Four Corners, Part 5 (Breweries)

On August 17, 2017 · 1 Comments

Every longtime reader in the Twelve Mile Circle audience already knew that this article was going to happen. Here comes the one about my latest brewery adventure. As always, I’ll try to put a bit of a geo-geek spin on it. I won’t talk about any actual beers because that wouldn’t meet the stated purpose of 12MC. Nonetheless, I’ll be understanding and sympathetic if you decide to skip this note and come back in a few days. That’s part of the deal I make when I write these travelogues. I always slip-in a brewery article and the audience has no obligation to pay attention to it.

Can You Say Nano?


Comanche Creek Brewing

What an adorable little brewery I found in Eagle Nest, New Mexico. Just look at it, a single small cabin with a porch. I can recall only one smaller brewery I’ve ever visited, and I’ve been to more than four hundred now. This one didn’t seem to have enough size to even qualify a microbrewery; clearly it ranked as a nanobrewery. Welcome to Comanche Creek Brewing.

My relatives in nearby Angel Fire recommended it, assuming I could find its secret location. The brewery sat at the end of a long gravel road (map) terminating at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Handmade signs pointed the way. Actually the hardest part might have been finding the exit from Highway 38 heading north out of Eagle Nest. The signs made it pretty self-explanatory afterwards. I did have a "where the heck are we" moment though, as we pushed farther away from civilization.

The brewery took pride in staying open during its stated hours. Its website did counsel patrons to "call if it is a blizzard, we are probably still out here but check in just to make sure." It rained heavily the day we visited so we assumed they’d be open regardless and that was the case. Everyone huddled under the small front porch to keep warm and dry. Standing room only in the middle of nowhere. The brewer/publican/owner/etc. stood in the cabin doorway handing out beers as needed. My relatives said this was the first time they’d ever seen other visitors. I figured they must have been mountain bikers disappointing that rain canceled their runs at the nearby ski resort. I devised a formula. Mountain Bikers + Rain = Drinking. They filled every place in town.


Unplanned Geo-Oddity


Bathtub Row Brewing

New Mexico and Colorado both had smallest counties that differed dramatically from any other counties in their respective states. Los Alamos County, NM measured 109 square miles (282 square kilometres). Broomfield County, CO covered even less, only about 35 mi2 (87 km2). As I noted in an earlier article during this series, Los Alamos existed solely because of the laboratory located there that developed the atomic bomb. I also talked about Broomfield awhile ago. This county used to be a town split between four separate counties. Broomfield got tired of dealing with all those different rules so it formed its own tiny county in 2001.

I’d planned in advance to stop at a brewery in Los Alamos, the Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op (map). It fell along our direct path so it seemed logical. However, Broomfield, towards the end of the trip, came as a complete surprise. We stayed with friends outside of Denver who asked if we wanted to go to a brewery for dinner. Of course we did. Only after I returned, as I updated my brewery visit list, did I discover that Nighthawk Brewery (map) fell within the diminutive borders of Broomfield County. Surely completing an economic transaction within a county "counted" more than simply crossing its border.

I don’t know if I’ll keep a running tally of brewery visits to tiny counties. I will note for the record that I regularly frequent a brewpub in the smallest county equivalent in the United States (within the independent city of Falls Church, VA). Add Los Alamos and Broomfield to the list for what that’s worth.


Beer Crawl in Durango



I’ll mention the close proximity of several breweries and brewpubs in Durango, Colorado because I don’t want my map to go to waste. This simple interactive guide kept me on track as we navigated through town. I felt pretty proud of my quick handiwork so I decided to inflict it upon the 12MC audience as well.

No, we didn’t hit all of the breweries in one epic crawl. My visits are about responsible drinking, involving samplers or flights, not pints. Of the five visited, we went to one for dinner our first evening, then out to the remote one (Ska) around lunchtime the next day, then another three right in town during the afternoon and evening. We didn’t make it the final one or to the distillery. Blame it on palette fatigue.


The Full List

Some readers may be curious so I decided to provide the full list of breweries and brewpubs we experienced during our journey, in order. Twelve visits in ten days seemed pretty respectable.

  • Creek Brewing Company; Eagle Nest, NM
  • Enchanted Circle Brewing; Angel Fire, NM
  • Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op; Los Alamos, NM
  • Second Street Brewery; Santa Fe, NM
  • Three Rivers Brewery; Farmington, NM
  • Steamworks Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • Ska Brewery; Durango, CO
  • Animas Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • Carver Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • BREW Pub and Kitchen; Durango, CO
  • Nighthawk Brewery; Broomfield, CO
  • Platt Park Brewing Company; Denver, CO

The lifetime total stood at 422 visits as the trip concluded. I’m moving right along.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Four Corners, Part 1 (Orientation)

On August 3, 2017 · 12 Comments

Our family visits a different part of the United States every summer. This year we decided to travel through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. We made it as far west as the Four Corners monument although we we spent only a few moments in Utah and Arizona. We toured through parts of Utah back in 2011. Arizona will need to wait for another day.



The embedded map showed our approximate route. We began our adventure at the Denver International Airport where we landed and rented a car. From there we drove down to Angel Fire, a ski resort town in New Mexico where I have family. That offered a nice base for a return trip to Taos, a place I last visited in 2013 during the Dust Bowl adventure. The next swing included a series of National Park properties: Pecos National Historical Park; Bandelier National Monument; Chaco Culture National Historical Park; and Mesa Verde National Park. We also spent time in towns along the way including Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Durango. Then we drove back to Denver.

We packed a lot of activities into those ten days. From mountains to desert, from cold to warm, from historic to modern, we tried a little of just about everything. I didn’t capture many new counties on this trip though, for a couple of reasons. First, the immense size of counties out there made it difficult, although each capture covered a lot of territory on the map too. Second, I’d been to several of the places before. This was more about visiting friends and family, and showing the kids places I loved seeing during an epic road trip I took a quarter century earlier. Even so, I still found time for a few county captures, some under interesting circumstances


Pecos Subterfuge


Pecos National Historical Park

The path from Angel Fire to Santa Fe, New Mexico would ordinarily go through Taos and enter Santa Fe from the north. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to capture a couple of new counties by traveling along the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then looping back to Santa Fe from the south. That inefficient route led directly past Pecos National Historical Park. I used the park as my excuse. We enjoyed Pecos — and I’ll talk about that some more in a future article — although the actual reason focused squarely on the new counties, Mora and San Miguel.

The park fell within San Miguel and the photograph above gave a nice overview of its terrain. Each afternoon the "monsoon" rains of summer covered the plains. Mora County looked similar, maybe a little greener, with an economy seemingly based on ranching. I didn’t see a lot of wealth in sparsely-populated Mora. At one point we drove through its county seat, also called Mora, and the speed limit dropped down to 15 miles per hour (24 kph). You better believe I didn’t go a single mile per hour over that limit. It seemed like one of those places where speeding tickets probably funded the few public services that existed out there. I admit I had no evidence of that and perhaps I’ve made an unfair assessment. I didn’t risk it either.


Let’s Make Sure at Los Alamos


Bradbury Science Museum

I’d marked New Mexico’s smallest county, Los Alamos, as one I’d visited previously. Los Alamos made my tally many years ago during that previously-referenced epic road trip. However, I’ve since doubted that I actually captured it. No major roads between popular destinations cut through there. That was by design. Los Alamos served as the secret hideaway for scientists designing atomic bombs during World War 2. Nobody was supposed to travel to Los Alamos without a specific reason to be there. The county, established formally in 1949, covered barely a hundred square miles (250 square km). I simply couldn’t see how I’d crossed its borders on that earlier trip. Why had I concluded otherwise so many years ago? This time I made sure to record my visit photographically for the sake of accuracy and completeness. It didn’t "count" as a new capture even if that might have actually been the case.


Giving William McKinley His Due


Chaco Culture

My exceedingly brief visit to McKinley County, New Mexico probably set a record for my most absurd county capture ever. It also became another exceedingly rare example of a "walk only" county like my recent visit to Cass County, Michigan. McKinley happened during my trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Nothing was easy about getting to Chaco Canyon. The National Park Service recommended the northern route that involved about 16 miles of mostly decent dirt and gravel roads. I took that route. Visitors could also approach from the south with about 20 miles of "at your own risk" dirt roads. The southern route, if I’d been more adventurous, would have brought me through McKinley County.

However, I noticed that I could head south from the Visitors Center, go a couple of miles along the southern dirt path, and reach McKinley. I decided to touch McKenly at its closest point, where the road ran directly along the county line. I simply needed to stop the car and touch a point of land just beyond the roadside (map). A barbed wire fence ran along there too, so I put my foot between the strands of wire. Then I gently patted the ground with my foot. County captured.


Colorado Backcountry


Durango, Colorado

Actually I captured most of my new counties on a single day. We drove from Durango to Denver using the default route. We had some friends to visit in Denver so I didn’t want to go out of the way. Even so, that brought me through Archuleta, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, and Park Counties for the first time. Driving through Saguache offered particularly remarkable scenery. Much of the county sat in humongous bowl surrounded by mountains on all sides. Amazingly flat, filled with fertile fields, and yet the wide plain sat at an elevation of something like 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). Park County also offered a little entertainment, if only as the setting of the South Park cartoon. That included a drive through Fairplay, the inspiration for the quiet mountain town where Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman lived.

Nine (possibly ten) new county captures didn’t seem like a lot from a numerical perspective. Nonetheless, we covered quite a bit of territory and had a great time doing it.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Sandoval Exclave

On December 8, 2008 · 4 Comments

A small wedge of Sandoval County, New Mexico hovers off its eastern edge, fully disembodied and totally separated from the remainder of the county. It is an orphaned exclave.


Sandoval County Map
The exclave can be seen within the red circle on the right side. SOURCE: Sandoval County website


Google Earth captures this exclave rather nicely. Roughly it’s triangular, with a right angle on the northeast corner. Santa Fe County borders the shorter leg along eastern edge while Los Alamos County borders the northern leg and its jagged hypotenuse. The Sandoval shard extends perhaps a couple of miles at its greatest length so its total area is perhaps a square mile or so if I’m recalling my junior high school geometry correctly.


Sandoval County Exclave Map
The exclave is labeled on the bottom, right. SOURCE: Google Earth screenshot


Next, let’s take a look at Los Alamos County, particularly towards the eastern edge where I’ve drawn the blue arrow. Indeed, the Sandoval exclave fits neatly into the Los Alamos gouge like a perfect piece from a geographic jigsaw puzzle.


Los Alamos County Map
SOURCE: Los Alamos County website


The border between Sandoval and Santa Fe Counties formed roughly a straight line prior to the existence of Los Alamos County. Look at the Los Alamos map again and mentally re-draw the original line along that straight portion of the eastern border (by extending it further south). Everything to the left of the line came from Sandoval County excepting the exclave which remains part of Sandoval. Everything to the right of the line came from Santa Fe County.

Los Alamos County is a recent creation as far as counties go, with its roots dating back only to 1943 and the Manhattan Project. The Federal government toiled urgently during those dark days of the Second World War, creating a nuclear arsenal in total secrecy. Military leaders needed to find a remote spot away from prying eyes but not completely without infrastructure, so they seized the Los Alamos Ranch Boys School and its surrounding land by eminent domain. Los Alamos fell under the control of the Manhattan District of the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission practically overnight. It would become the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

Since this was a Federal action in support of a vital military mission during wartime, the commanders in charge didn’t much consider niceties such as county boundaries or personal property. The entire site became a heavily restricted, highly classified atomic research facility for the duration of the war. A military town arose alongside the Masters’ Cottages of the former Boys School to house the scientists and researchers as they toiled on their nuclear mission. It remained a "gated community" closed to unauthorized visitors even until 1957 according to the Los Alamos Historical Society.

The Federal government loosened its grip and returned these seized lands to state control in 1949. At that point, New Mexico decided to create a new entity, Los Alamos County, rather than return the territory to its two parent counties. The town of Los Alamos became its county seat. This would provide a closer focus on the highly specialized purpose and nature of the Los Alamos laboratories and the needs of its inhabitants. As an odd byproduct, it simultaneously created the Sandoval County exclave by default, a strange leftover arising from the original Federal territorial seizure.

The existence of the Sandoval County exclave is clearly without doubt, and is recognized explicitly in the maps produced by Sandoval County itself. However, it’s less clear exactly why the exclave exists. Wouldn’t it have made as much sense, perhaps more so, for this tiny sliver of land to have become part of Los Alamos County rather than remain territorially with but distinctly detached from its parent county? Perhaps this detail from a Department of Energy map of Los Alamos, 1943-1945, provides a clue.


Los Alamos in 1943-1945 with Sandoval Exclave
SOURCE: Detail from a Department of Energy Map


There are two important points to be drawn from this map. First, the Sandoval triangle was never included within Los Alamos even at its inception in 1943. Second, it’s labeled unmistakably as a "Sacred Indian Ceremonial Land." So now things are beginning to make a little more sense: it’s associated with the nearby San Ildefonso Pueblo and it holds a special meaning to them. It was handled with deference as Los Alamos rose from the mesa.

Perhaps the government concluded that separating an ancient community from its sacred land would have created a natural incentive to sneak through a security perimeter. On the other hand, I would like to hope that they kept the triangle outside of Los Alamos’ boundaries for empathetic reasons. Either way, it happened by design and took place from the beginning. Nobody expected Los Alamos to become its own county when it was seized. This was a "temporary" wartime measure.

So then, why not just append it to the county immediately to the east, Santa Fe County? I don’t know why exactly but as we’ve seen many times in Twelve Mile Circle, once a chunk of land becomes geographically isolated from its parent, the parent will continue to hold onto it if it can (for example, Carter Lake, Iowa and Kaskaskia, Illinois). While I don’t have the evidence to prove this conclusively, I do think it’s a reasonably plausible explanation. I invite rebuttals and would be happy to add a better explanation if evidence contradicts this supposition.

I also invite comments from anyone who may have visited the Sandoval exclave. Given its sacred nature I’ll respect its boundaries, so while I consider this an interesting curiosity I’m unlikely to visit it personally.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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