Bandelier National Monument staff member, from left, Joanie Budzileni, Kay Beeley, Jorge Maldonado and others listen to an informational talk by Sonja Lovold Atkinson Thursday at lunchtime. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Bandelier National Monument Supt. Jason Lott introduces Sonja Lovold Atkinson, left, and her daughter Sarah Colby to Bandelier staff Thursday. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Bandelier National Monument staff got to hear firsthand last Thursday from Sonja Lovold Atkinson who spent time in Bandelier as a child.
Atkinson’s daughter Sarah Colby said she came across a photo from the 1941 tourist brochure for Bandelier National Monument.
“There were people sitting on the porch and I thought I recognized my grandfather. So I grabbed the fuzzy little pixelated photo off the website and I sent it to her and she said, ‘yes that is your grandfather and the woman in the back holding the baby is your grandmother,’ and so from there I came up with the idea of bringing her back here. I talked to (Supt.) Jason Lott and he was so excited that I knew this was going to be a great day,” she said.
Atkinson said the to visit Bandelier had been a real thrill.
“You can imagine what a gift that is from your daughter to bring you to a place full of memories and wonderful times. I came here as a baby because my mom had formed a tight bond and a wonderful friendship with (Evelyn) Eva Frey. She always called her Eva. And their association was one of those where you have a friend and you don’t see them for three or four years and when you see them, it’s like you saw them yesterday,” Atkinson said.
She said her father, once he worked for the United Nations, kept taking the family far away and yet they would come back after an absence of three years and her mother and Mrs. Frey were like magnets, that it was just like they had been together all along.
“I got here at various ages, starting when I was about six months when we had to come and show Eva the baby, and when I was three, four, eight, 10. The big year for me was when I was 13. My father had gone ahead on his assignment to Chile and we were having trouble with the visas. So my mother spent the summer here and worked in the lodge and we stayed in one of the little cabins. It was 1950. It was a phenomenal year for me because there was a stable and I got permission to curry and brush the horses and clean out the stalls and in exchange for that once a week I could ride for two hours,” Atkinson said.
She said because she was so faithful at taking care of the horses that soon she got to ride for four hours. She said they had a wonderful old horse that they let her ride to start with and that she rode in the canyon on a trail on the left side of the stream.
“In the beginning they didn’t want to put me on Prancer but I eventually got to ride Prancer,” Atkinson said.
She said that was wonderful for her. Her mother worked as a park ranger.
“My father met her when she was at Aztec and had to fend off two other suitors, but he carried it the day. So my mother has always almost a reverence for the Park Service and for her a park ranger is way up there on a pedestal,” Atkinson said.
She said being at Bandelier gave her a special view of the Monument and that she would follow the park rangers around.
“I probably went through the tour 25 times, so I could have given the tour because I memorized it. I got to just walk the creek. It changes so much from one end to the other and I became aware of that,” she said.
Atkinson said the folks that came to visit Bandelier had children but there wasn’t a chance to connect. She said sometimes a visitor would come to the park that had a child her age.
“You would think it would be easy to strike up an acquaintance but it really wasn’t and I felt a little different because I wasn’t a tourist or a visitor but I didn’t really belong in a way to the Park Service so it was an interesting little interface there,” she said.
Atkinson said her mother had great respect for the Native American people. She said her mother had taken a lot of classes in anthropology and that she was always telling stories, that she would take out maps, and that she took Atkinson to all the surrounding pueblos.
“I came here with a lot of things that I was trying to keep together so this place has been a place to piece a lot together and then you share all that with all the visitors here. How wonderful to do that!’ she said.
“That summer when I was 13, I got to know Mrs. Frey. She was such a unique character. I loved the way she would just off the back of her hand do a lot of stuff. She was always sensitive to people and caring. I think that’s why so many visitors came. She would be standing behind the gift counter in the reception office asking where folks were from and people felt so welcome. People would tell stories about the canyon – there were so many deer and what happened to them. Mrs. Frey told little stories about bobcats. She built her garden where she did so she could close her gate,” she said.
Atkinson said Mrs. Frey was “so personable and so delightful” and made it look like it was a walk in the park. She said supplying the lodge in the day was hard, especially making sure the brakes were working so that the wagons would not overrun the horses and that it was always “such a trick to get the supplies down”. She Mrs. Frey would tell stories about what it was like to open the lodge. She said Mrs. Frey somehow took responsibility for making sure the CCC were supplied also.
“She had no patience for drunkenness and she did not countenance. They soon found out about that when they watched some of their companions get summarily dismissed,” she said.
Atkinson said to get to know Mrs. Frey that summer was intriguing and that she just exemplified the uniqueness of Bandelier.
“There’s no monument like it,” she said. She said it was a treat to get to know someone of Mrs. Frey’s caliber.
“She was no nonsense. She was very careful in all the things she did. Her bookkeeping was perfect and her supply list was always up to date,” she said.
Supt. Jason Lott told Atkinson that Carolyn Binnewies Gastellum, the daughter of former Supt. Fred W. Binnewies had been there just a day before. Gastellum was actually born at Bandelier. Her father was superintendent from 1947 to 1954. Lott asked Atkinson if she remember Gastellum’s brothers Bill and Bob Binnewies.
“Bob was my first crush. He had red hair and I thought he was the most beautiful thing on two feet.” Atkinson responded. bashfully.
“The thing that always struck me when we would come to Bandelier is that the trees here have a special fragrance and its one of the things you notice. You know you’re here whether you can see it or not,” she said.
In 1925 George and Evelyn Frey, with their infant son, took over the running of the Ranch of the 10 Elders. At that time, the only way into and out of Frijoles Canyon was a steep, dirt path. All of the Frey belongings had to be tied onto mules for the arduous journey down from the canyon rim. The family possessions included household goods, 75 fruit trees, and several hundred chickens.