History

In the Rearview: A Gorge Bridge inspection, ancient petroglyphs and Taos High School’s delayed 1967 opening

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As part of our weekly series, The Taos News dug into the newspaper’s archives to uncover the top stories of the week from 10, 25 and 50 years ago. This week, we found a story about an inspection of the Gorge Bridge from 2007, an ancient petroglyph exhibit with a curious twist and a (delayed) milestone in the history of Taos High School.

10 years ago: ‘Gorge Bridge inspection requires special handling,’ Aug. 16-22, 2007, by Patricia Chambers

It was the evening rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007, when disaster struck in the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota. That was when the Interstate 35 West Mississippi Bridge collapsed, sending cars careening into the river with a thundering splash. After the dust settled, it became clear that 13 people were killed and 145 were injured. The disaster motivated a wave of inspections for highway bridge inspections across the country, including New Mexico’s Río Grande Gorge Bridge, which was built in 1965. (The Minneapolis bridge was completed in 1967.)

Then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the inspection of four bridges in the state after the Minneapolis collapse. But the Gorge Bridge was among the last to be inspected because its extreme height – at most, 650 feet above the Río Grande – required the use of special machinery and equipment.

“To perform the inspection on the Taos bridge, the inspectors will be lowered about 100 feet in a basket from a specially designed snooper truck,” Patricia Chambers of The Taos News reported at the time. Additionally, ultrasonic machines were used to determine if the bridge’s pins and joints had formed stress-related fractures.

Dr. Ken White, the head of the civil engineering department of New Mexico State University, stated that New Mexico’s bridges weren’t exposed to the same levels of humidity and deicing measures needed in the Midwest, so the inspection would probably prove the bridge to be sound.

“We’ve never found any problems with the Gorge Bridge and we don’t expect to find any this time,” White said.

25 years ago: ‘Ancient petroglyphs shown with contemporary artwork,’ Aug 13, 1992, by Deborah Ensor

In 1973, Dr. Wayne Parrish, a professor at Arizona State University, came into possession of a number of petroglyph artifacts, or ancient rock art. A ranch owner who lived south of Phoenix reportedly decorated his property with the petroglyphs. After the ranch was sold to developers, the petroglyphs were auctioned off and acquired by Parrish. Since then, Parrish and Steve Villalobos, the owner of Opening Scene Gallery in El Prado at the time, spent years authenticating the collection.

“I get the chills telling this story,” Villalobos was quoted as saying.

After being studied, it was revealed that these stones were perhaps among the first three-dimensional sculpted petroglyphs ever discovered. Rather than being carved into a rock face, these stones were chosen by ancient artists because their shapes matched the subjects the artists wanted to depict.

At the time, Opening Scene Gallery was putting on an exhibition to bring these historic artifacts to the public for the first time.

Though the stones had been removed from their original site and thus contextual archaeological evidence had long been lost, Villalobos explained that it was important for more people to be able to see the artifacts.

“Not only because they clarify and give more meaning to other petroglyphs,” summarized Taos News reporter Deborah Ensor of Villalobos’ sentiment, “but because they represent the thoughts of one culture passed onto another.”

50 years ago: ‘Schools to delay opening,’ Aug. 17, 1967

Taos High School was founded in 1917 and moved to a building on Don Fernando Street in 1942. By 1967, however, a new $1.5 million facility ($11 million in today’s dollars) was built in its present location on Cervantes Street. The only problem? The building had no electricity.

Though large transformers needed to power the facility had been on order for a year, a series of obstacles prevented their delivery. A copper shortage, followed by a plant strike and a railroad strike, hindered their delivery.

As a result, then-Superintendent Joe L. Otero announced the school’s opening would be delayed a week, to Sept. 5. At the time, Taos’ schools had an enrollment of 900 elementary school students, 720 junior high students and 700 high schoolers.

As part of the facility upgrade, the Ranchos Junior High School became the new elementary school. The former high school building took on junior high school students, too.

In 2014, renovations to Taos High School began after nearly 45 years in the same building.

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