» The personal website of Salvador Zapien

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Bitches leave!

Bitches leave! – Clarence Boddicker, Robocop.

That’s what I thought of as the police officer rolled down our street announcing the evacuation of Los Alamos over his bullhorn. Of course, the police officer wasn’t as blunt but the sentiment was the same.

On Sunday the 26th, Mari called me from work, a bit breathless, saying that she could see smoke from her office trailer at LANL. I walked outside and I could see it too. “Come home and be careful” I told her. She got home and the smoke plume was bigger but not yet overhead, more to the south of us. Our neighbors came over and we decided to get in their car and go take pictures.

Later that evening, we started preparing for the possibility of having to evacuate. The process of having to decide what to take with you when your town is evacuated is interesting. Here’s what goes on the “obvious” list: important papers, laptops, the cat, clothing for at least a week, medications. Then there’s stuff you realize you may need and or equally important as your important papers. I call this the “Oh yeah, duh!” list: kitty litter and litter box, kitty food and dishes, camera gear, jewelry, backup hard drives, wedding pics and negatives (almost all of our important photos are digital and on a backup drive), blankets and pillows, towels, toiletries, extra water, cell phone chargers, power strip (sometimes you can’t find enough plugs). All of this fit into back seat and trunk of one car.


This is how the sky looked the morning of the evacuation (note: cropping and adding contrast are the only things I did to this photo). The fire had grown from 4,000 acres when we fell asleep to over 43,000 acres when we woke up.

We didn’t really have our car packed until the last minute. Truth be told, we thought that an announcement would be made in the morning giving us a time frame to leave town. When there was no mention of an evacuation at the press conference that day at noon, we thought we had at least another day in town. Not so. Two hours later we got the word from our neighbors that the twitter was abuzz about a mandatory evacuation starting at 2:00pm. We got confirmation via the TV and not soon after that the cop with the bull horn drove down our street. To say we were taken by surprise is an understatement. Our car wasn’t packed and we hadn’t made any reservations for a place to stay. Luckily, our neighbors had a place to stay in Albuquerque and they invited us to stay with them. The place belonged to a friend of theirs that was house and pet sitting so her apartment was available to all of us. It took about 20 minutes to load the car with everything above.

We ended up staying in Albuquerque for seven days. Every day we would check the twitters and the facebook for updates. Everyday we watched the news hoping to hear the go ahead to come home. Every day we wondered about the stuff we left behind. Guitars, books, my truck, old letters, knick knacks, coffee grinder…just stuff to be sure but it was our stuff; the things Mari and I had accumulated together to make a home. If it all burned down, sure it could be replaced but nothing would be the same. So we worried. And waited.

Finally, on Sunday the 3rd of July, we woke up to the news that the evacuation had been lifted. We were allowed to go home and we cleaned up and packed the car to head back home.

The view from Interstate 25 as we left Albuquerque.

Interstate 25 as we approached Santa Fe.

As we drove up the hill to Los Alamos, the sky turned dark and rain began to fall. Fat drops of water hit our windshield and we were relieved. The rain, though brief, felt like a sign that things were going to be okay.

The town was a bit deserted when we arrived around 3:30 in the afternoon. However, we were greeted all the same.

It was good to be back.

It was good to be home.


ayumiJuly 8, 2011 - 11:38 pm

good gosh sal, what a post! Glad to hear you’re home and and got all the ‘oh yeah, duh’ stuff. Makes me think about being prepared for the big earthquake that will eventually hit LA someday.

Las Conchas wildfire outside of Los Alamos, NM

Earlier today a fire broke out 12 miles southwest of Los Alamos. The wife, the Cat and I are okay but we’re prepared to evacuate if necessary. Links to info about the fire are listed at the bottom of the post.

View of the Las Conchas Fire from a residential street in Los Alamos, CA.

View of the Las Conchas Fire from the corner of Diamond Drive and University Drive. Los Alamos, NM.

Local emergency crews from Los Alamos en route to help with the Las Conchas fire.

The sun breaks through the fire plume of the Las Conchas Fire.

The Las Conchas Fire seen from NM state road 4 near Bandelier National Monument.

The Las Conchas Fire seen from NM state road 4 near Bandelier National Monument.

View of the Las Conchas Fire from Pajarito Ski resort outside of Los Alamos, NM.

View of the Las Conchas Fire from Pajarito Ski resort outside of Los Alamos, NM.

View of the Las Conchas Fire from Pajarito Ski resort outside of Los Alamos, NM.

A plume of smoke from the Las Conchas Fire extends over Los Alamos County.

View of the Las Conchas Fire from an area burned by the Cerro Grande Fire of 2000. Los Alamos, NM.

Links regarding the Las Conchas Fire:

NM Fire Info


Los Alamos Monitor

If you need to get a hold of me, text me at 310.425.5090 or email me at (I’ll be checking both regularly). I’ll also be posting updates to the twitter and the facebook.


JonathanJune 26, 2011 - 10:10 pm

Stay safe, man. Great photos, though.

Salvador ZapienJune 27, 2011 - 9:08 am

Thanks Jonathan. Will do.

Visiting the Valles Caldera

Not far from my new home is a collapsed volcanic crater named Valles Caldera. Comprised of grasslands, peaks, rivers and hot springs, the landscape is striking.

The Valles Caldera from NM Road 4

Local fauna partake in the short grass of the Valles Caldera.

Part of an elk skull hangs from a barbwire fence near the visitor center.

Cerro La Jara, a lava dome, rises 250 feet from the caldera floor.

A tree on the edge of Cerro La Jarra.

A marker along the Cerro La Jara trail.

New Mexico Cinquefoil.

Western Blue Flag irises.

Cattle graze in the Valles Caldera.

Looking northwest over a pond in the Valles Caldera.

The east fork of the Jemez River in the Valles Caldera.

Walking back from the pond. The Valles Caldera Visitor Center can be seen just right of center.

Horses in a meadow near Jemez Springs, NM.

Battleship Rock, Jemez Springs.

Testing out the Fuji X100 point and shoot

Yesterday, I received an X100 from The X100 has a fixed 35mm f/2.0 lens, goes up to ISO 12800, shoots RAW, and comes in rangefinder format. I ordered it to put it through the paces and see how well the image quality holds up in low light situations. These are some quick shots I took after dinner. ISO 3200 and 6400 look like ISO 800 and 1600 on my Canon S90 point and shoot. More to come later.

f5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 3200

f5.6, 1/60s, ISO 3200

F2, 1/450s, ISO 3200

F2, 1/110s, ISO 3200

F2, 1/750s, ISO 3200

f2, 1/100s, ISO 6400

f2, 1/40s, ISO 6400

f2, 1/40s, ISO 6400

Road Trip Days 4 – Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks

Entering Tetons National Park.

The Tetons from the side of the road.

The Tetons from Shwabacher's Landing.

The Tetons from Jackson Lake.

Free range bison.

Tasty, tasty bison.

A break in the fence posts to allow the wild life to go back and forth.

At Old Faithful.

The terrain around Old Faithful was like a cross between the moon surface, a volcano, and forest.

Wait for it... Wait for it...


The Tetons from Shwabacher's Landing. Totally worth the 1200 mile detour.

T w e e t s