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Explore! New Mexico searches the state for interesting stories to tell our listeners and readers - and now our blog followers! We are currently producing a series of multi-media podcasts for the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau about interesting events and places to visit. You can view them at our YouTube channel. Be sure to visit our website where you can get even more ideas about where to travel in the Land of Enchantment.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Klipsch Museum Chronicles the Life of an Acoustic Genius

Even with my hearing deficiency, I can tell the sound coming from speakers the size of small chests of drawers is exceptional. The separation of the music from left to right is so distinct, it’s as if two different tracks were playing. And resonance from bass to treble bubbles forth in a rich palette of color.

The speakers are Klipschorn and the place where I’m listening to them is the Paul W. and Valerie S. Klipsch Museum in NMSU’s College of Engineering, specifically the Foreman engineering complex just south of the venerable Goddard Hall.

The museum was dedicated in 1997, when the Foreman building was completed, and, although the museum is more than a dozen years old, its treasures are virtually unknown by Las Cruceans.

Paul Klipsch undoubtedly deserves the recognition for the masterpiece speakers he created. He’s in the Audio Hall of Fame and the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame. NMSU’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering was named in his honor. Of greatest interest to me is the fact Klipsch is also an Aggie. He graduated in 1926 when the university was still New Mexico College of A&M. I received my degree in 1966.

And then there’s Joe Creed, who also earned his degrees from NMSU. He’s Assistant Dean of the College of Engineering and Professor Emeritus. Before he retired, Prof. Creed not only taught but, as dean, was responsible for alumni relations with the college. That’s how he met the Klipschs and got involved in the museum.

Following graduation, Klipsch worked as a geophysicist until the beginning of World War II. He enlisted in the Army at the rank of Major and was assigned to the Southwest Proving Grounds in Hope, Arkansas, where he specialized in ballistics, earning several patents for his work. When the war ended he remained in Hope. His lifelong love of music undoubtedly contributed to his interest in building speakers, which he began doing in a tin building behind a dry cleaner.

The business prospered, perhaps despite its founder. According to Prof. Creed, “Paul Klipsch was more interested in building the best and most beautiful speakers he could and not just making money.”

Because his wife, Valerie, was so much a part of his life and the business, I’d be remiss if I did not include this story. Mrs. Klipsch was born in Austria and immigrated to the United States prior to the war. Since Hope was their home, I had to venture an obvious question: Did they know the Clintons? Prof. Creed told me, Valerie Klipsch was an accomplished pianist and taught piano in Hope. “She was, in fact, Bill Clinton’s piano teacher,” he says, “but she recommended he take up saxophone because his hands were too large for piano.”

Klipsch continued to refine and build even better speakers. His Klipschorn speakers are considered the best sound producing instruments of their time. Built for installation in a corner, the speakers use the walls as part of the bass horn to reach the high fidelity they achieve, proving it was possible to reproduce the sound of a live orchestra in a home. Their name, however, was not chosen by their designer.

In an 1999 interview, Klipsch said he made a sales call to a prospect in New York and was surprised to learn the man already know about his speakers. “We’ve heard about your corner horn,” the prospect said. “We call it the Klipschorn.”

n time, the Klipschs decided to retire and sold the business to Fred Klipsch, Paul’s brother. The business exists today, based in Indianapolis. The plant in Hope is also still there and the unique Klipschorn speakers are still being built there, albeit as special order items.

Paul and Valerie Klipsch had always had high regard for NMSU. They endowed a scholarship fund that supports about 45 students annually. They also had a small museum in Hope and decided to donate it to the university.

Enter Joe Creed. “Taking care of alumni was just part of my job,” he says. “That’s when I met Paul and Valerie and got involved with the museum. I was lucky to be here when they came to make their donation.”

He flew to Hope to accept the artifacts and memorabilia, rented a truck, and drove back to Las Cruces with the treasures.

That meeting led to a lifelong friendship, which continues to this day. While Klipsch died in 2004 at age 98, Mrs. Klipsch still lives in Hope. “I’ve been happy to be associated with the Klipschs,” Prof. Creed says, “because they are such gracious people.” He talks with Mrs. Klipsch frequently and often travels there to examine the newest items she’s found, since she’s constantly on the lookout for her husband’s earliest speakers.

When the Foreman building was completed, it had two spacious foyers. Prof. Creed convinced the university to make minor adjustments to the design of one of the foyers and turn it into space for the museum. There visitors can examine the various styles of speakers that came from the Klipsch factory, including the large, corner Klipschorn with its matched fronts in fine wood. Several of the speaker sets are wired to CD players so visitors can insert their music and listen to it. There are technical exhibits including a cutaway of the Klipschorn, an exhibit of the awards and honors Klipsch earned, photos chronicling his life, and a cabinet of his papers. Prof. Creed also rescued the office of the acoustic genius and has reassembled it as if Paul Klipsch has just stepped out for lunch.

The museum is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. or you can call 646-2913 for an appointment. Prof. Creed is more than willing to share the stories embraced by the museum to anyone who is interested.

We all listen to music, but until your favorite composition resounds from a Klipschorn speaker, you haven’t really heard it. It’s worth the time to hear the difference and learn about the man who made it possible.

Posted by Bud Russo

An Encounter With Otero Mesa: Learning What Makes It Unique

I’m standing on a hillock in the middle of Otero Mesa, the last remaining Chihuahuan Desert short-grass prairie left on public lands in the U.S. I find it hard to comprehend how vast this grassland is. Knowing it’s 1.2 million acres just doesn’t do it. I turn in a slow circle and look out over the plateau. From where I am to the horizon in every direction there is the undulating grassland. Sixty-some miles to the north are the Sacramento Mountains. To the west are the Hueco Mountains and to the east are the Cornudas Mountains, which block my view of the Guadalupe Mountains farther east. The plateau within this triangle of mountains constitutes Otero Mesa.

The human footprint here is still relatively light. Ranchers lease much of the BLM-managed lands for cattle. Other than that, the land seems empty. It is anything but. Life, comprised of more than 1,000 plant and animal species, abounds everywhere I look.

Ever since joining the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA) I had heard about Otero Mesa and I had wanted to experience it. On a weekend in late September, Cheryl Fallstead and I joined Nathan Newcomer, NMWA associate director, and about a dozen people at a campsite in the shadow of Alamo Mountain, the highest peak in the Cornudas.

Saturday most of the campers elected to hike the a steep trail to the summit of Alamo Mountain, some 1400 feet above the plain. They were promised a grand view of the entire mesa and were not disappointed.

Cheryl and I joined Steve West, NMWA staff scientist, to conduct wildlife surveys at several stock ponds out on the plateau. Otero Mesa is high on the Department of the Interior’s list of possible new national monuments and knowing the variety and extent of plant and animal life contributes to our understanding of the land and why it should be protected.

Instead of the grand view, we got up close and personal. We sited and identified more than forty of the 250 species of birds that call Otero Mesa home or which migrate through the area. I’m not a birder so this was an education, learning to tell the difference between a bunting and a warbler; a Vesper’s sparrow from a Brewer’s sparrow. I was more impressed with the raptors we sighted: the osprey, northern harrier, red-tailed, Swainson’s, and Cooper’s hawks. We saw waterfowl – red and green-winged teal, an American coot, and American avocet – and one magnificent hummingbird. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s its name: Magnificent.

We listed plants not yet identified in other areas on the mesa. I learned how to tell the difference between a croton and a winter fat plant and about the all-thorn or crucifixion-thorn tree. The trees we were looking at grow exceedingly slow and may have been more than a century old.

What was most obvious was the change in plant assemblages. In some areas there was an abundance of gramma grasses studded with yucca, indicative of healthy grassland. Other areas were carpeted with yellow snakeweed, mesquite, and prickly pear – signs of poor range management over the century or more cattle have been grazed here. How to give the land respite and let it recover are issues now being debated.

As evening arrived, we helped set up mist nets to trap birds, which West was banding. Each one he caught, he measured and weighed. He was excited to find and band an orange-crowned warbler and a cordilleran flycatcher.

There were other exciting moments during the day. We spotted several pronghorn, some single males and others with their harems. Pronghorns we were told are not antelopes but last surviving species of nine Pleistocene animals, which thrived as long as two million years ago. That may account for their strangely shaped horns and head that’s out of proportion to their bodies.

As the sun settled over the Hueco Mountains, we were treated to a delightful coyote howl. I expect the coyotes were simply letting each other know they were in close proximity, maybe on the edge of each other’s territory but, to me, they sounded more like an a cappella choir in four-part harmony.

Sunday was a day of exploring human history rather than natural history. Newcomer led our group up to the first bench on Alamo Mountain to see some of the hundreds of petroglyphs. Many of the rock-art creations are thought to have been made by the Mescalero Apache whose territory was near the area in the mid-1800s. Designs of horned characters and zigzagging lines may represent Apache deities of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning. Drawings of horses suggest many of the petroglyphs date from the 1600s, although other artifacts and potsherds indicate native people have inhabited the area for thousands of years.

As you might expect, there was a wide range of artistry. Some rock artists could do no more than make stick figures; others had the competence to do remarkable images of fish, owls, bear paws, and what looked like a rainbow. He also pointed out a broad bowl in which archeologists have found pit houses and other evidence of human occupation. Newcomer said he expects scientists will find pottery, tools, charcoal from old campfires, and perhaps even human remains. We looked into the bowl from its edge and turned away. No one wanted to disturb an area that could enlighten us about those occupying the land long before us.

Our last stop was the remaining stone walls of the Butterfield Stage station, one of 140 stations along the trail from St. Louis to San Francisco. Perhaps impressed by the Native American rock art, a number of Anglos – maybe travelers, maybe cowboys – etched there names and the dates of their passing.

If our ride onto Otero Mesa was like venturing into a brave new world, our ride home was like leaving an old friend, one we’re sure to revisit time and again, certain each visit will reveal new wonders.

Posted by Bud Russo