Saturday, May 4, 2013

Author Interviews: Joanne Sprenger

Sprenger Book

Q&A with author about her book: Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area

Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area, by Joanne M. Sprenger is a small volume packed full of essential information about hiking generally and the trails around Las Vegas in particular. She throws in a little history, personal anecdotes and photos. At $9.95 it’s a bargain for anyone planning on hiking and camping, and priceless in terms of the helpful hints and trail information.
Joanne grew up in Wisconsin where she said there was a lot of private land and not as much opportunity to hike as in New Mexico. After college she taught at Cassville, Wis., on the banks of the Mississippi where she met and married George Sprenger, who taught Chemistry at Cassville.  Joanne taught physical education and an English class for two years. The couple moved around a few times, she said, and landed in Las Vegas, where she taught at Highlands for 25 years.

H. This is a second edition of Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area. What’s different and why did you decide to do another one?
JS. I decided to do a second edition of the Trail Guide I had printed in 1987 as those 2,000 copies were almost gone. There were also some changes I needed to make. For example, just after the first edition came off the press, the State Highway Department changed the number of Hwy 3 through Las Vegas to Hwy 518.
H. Give a brief description of the book.
JS. The second edition left out the wildflowers and Chapter 3 on cross country skiing, which I had in the first edition. One lists information on precautions, such as hypothermia and hyperthermia, dehydration, altitude sickness, lightning, blisters, how to find appropriate maps, etc. Chapter Two lists a number of trails and  directions on how to find the trail head, difficulty, length of trail,  elevation change, and GPS coordinates at the trail head.
H. Who is the target audience? 
JS. The target readers are those seeking information on finding the trails as well as staying safe in the mountains. George and I used to lead week long trips in the Pecos Wilderness for backpackers from the east coast to west coast. One year on the final day of a hike, a gentleman from California died, and local search and rescue volunteers came up with a packhorse from Gascon Ranch to bring down Karl’s body. Although I had two physicians on that trip, no one expected an aneurysm on the aorta would suddenly turn into an emergency. Also, treasure hunters who come from lower elevations will be unprepared for this environment. We’ve already had one mission over at Bandelier National Monument for a woman from out of state who survived a cold, wet night out, unprepared for the weather. However, the subject of a search could be someone who knows the area who has an accident on a horse or many other problems that can arise. Sometimes the weather – such as heavy fog – can cause problems to even people who know the area.  
H. Why is it important to leave the environment as you found it, such as not picking wildflowers? 
JS. I was at a Forest Service meeting several years ago when a woman asked, “Why have all the flowers disappeared? When I was young we used to pick arms full of flowers.” It may be that the flowers she had been talking about reproduced by seed. Let’s leave the flowers, camping area, the way we found it for the next group to enjoy. No one enjoys camping in a garbage dump. Clean up your campsite before you leave. It’s easy to put that candy wrapper in your pocket for later disposal instead of throwing it along the trail.
H. What is the most important thing every hiker should do before starting out, and why? 
JS. One of the most important things you should do before starting out is to inform someone who knows you where you plan to go and when to expect you back. In other words, someone who can be counted on to sound the alarm if you are seriously overdue. They should know your plans, have a description of your vehicle and license number, who you’re going with, and other information, which can help a search and rescue team know where to start. 
H. You talk about modern technology. Why is it important to not put too much reliance on devices?
JS. Some of the electronic aids we’ve come to depend upon may be lost or left behind, even a compass. Cell phone signals may not be able to reach a tower, especially if you’re in the bottom of a deep canyon. Batteries may not last. A Global Positioning System could have several things go wrong. The batteries may go dead, you may be under such thick vegetation that the signal can’t  reach that overhead satellite, some people may not know how to use it properly or have a map along or they may lose that GPS. There are personal locater beacons on the market, such as the SPOT, which also depend on satellites. These can be programmed to send a pre-programmed signal if an emergency comes up. They have some of the same weaknesses as the others, but they have also saved lives. If you become dependent on something which is suddenly not available, there is more of a tendency to panic.
H. What is the best way to let people know where you are if you have an accident?
JS. One of the best ways to get help if you’ve had an accident is to travel with a small group of friends. If you are in a group offour, for example, one person could stay with the injured person while the other two go for help, or if two are needed to provide assistance, only one would be available to go for help.  While I have violated this rule on occasion, I have been fortunate so far.
H. What are the most common problems beginning hikers experience? 
JS. I would guess that the most common problem beginning hikers experience would be blisters.
H. What about experienced hikers?
JS. I would guess that this would be weather related. Weather in these mountains can change quickly. As I mentioned in the book, George and I have been backpacking at 11,000 feet elevation two separate 4th of Julys and awakened to a white environment. The snow or hail quickly evaporated after the sun came out, but people who are not prepared for “winter” conditions in July could find themselves in trouble.   
H. You’ve walked many trails. What got you started?
JS. This is a tough one. I think I’ve always enjoyed the quiet of the woods as well as the expectation that there will be some wildlife. One time George and I were canoeing in northern Wisconsin and came upon a family of otters who had a muddy embankment where they continued to slide down into the lake and then climbe back up for another turn. We sat and watched them having fun for quite awhile. Another time we were driving near Pendaries and spotted a mother bear sitting in a small meadow while her two cubs rolled down the hillside to join her. Many years ago George and I were backpacking up Pecos Canyon near the headwaters of the Pecos River. We stopped to rest and kept hearing this loud noise. I finally recovered enough to sit up and look up the hillside behind us to discover a herd of elk a short distance away. If you’ve ever been fortunate to hear an elk bugle, or a loon in the evening on a lake in northern Minnesota, you know what I mean. 
H. What trails have been the most challenging? Enjoyable? 
JS. Hermit’s Peak is challenging if you try to go too quickly. Enjoyable? Probably Porvenir Canyon Trail 247. They both have the same parking area up Gallinas Canyon.
H. Where can readers get a copy of Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area?
JS. The Trail Guide is available at several locations in the Las Vegas area: (Listed alphabetically) Chamber of Commerce, Furniture and More, 519 6th Street, KOA Campground, LaCueva Horticulture (Raspberry Farm),  Laguna Vista Quick Stop, Las Vegas Museum Gift Shop, Mallette’s Feed, Midway Grocery in Sapello,   Semilla Natural Foods, Tito’s Gallery, Tome on the Range, and War Dancer on the west side of the Plaza.


This article appears in Happenstance Literary, a digital magazine available by subscription. For details go to

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