Editor’s note: This is the final piece in a four-part series highlighting the 2023 news of Rio Rancho and Sandoval County. Each week in December, we will run three months of news highlights from the year.


• Several dozen Rio Rancho and Sandoval County pilots participate in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta as elementary schools in Rio Rancho participate in Albuquerque Aloft.

• The Rio Rancho Governing Body passes a resolution in support of affordable housing.

Wendall, the Nigerian Goat, proudly stares into the camera after winning the Corrales pet mayor election. Photo courtesy of Tracy Stabenow.

• The Corrales Harvest Festival draws in crowds and names Wendall the goat as its new pet mayor.

• A New Mexico judge upholds the challenged congressional maps drawn in 2021, stating that the redistricting plan enacted by Democratic state lawmakers succeeded in substantially diluting the votes of their political opponents but that the changes fell short of “egregious” gerrymandering.

• A developer introduces plans for an expanded City Center.

• An unofficial survey of Sandoval County residents found that a majority of the participants want commissioners and county managers replaced.

• A man found dead near a Santa Fe Rail Runner station is identified as Aaron Garcia of Kewa Pueblo.

• Haven House marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month with the annual Purpling of the Poles.

• The Basketball League will be bringing a team to Rio Rancho with former NBA player Cliff Levingston serving as general manager and coach.

• The annular eclipse draws crowds to the Rio Rancho Observatory as the Ring of Fire appeared at 10:36 a.m. Oct. 14. It also drew record attendance to the Balloon Fiesta.

• Fire Station 6 reopened in Mariposa, something residents had be longing for for years.

• Shock rocker Alice Cooper performs in Rio Rancho.

The legendary Alice Cooper sings an early song from his career, with most of the standing fans singing right along with him. (Joe Grimando photo)

• A merger between Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Iowa-based UnityPoint Health is called off.

• Eight new members are inducted into the Cleveland High School Sports Hall of Fame.

• Two pedestrians are killed in separate accidents Oct. 24. Michael Warnken was killed just before 6 a.m. while walking his dog along Terraza Blvd. in the Loma Colorado neighborhood, causing residents to renew complaints about crosswalks and lighting along the road. That night, around 10 p.m., Victoria Aktsioglow, 52, was killed while crossing NM 528 against traffic signals at Southern Boulevard.

• Corrales chef Javier Montaño reflects on his experience on the “Chopped” TV show.

• The Fiesta of Cultures returns to Bernalillo after a four-year hiatus.

• The all-day Bands Across Rio marching band contest is hosted at Rio Rancho Stadium and hosted by the Rams’ marching band.

• The Cleveland Storm take the District 1-6A football title after defeating the Rio Rancho Rams.


• Former Rio Rancho city councilor Marilyn Salzman dies at age 80.

• Staff members of the Rio Rancho Observer rack up eight awards from the New Mexico Press Association.

• Rio Rancho Public Schools announces Hal Makofske and Terry McDermott as the next members of its Hall of Honor.

• Several nurses and former workers from Sandoval Regional Medical Center speak out about working conditions and claim wrongful terminations from the hospital. The issues are later brought before the Board of Regents in December.

• A balanced calendar option is proposed for Rio Rancho Public Schools. The board opts to explore the issue further by forming a committee with the 2025-26 school year being the earliest it would be implemented.

• Rio Rancho Public Schools releases the STOPit app, which allows for anonymous reporting of bullying, school violence, threats and other inappropriate behavior.

• For the second time, Mexican gray wolf F2754, also known as Asha, made her way into northern New Mexico, this time being tracked near Jemez Springs. She has since been placed back in captivity in the hopes she will mate.

• The flu officially arrives in New Mexico with the first cases reported by the Department of Health.

• Beth Miller wins the District 4 board seat for Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education as voters also approve the $80 million bond issue with 62% of the vote.

Rio Rancho’s Charile Vause sprints to the finish line to win the Class 5A boys state cross country race on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Albuquerque Academy. Vause claimed the individual state title with a time of 15:17.16 and Rio Rancho won both the boys and girls team titles.
Curtis Ray Benally / for the Journal

• Rio Rancho Public Schools has a banner sports weekend as Ram Charlie Vause takes the individual boys cross-country title, leading his squad to the team title. The Ram girls also take state in cross-country, as the Cleveland girls take the state soccer title.

• Chicken Salad Chick announces a Rio Rancho location set to open in 2024.

• The Home Depot Foundation and Rebuilding Together Sandoval County team up to provide repairs and upgrades to the home of Navy veteran Mel Baca.

Kevin Hendricks/Observer
Veteran Mel Baca poses with his new grill Nov. 15.

• Mother-and-son duo Francesca and Kellen Wilson announce plans to open the Screaming Coyote in the former the Point Grill location in Mariposa.

• The traditional Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Garza-owned McDonald’s and St. Felix Pantry is put on pause for 2023 because of the Felician Sisters rotation. They plan to bring the event back in 2024.

• A woman was found dead just after sunrise the morning of Nov. 12 from a single-vehicle rollover that had occurred in the overnight hours. Speed was a determining factor. The woman was later identified as Lauren Dillinger.

• Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel announces its new Quezada’s Comedy Club & Cantina, named after Steven Michael Quezada.

• The Cleveland Storm football team advances to the state championship game after defeating in-town rival Rams but fall to La Cueva.

• Residents and public officials share their thoughts on New Mexico Gas Company’s proposed liquified natural gas facility in Rio Rancho in a meeting with the Public Relations Commission.

• An early snow falls over Rio Rancho, dropping about 2 inches a couple of days after Thanksgiving.


• A recall petition is filed against Sandoval County Commissioner Katherine Bruch. It fails to make it past the hearing with the judge stating grounds for a recall were not met.

• Santa makes an appearance at the city’s Winterfest.

• Violinist Lindsey Sterling performs for a large crowd at Rio Rancho Events Center.

• The New Mexico Supreme Court upholds the 2021 congressional district map.

• Albuquerque public officials tout planned improvements for Paseo del Norte and Unser Boulevard.

• Spurred by the April death of Rio Rancho resident Mary Melero, investigations by the New Mexico Department of Health and Adult Protective Services unearth hundreds of cases of abuse of developmentally disabled adults.

• New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez announces a lawsuit his office has filed against Meta, its subsidiaries (including Facebook and Instagram) and founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg.

• Edgar Madrid, of Rio Rancho, and an officer with the New Mexico State Police, is placed on paid administrative leave following an arrest for DWI.

• Rio Rancho’s Brew Lab 101 expands into Albuquerque with a location on Eubank Boulevard.

• Two former City of Vision football coaches, David Howes (Rio Rancho) and Heath Ridenour (Cleveland) are looking for new jobs after new University of New Mexico coach Bronco Mendenhall removes all of fired coach Danny Gonzales’ assistants.

Ashli Knoell, standing to the right of Superintendent Sue Cleveland here, with PED Secretary Arsenio Romero at left of Cleveland, accepts the “big check” with other local city, county and state officials. (Herron photo)

• Cleveland High School teacher Ashli Knoell is named a recipient of the $25,000 Milken Award.

• Basketball season gets underway with the city’s teams participating in several tournaments.

Kevin Hendricks/Observer
Poke Serrano is opening on Dec. 27 after three years of waiting.

• After more than three years of working to launch, Poke Serrano opens on Southern Boulevard.