A ‘descanso’ near the entrance station to Bandelier National Monument honors Johnny Aldaz who died in 1977 after collapsing while fighting a wildfire in Ponderosa Campground. Photo Courtesy NPS
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Bandelier National Monument remembered their own Johnny Aldaz this week on the Bandelier Facebook page with the following tribute:
June18, 1977, was a very tough day at Bandelier. The La Mesa Fire, which had started west of the park on June 16, crossed the monument from west to east that day and continued into the lands of the neighboring Los Alamos National Laboratory. A backpacking school group was trapped in Capulin Canyon, and eventually was rescued by members of the Army Corps of Engineers bringing boats across the corps’ Cochiti Lake and up the Rio Grande to pick up the students. And then the news came across the radio that one of the park crew, Johnny Aldaz, had collapsed while fighting the fire at Ponderosa Campground. One of his coworkers drove him to the entrance to meet the ambulance, but he passed away just as it arrived.
Juan (Johnny) Aldaz was a long-time, well-liked member of the park staff. He and another employee, Tίo Albert, often sat in the canyon residence area in the evenings, playing guitar and accordion and singing old northern New Mexico Spanish songs. He had a large family in his home in the nearby Española valley. Sometime later that summer his children set up a “descanso”, a traditional roadside memorial, near the entrance station, and they have tended it regularly through all the intervening years. In addition, when the East Jemez Interagency Fire Center was established near Ponderosa Campground, a plaque in his honor was placed on its porch. The plaque reads:
Juan G Aldaz
June 24, 1925 – June 18, 1977
He passed away fighting La Mesa Forest Fire
Working for Bandelier National Park Service for 20 Years
He took pride in his job and had integrity.
He was a man with great work ethics,
was honest and had mutual respect for others.
Juan left behind his wife Anita Aldaz and 10 children.
He died for what he believed in,
Preserving the land for everyone to enjoy.
HE IS DEEPLY MISSED!