the charm of the dirt road

February 13, 2017  •  4 Comments

One of the most iconic elements of art in northern New Mexico is a meandering, lovely, gentle dirt road, lined with grass and wildflowers, and perhaps an old adobe house tucked in the background, beckoning the viewer to join in the scene.  Dirt roads are indeed enticing, and many people insist on having dirt roads rather than pavement.  Such a road is definitely easy on the eyes. But today's blog is about the dark underbelly of these roads, as they appear to us during the winter and spring months.

Many of you know that my husband, Fred, and I have been chipping ice from our road for several weeks now.  The excitement begins when snow falls.  On a typical year, Fred is able to hand shovel the quarter mile of road to the highway in about twelve hours.  Because of the necessity of other people driving on the road this year, he was unable to shovel and the road became compacted.  In this state, day after day, the snow changes in form, melting just a little during the day, and freezing at night, creating layers of ice.  Those layers can be five or six inches thick, and are frequently attached to banks of snow that have not been compacted, forming small glaciers.  When this happens, it is very difficult to remove.  But a wonderful, manual invention called the crow bar, will do the trick, given the right temperature and water melting beneath the ice.  Over the weeks, Fred and I have each developed techniques using the crow bar, a metal shovel, and snow shovels for ice removal.

In this photograph, Fred gently but firmly inserts the shovel under the ice where it meets the ground, finessing the ice, and lifting some mammoth sheets from the ground. 

ice work set 2ice work set 2   


Using the shovel as a lever, he lifts the sheet up.  It is much too heavy (ice is roughly 57.2 pounds per cubic foot) to lift at this point, so he positions the plate in order to maneuver and get it off the road.

ice work set 2 lifting slabice work set 2 lifting slab

ice work set 2 moving slabice work set 2 moving slab

ice work set two throwing slabice work set two throwing slab


The sides of the road begin to look like a miniature Stonehenge.

ice work set 2 Fred and slabsice work set 2 Fred and slabs

Since Fred is 5' 10" tall, this particular plate was nearly five feet in height and three inches thick in the middle.  We figure it weighed over 100 pounds.

ice work set 2 Fred posing with slabice work set 2 Fred posing with slab

Despite what we have learned about ice this winter, we have yet to know precisely what conditions enable us to get under the ice and render big plates rather than small chips.  The plates are rewarding and the process of prying them up becomes almost meditative.  On the other hand, chipping ice with a crow bar is extremely labor intensive and messy (as I discovered trying to get under the edges of the ice), spreading bits of ice all over, that you then have to remove with a snow shovel.  We do know that water running under the ice helps in its removal, so temperature is definitely one element. However, about the time those conditions are right, you are slopping around in the mud, because, at this time of year, the ground is still frozen several feet thick with the top couple of inches of mud sliding on top of the frozen ground. As anyone knows who lives on a dirt road, the combination makes for very interesting driving. But with most of the ice off the road, and temperatures rising, the surface is beginning to dry.  In the mean time, our upper bodies are pumped, as we wait for the charm of the dirt road to present itself again. 

until next Monday,


a passion for the [email protected] 


Dianne James(non-registered)
I'm not sure it it will work on a dirt road, but laying down flakes of straw bales has helped immensely in my yard here in the Valley. As you probably know, the ice can get pretty hairy up here in Colorado, too. By spring time, the straw is ready to go into the compost pile or to be used for mulch. You'd probably have to lay the straw thickly on the road. It will snow on it, but you can still get least on walkways that is the case.
Steve Immel(non-registered)
Talk about workout. Makes my back ache just to think about it. No wonder Fred's such a specimen.
Lawrence T. Jones(non-registered)
New neighbors using the road???
FUN STUFF! Love the bear cap!
You handled the challenge of calibrating light in bright sun, reflection and subject-in-shadow conditions well. Next week we get pix of how you & Emeritus spent V-Day?? Happy Valentines Day!
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