Sunday, January 12, 2014


Weather: Calm, dry weather in the valley protected by the Sangre de Cristo from the cold fronts that have been sweeping land to the east; last snow 12/22/2013.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens, prickly pear; leaves on Apache plume, German iris, yuccas, garlic, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, Saint John’s wort, vinca, coral bells, cheat grass; some rose stems green.

What’s red: Cholla, Oregon holly and coral beardtongue leaves, some rose stems.

What’s grey or blue: Four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Rock walls, as we know them, require mortar, which in turn requires lime.

Lime may undergird most of the state from sea animals buried in the Paleozoic era, but outcrops are rare. The most active mines today are in Tijeras, with some around San Ysidro in the southern Jémez.

Before Columbus, natives along the Carribean coast in México learned to process snail shells for the lime used in making corn flour. In the southwest, women substituted ashes from burned plants, especially sagebrush.

The adhesive qualities of heated lime were known by the Romans, but the technology for making cement was lost until the mid-1700s. John Smeaton mixed pebbles and powdered brick in 1756 in England. Joseph Aspdin created the first Portland cement there in 1824 by burning ground limestone and clay together. Thomas Edison introduced a low-cost processing kiln to this country in the 1880s.

Any stone walls built before 1900 in this area would have been held together with dirt, probably clay, perhaps with something like the mud plaster used to protect adobe. If any survive, they probably have been covered over with cement.

Ideas for new construction forms usually are introduced by the leaders of society - here the churches or the ones who made the first money from the railroads or trade. The first ones I’ve seen here are along the contemporary street side of one of the large homes on the hill overlooking the old rail yard.

Early masons had to mix the cement with sand or stones and water. The early mixtures were often rough. The walls on the house above have been built in several sections. In the oldest, small rocks were laid in rows in deep beds of rough cement.

Other walls along the ridge overlooking the tracks also have rough mortar. The stones usually are laid in courses.

Eventually, men began piling the rocks closer together. This one was built on a road that probably paralleled the tracks north of town.

The idea for a stone wall spread to already settled areas. One in Santa Cruz probably began with rocks laid in courses. Then, it was raised by laying newer style stones on top.

The wall in front of an territorial style house probably was built after traffic increased on the road in front.

In the early 1940s, Gene Winchester saw the problems with individuals mixing their own cement. He started offering premixed bags of Portland cement, sand and gravel. Rough cement work probably disappeared after World War II, except for nonvisible uses likes topping off old walls

or reinforcing ditch walls.

Winchester’s Quikrete products now fill an aisle in big box retailers or older lumber yards storage buildings.

Larger quantities of cement are provided by the truckload by descendants of one of the families that profited from the early railroad. Their company also provides sand for masons who still need to mix their own grout or stucco.

Notes: See entry for 30 November 2008 for more information on processing corn.

Photographs: Photographs taken in the area. The pile of sand and the grading conveyor are at a local sand and gravel company.

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