation, acquisition, incentives and conservation.

There is a fine line between a City's right to regulate development for purposes of public health, safety and welfare and illegally taking land. Nevertheless, the City can restrict growth through ordinances regulating grading, sub-division and zoning. In the instance of Kern View, the steep slope of the land may be a critical issue of safety.

Land can be acquired through an outright purchase as in the case of Resler Canyon; or it can be swapped. Also, a Public Improvement District can be created if homeowners agree to pay an additional fee over a period of time. Thunder Canyon at the end of Mesa Hills was preserved by the creation of a PID. Neighbors agreed to pay several thousand dollars more each amortized over 15 years.

Incentives can be used to prevent development on privately held land. These may be density transfers and park land credits (granting 50% park credits for leaving arroyos natural for example).

Finally and probably the least likely option to prevent further decimation of Crazy Cat Mountain, the land owner could put a conservation easement on the land in return for tax credits. The federal government gives large credits to do just that.

Of the four ways, Mr. Wakeem recommended that the Kern Place and Mission Hills Associations take a look at regulation first. The steep slope of the area is definitely problematic. A PID would be the last resort.

Wakeem advised that the group select a spokesperson who will be Bob Halter with the help of others. Neighbors were told that numbers of people involved is very important especially regarding the media. Pictures, Power Point presentations - all help build the case. Elpasonaturally will certainly help post any visual materials for the Associations.

Already some have asked whether the new Open Space Board can't make the proposed Kern View Estates No. 2 an agenda item.

The City's Plan Commission will hold a public hearing on Kern View Estates this Thursday, July 16, at 1:30 p.m. in the 10th Floor Large Conference Room at the City Hall Building. You can view the City Plan Commission Staff Report here. The hearing is item #8 on the agenda.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wildscape for Wildlife

Imagine landscaping your yard to be a wildscape oasis that supports wildlife. We can do it here in El Paso using native plants adapted to our arid conditions. We can provide all kinds of animals with food, water and shelter. What is required, according to Scott Cutler the Curator of UTEP's Centennial Museum, is diversity - diversity of plants, diversity of hardscape.

In his talk to members of El Paso's Native Plant Society last evening, Dr. Cutler said that creating a wildscape for wildlife means knowing that diversity is the key. Diversity creates food chains that nourish birds, reptiles, insects and mammals.

We are all familiar with various bird feeders. Dr. Cutler mentioned plants such as sunflowers (even and especially the smaller varieties), sumacs, wolfberries, the New Mexico olive, grasses, ocotillos, mesquite and other native plants as well.

Animals also need water which, as we all know, is in short supply here in the El Paso southwest. All yards should have a birdbath and perhaps another water feature in the yard. Water sources should be kept shallow and provide a place for escape from prey. Even old milk jugs can be devised to let water slowly drip into a pan for thirsty animals.

Diversity in habitat and shelter is also vital. Different plants and rocks allow for places to hide, perch and nest. Birds need trees and brush for nesting. Big rocks are helpful especially in winter. Reptiles can absorb a little extra energy in evenings and can, therefore, forage longer. Cutler recommended keeping a brush pile that helps animals escape a predator in an open area. He suggested bat houses as well as bird houses and bee condos.

He singled out specific strategies for attracting hummingbirds. They like a variety of different colored flowers: penstemons, Indian paint brush as well as desert willow, trumpet vine (not a native) and honeysuckle. He suggested that hummingbird feeders be changed every two days. A bacterial build-up can be deadly for the birds. Hot water and vinegar followed by a thorough rinsing is key to a good cleansing of your hummingbird's feeder. The simple formula for feeding is 4 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar. It is the red flowers on the feeder that attract the bird - not a red colored liquid. Red dye is just as bad for the hummingbird as it is for us.

If you want to see about certifying your backyard as a wildlife habitat in the State of Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife has the information that you need here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Vinegaroons and Scott's Orioles

The Sunrise Hikers have been coming across some pretty interesting wildlife at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. Shown above is a male Scott's Oriole and a vinegaroon. The pictures were taken by UTEP Ph.D student, Angela Chavez during our hike this morning on the Lower Sunset Trail.

Beginning in August, Sunrise Hikers will be focusing on flora, fauna and geology.

Press Release: Hunt Joins Keep El Paso Beautiful


WHO: Hunt Family Foundation, in partnership with Keep El Paso Beautiful

WHAT: Ribbon cutting ceremony

WHERE: Fire Station No. 27, 6767 Ojo de Agua

WHEN: Friday, July 10, 2009 10:00 a.m.

City-wide program provides tools for volunteer beautification efforts

El Paso, TX (July 8, 2009) – The Hunt Family Foundation will cut the ribbon on a new Community Tool Shed this Friday. The CTS program, an initiative of Keep El Paso Beautiful, is a network of lending libraries of beautification clean-up supplies. Hunt is now a platinum sponsor of the program.

“Hunt is proud to be affiliated with programs who share our mission statement of vision, integrity and professionalism,” said Josh Hunt, Vice President of Hunt Development Group. Hunt’s sponsorship is a four-year annual commitment towards the program (a total of $100,000), which received the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Award of Excellence in 2007. Most recently, KEPB was also recognized with the Governor’s Community Achievement Award (GCAA), which granted the organization $265,000 towards a beautification project along a Texas state highway. KEPB has won the GCA Award three times in the last nine years, and has used grant money to complete other beautification projects, including medians along Mesa Street, McRae, an exit near Joe Battle and a stretch of I-10 East near the Spaghetti Bowl.

“A cleaner community decreases health risks, increases safety and has a positive economic impact on neighborhoods,” said Keep El Paso Beautiful Executive Director, Katharine Gunter-Palafox. “Our new partnership with Hunt is another step towards empowering El Pasoans with the tools necessary to take pride in their communities.”

Annually, more than 600 clean-ups are facilitated through the CTS program, which has tool sheds at 32 El Paso fire stations. Each Tool Shed is stocked with various gardening tools including push brooms, shovels, push mowers, electrical cords and leaf blowers. All tools are available to the public at no charge.

About Hunt
Founded in 1947, Hunt Building Company, Ltd. is an affiliate of Hunt Companies, Inc., which provides a full range of development, design-build, construction management, investment, and asset/property management services across the country. The companies focus on public-private ventures, military housing, multi-family housing, value-added asset management, mixed-use, master-planned communities, and retail.
The Hunt Companies have been operated by the Hunt family for four generations, and are headquartered in El Paso, Texas. Regional offices are in Albuquerque, NM; Honolulu, HI; and Washington, D.C. Other Hunt affiliated companies include Hunt Development Group, Hunt Communities, Hunt Military Communities Mgmt., and Hunt NR (Natural Resources). For more information, visit

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

No More Crazy Cat Mountain Development!

The Kern Place Association has sent this message out:
Dear Neighbors,

The Fight is Not Over.


The Kern Place and Mission Hills Associations are inviting you to attend a very important community meeting.


We will discuss recent developments concerning the construction of Kern View Estates #2 on Crazy Cat Mountain which will have a tremendous impact on both neighborhoods. Rep. Lilly and Raul Garcia from the City Planning Commission have been invited. This is our opportunity to show our strong opposition to the project. For more information see this website:

Cordially Yours,
The KPA Board
Activist Judy Ackerman says:

"Please join the fight to stop the further destruction of our mountains. The developer is proposing at least 34 homes and potentially a golf course! Can you imagine the environmental damage and the loss of quality of life in the historic neighborhoods surrounding Crazy Cat?

We need to stop further residential development and work together to create an awesome, urban wilderness park right here in the heart of El Paso, TX."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Buffelgrass Invades El Paso

Volunteers worked to eradicate buffelgrass in an El Paso arroyo last Tuesday evening. An invasive species from Africa, buffelgrass will dominate an ecosystem, crowding out other species and winning the competition for the sparsest most necessary commodity: water. It is drought tolerant and burns quite hot. When it burns in the Sonoran desert, it will take out native species such as the stately Suguaro cactus which did not evolve in fire conditions. It was introduced into Arizona, Sonora and Texas for cattle food and for erosion control.

It is in El Paso.

It should not be confused with buffalograss, a native of the Great Plains from Montana to Mexico. Buffelgrass is fairly easy to identify. There are good online resources about it at the Buffelgrass Information Center and at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Invaders site.

Watch this excellent video showing the devastation caused by buffelgrass in southern Arizona: