NM Tech scientist wins honors

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A New Mexico Tech scientist has been drawing a lot of attention lately.

Dr. Paul W. Bauer, associate director and principal geologist at the Bureau of Geology in Socorro, recently won the 2011 award for Outstanding Outdoor Guide Book from the National Outdoor Book Association. That was soon followed by the John P. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Mexico Riparian Society.

“I didn’t think I was old enough to get a lifetime achievement award from anyone,” said the 55-year old, who has spent more than half of his life in New Mexico, and most of that time in Socorro.

Bauer said he was particularly proud to win the John P. Taylor award. Not only is it praise for the contributions he’s made to public understanding of the state’s water issues, it’s named for a man he knew and respected.

“John Taylor was certainly a local hero, and renowned in his field. He did truly innovative and amazing work,” Bauer said of Taylor, a biologist at Bosque de Apache National Wildlife Refuge for many years. “I’ve been a member of Save our Bosque Task Force since its inception, and because of that interaction with the people working on the bosque in Socorro County I had cause to know what John was doing. I was a big fan of his work, so it’s quite an honor to receive an award that has John’s name on it.”

According to a New Mexico press release, Taylor was a senior wildlife biologist at Bosque de Apache who earned national recognition and respect for his perseverance and foresight in applying experimental design to land and water management activities. He was widely known for his expertise in soil management techniques and commitment to habitat conservation and restoration. His widow, Dr. Maggie Griffin Taylor, is currently an instructor at Tech.

Bauer received the award at a luncheon in Albuquerque on Dec. 29.

Birth of a River Rat

Life in New Mexico began for the Massachusetts native in 1979 when he enrolled at UNM to pursue a master’s degree. He wasn’t in the Land of Enchantment long before a life-changing experience sent him on a course that complemented his school work.

“In 1980 I went on a rafting trip,” he said of an adventure through the infamous Taos Box. “It was great fun. There’s a lot of geology in the canyon.”

Through what Bauer described as “a curious set of circumstances,” he was assigned to work on a five-year study of the geology in the Picuris Mountains near Taos, providing him greater opportunity to explore the river and canyons. He became a river rat, and in the process developed relationships with other rafters, guides, outfitters and “fluvial eccentrics.”

A couple of hundred miles farther downstream, Bauer was continuing his own studies and in 1987 he earned a Ph.D from New Mexico Tech. A job with the Bureau of Geology was a natural next step, and a fortuitous one at that.

“It turned out the Bureau of Geology was the perfect place for me to go,” said Bauer, who met his wife, Peggy Johnson, while they were both graduate students. She is now senior hydrologist at the bureau.

As fate would have it, Bauer’s first assignment for the bureau was to conduct geological mapping of the Rio Grande corridor in the same region. That meant more opportunities to raft the river.

“The best way to see geology is from inside the canyon, because it’s steep sided and not covered by vegetation,” said Bauer, who set up headquarters on the banks of the river at Orilla Verde BLM Recreation Park.

Through his contacts with the BLM, he was invited to participate in Rio Grande Rendezvous in 1993, an annual gathering of river guides and teachers held near Taos.

“My job was to teach geology to rafting guides,” Bauer said. “It was a nice coalescence between geology and my personal interests.”

Bauer has been a part of the workshop ever since, helping to educate people about the river he so loves.

A Different Kind of Guide

Few people know the Rio Grande as well as Bauer does — at least the 153 miles of the river covered in his award-winning book, “The Rio Grande, A River Guide to the Geology and Landscapes of Northern New Mexico.”

In fact, the guide covers a stretch of river starting in Southern Colorado down to the Cochiti Reservoir.

“There’s a lot of different kinds of geology through the river. What you see is a long river that changes in different sections. I wanted to break (the book) up into sections that make sense,” Bauer said.

The book is divided into 11 sections, which for rafters range from half-day trips to three-day excursions.

“The other thing I tried to include in the book is information on how fragile and threatened the river is,” Bauer said.

Bauer said he decided to write the book because he knew he could improve on the river guides that have already been published.

“It’s a different kind of river guide,” he said, adding that other guides may get you down the river, but aren’t all that informative. “We wanted to do something that was better.”

“We” includes Brigitte Felix, a GIS specialist for the Bureau of Geology who did the design and layout for the book, as well as illustrations and cartography.

“Brigitte and I made a really good team,” Bauer said. “She was hired by an aquifer mapping program to do work on studies we do in groundwater geology and she has training in design and fine art. So she was able to combine her technical skills in GIS with her artistic skills to create reports and maps.”

The maps are derived from satellite images, enhancing their authenticity. They are the heart of the book, noting launch and takeout points, distances, rapids and their level of difficulty, hiking trails, rock climbing areas and, of course, the geology found along the way — something not found in most river guides.

Reviews posted on the bureau’s website have been glowing.

“It is easy to get distracted by the photos, graphics, anecdotes, and maps Bauer has neatly packed into the book,” wrote Staci Matlock of the Santa Fe New Mexican. “His brief sections on the geologic and water-flow history of the river are complemented by stellar graphics. The majority of the book, though, is devoted to user-friendly maps, the kind boaters wish were available for every river.”

“Paul Bauer and his collaborators have raised the bar for field guides of all kinds,” wrote William deBuys, an author and conservationist. “This is a gorgeous and rich piece of book-making. I was equally fascinated by the thoughtful text and the beautiful, informative images.”

Bauer also credits Greer Price, chief editor at the Bureau of Geology.

“Greer formerly worked at the Grand Canyon Association and is an expert at putting out books to the public on earth science. That certainly shows in the final product,” Bauer said.

The book is dedicated to Bauer’s close friend, “Uncle” Steve Harris, who operates a outfitter business, Far Flung Adventures, in Taos.

“Steve has been an outfitter for 30 some years. He and I are rafting buddies. We’ve rafted together from Idaho to southern New Mexico and points west, over quite a few years,” Bauer said. “He founded Rio Grande Restoration where he advocates wise use and protection of New Mexico rivers and was a huge help with the book in all sorts of ways.”

Bauer said it took him 15 years to complete the book. That works out to be about 10 miles a year.

“I chipped away at it,” he said. “I feel really lucky that I was able to lay down the foundation with my day job. Most of the work I do is in northeast New Mexico, so it was a good fit.”

The book sells for $18.95 and is available for purchase on the Bureau of Geology website: www.geoinfo.nmt.edu/publications/new/home.cfm.

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.

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