Visitors from underground

  • Ramon Mena Owens


Pat Jablonsky and Bill Yett of nearby Delta stopped in to our Paonia, Colo., office to renew their subscription and tell us about their recent trip to New Mexico's Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area. They showed us astonishing photos of the Snowy River passage, named for the miles-long formation of bright white crystals covering its floor. The pair are real-deal cavers. Sound scary and claustrophobic? Not so much, they insist. "It helps that you can't see what's ahead," Bill says. "You trust your rope and gear and just go for it," adds Pat, who helped pioneer the fine art of cave-cleaning (contaminants like lint brought in by people can harm sensitive underground formations). The couple recently retired from the National Park Service after 15 years spent on stints at Devils Tower, Petrified Forest, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountain.

Last issue's Two Weeks in the West (HCN, 5/25/09) erroneously referred to the 1976 Forest Land Management Policy Act. The correct title of the act is the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.


He was always "the guy in the big cowboy hat" who came to HCN's potlucks and Christmas open houses. But although we'd known N.W. Grosse-Rhode for years, we had no idea that the N.W. stood for "Norbert William" until he died on May 15, at the age of 90. Even his longtime priest, a good friend, didn't know until the funeral.

N.W. and his wife, Barbara, have been HCN subscribers and Research Fund supporters since 1997. In the course of his long life, N.W. started and ran a variety of businesses, but the ranch he bought on Western Colorado's Grand Mesa in 1976 was his true love. Tough-minded and courtly, stubborn and generous, he liked to describe himself as one of our more "conservative-minded" readers. But several years ago, when Paonia was in a tizzy over a Rainbow Gathering outside of town, he stopped his truck and climbed out to tear down a roadside sign that said "Hippies go home." He will be greatly missed.

Ramon Mena Owens, photojournalist and HCN contributor, died May 21 of a heart attack at the age of 48. Born in Tillamook, Ore., Ramon attended Ohio University School of Journalism in Athens, Ohio, graduating in 1985. He started his photojournalism career as an intern at The Boston Globe, and worked at the The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In 1998, he moved to Colorado and started a freelance photography business. A free spirit and a traveler, in 2005 he headed to California, where he worked for the Desert Sun and the Press-Enterprise. 

Ramon described his life's mission as "speaking for those who have no voice." He won numerous awards for his work, which focused on environmental issues and social problems: the AP Photographer of the Year Award in Ohio, a Ford environmental photography fellowship from the International Center for Journalists in Ecuador (2003), a Knight Fellowship in Armenia (2003), and a Best of Gannett Award in 2005 for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. His work documenting the lives of Hispanics in America can be seen in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. See and for examples of Ramon's powerful photography.

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