Jemez Canyon

Summer and our monsoon season is almost over. I don’t expect much more rain and the forecasters tell us that the La Nina weather pattern is coming back, which means more dry weather. The wet weather was nice while it lasted. This is desert so, by definition, we don’t expect much more than 11 or 12 inches of rain in a year. Our daily COVID count is climbing so people are back to the old precautions and not socializing as much as the last few months. I decided to go out and explore a few favorite places with my two cameras. I am not very happy with either one so I was doing a comparison on some shots. They are about the same in most respects. One does better macro than the other. One does better zoom — so it is a tradeoff.  I decided to spend the afternoon up in Jemez Canyon, not too far from where I live but in the Jemez Mountains.  Of course, the canyon was carved by the Jemez River that flows past the town of Jemez Springs and Jemez Pueblo to the Rio Grande. DSCN3753 (2)

It was a pretty day and not too hot — there were storm clouds building up in the mountains but with a humidity of 14% it was not likely to rain on me.

The river is a stocked trout stream with a number of fishing access sites. The lower section was a  little muddy, probably due to tome recent road construction further up the canyon.

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Higher up into the mountains it runs clear.

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Such a small stream offers considerable challenges to a fly fisherman…but there are some fish in there, waiting.

The late summer wildflowers were out, helped by the monsoon rains.

The scenery along the canyon is worth stopping for. The light before sunset shows off the colors.

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The Monsoon clouds were building most of the afternoon but sailed off toward the east.


The canyon continues up through the mountains to eventually reach Valles Caldera, the site of a former mega volacano that collapsed into its magma chamber after a huge eruption. Geologists say that the volcano actually did this three times, which built up the Jemez Mountains. There are hot springs and a few fumaroles still present in the mountains and the caldera.

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Vales Caldera is a National Preserve and home to Elk herds and was one of the main filming site for the Longmire TV series. 

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Forest fires have been a frequent problem in the Jemez Mountains and burn scars are evident near the Caldera and along parts of the highway.

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There seems to be fewer fires lately even with the serious drought. That might be due to a reduced numbers of visitors in the area due to the pandemic. I saw a notice that the Forest Service is proposing a huge increase in fees for camping and imposing a new fee system for day use. The comment period ends September 30, 2021 and there has been little if any public awareness about the new fee structure.  Comment to: DSCN3776

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The Many Faces of Cabezon

The old volcanic plug stands tall and exposed out in the desert. Wikipedia tells us “Cabezon means “big head” in Spanish. This stems from a Navajo myth which holds that it is the head of the giant Ye’i-tsoh after being slain by the twins Nayenezgani and To’badzistsini.” It has an appearance that resembles Devils Tower in Wyoming and they are of the same origin. Devil’s Tower is 40 million years old and Cabezon is about 2-3 million years old and forms part of the Mount Taylor Volcanic Field (Rio Puerco Volcanic Field). Cabezon Peak is visible and noticed from miles away. It stands on the horizon from any high vantage point in the Albuquerque area, all along a section of Highway 550 heading toward Durango, and from other areas to the south and west. It sometimes appears as a photo-bomb on other photographs. I decided to provide a post here that shows some of the various faces of Cabezon. I have dozens of pictures so this might seem like overkill.

The season and the time of day and the approach or perspective makes a big difference.



It is climbable — with some expertise and maybe some basic equipment. People tell me that there is an inconspicuous  crevice  on one side that is the “easy” route. The elevation is 7,785 ft. with 1,508 ft. prominence. I am not a climber but have been up to the “shoulder” at the nearly vertical shaft. The view from the shoulder is impressive enough for me. Coordinates: 35°35′58″N 107°05′45″W — in case someone is interested. 


This being a volcanic field, there ate other plug in the general area but Cabazon demands the most attention.
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As impressive and imposing as it is, the area around Cabezon — the Rio Puerco desert area, is impressive in its own right. There are other volcanic features — other plugs.


The Ojito Wilderness and the Chamisa Wilderness and the White Mesa Bike Trails Area ar to the east and south. Much of this is BLM land. Roads can be difficult.

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This is practically my back yard — hence all the pictures.

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There are occasional glimpses of Sandia Mountains in the distance near Albuquerque. They make up the estern edge of the Rio Grande Rift. Cabezon is near the western edge.

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To the north are the Jemez and Nacimiento Mountains. The Nacimientos mark the western edge of the Rio Grande Rift. rift.

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The desert colors at sunset are gorgeous.

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Crags and Rain

My location serves as a lazy man’s vantage point of the constant changes that take place over the Rio Grande Valley and the Sandia Mountains north and east of Albuquerque.  We are entering our Monsoon Season, perhaps a little early which is a good thing, mostly. there have been some reported flash floods which are always dangerous and not very productive.  We have been enduring a couple weeks of warm weather — up to 100 degrees — but it is mostly in the 70s or low 80s now. I have some recent pictures of the Sandia Mountains as the rains moved in. I will start this with a poem posted on my El Malpais blog:

Morning Rain

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I awoke to an rare and unfamiliar presence;
a coolness and a calm that seemed foreign.
There was a faint sound and the curtains moved
in a slight breeze. The light was subdued. There
was a pleasant smell in the air. Those were my first
sleepy realities…my first slow acknowledgement of
the blessing of the morning rain.

The Indians have a name for this:  a Female Rain.
There is something feminine and kind. There is
something womanly about it — no thunder or
lightning. No bullying wind. Just a nourishing
and healing rain that slips in and caresses you
and stays for a while. I lie still and take it all in.
Part of me wants to sleep but I have to get up.

We are in serious drought times now and the land
has suffered. The fires have been burning in the
distance. The flowers and trees have not come
into bloom or blossom. It will be a starving time for
the wildlife when the hard winter snow comes.
But for now — I wake up slowly and enjoy the
blessing of the day. The Coyotes sing with joy.

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The Home Place — 2021


I never get tired of it. There is always a new shadow or a cloud or a change in the light that captivates my attention.

The sunset effect lasts maybe five minutes when the sun’s rays, coming through the atmosphere that might have suspended dust or smoke from forest fires, reflects off the feldspar crystals in the Sandia’s exposed surface.

In late June and early July the clouds start to play a larger role in the evening’s performance.

Then comes the Monsoon…

The summit’s antenna forest is engulfed — a cloud forest.

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We will see some spectacular lightning displays and cloud formations before it all calms down in late August.  The weather gurus tell us that the La Nina pattern in the Pacific — that keeps us dry and sometimes in drought — has ended and we have entered a “neutral” pattern. El Nino, the pattern that brings us wetter weather, would be a nice change.

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Rio Grande del Norte

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is one of our newest monuments, located near Taos, New Mexico. The Rio Grande is a wild and scenic river flowing through a deep gorge. What I find most striking is the solitude and quiet of the place (with some exceptions). This is simply a photo collage of scenes from a recent trip in May 2021.

The Taos plateau is a flat expanse of desert to the west of Taos NM and the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the tail end of the Rockies coming out of Colorado, rise to the east. Driving west out of Taos the plain seems featureless except for the distant peaks from extinct volcanoes. Then, suddenly, the bottom falls out — the gorge is revealed almost without warning.

We visited on a stormy Monday and several times over the next few days and followed the gorge north toward the confluence with the Red River Gorge near Cuesta.

You might remember the bridge from one of the Terminator movies. Sadly, it is a site marred by frequent suicides and there are a half-dozen crisis intervention call boxes positioned on the bridge. There is a popular rest area by the bridge with a few trails along the west rim. There was a flock or harem of Big Horn Sheep near the rest area. It is lambing time but no lambs yet.

The lower gorge is a popular river rafting area because the river is more accessible and the highway runs along side offering several places to put in and take out. To the north, near Cuesta, the National Monument is a solitary place with few weekday visitors. We had the place to ourselves with no other person within miles as far as we could tell. There is no human noise — simply the wind, the sound of the rapids so far below, and occasional bird calls. Hawks soar past on the rising thermals. The native Juniper trees are 2000 years old, or more. Pinon Pine trees drop their pinecones providing pine nuts for a few squirrels. There are occasional ancient trails where the Big Horn Sheep have been climbing down to drink at the river for thousands of years. The gorges — two of them converging — command attention but the Sangre de Cristos and the distant volcanoes dominate the far horizon.

This is a remote place — not easily found. There are no concession stands. No grand hotels. No tour buses. There are camping sites and hiking trails. You have to want to be here and willing to make an effort. Little has changed here in ten thousand years,

Season’s End – Fall 2020

Heritage Squash — Los Poblanos Farm

Seasons come and go but the slow erosion of the fecundity and frenetic activity of summer, in the season we call fall (for some reason, or autumn if you prefer), is a special time of quiet and reflection. Things start to slow down.  The Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese have already arrived to spend the winter. Around here, by the end of October it has gotten a bit cold during normal years but not yet frigid or frozen. This is high desert country so nights get quite cold but the sunlight at this elevation (5500 feet) and normally clear skies will have people out in shirtsleeves and even shorts up to about Thanksgiving.

This year, 2020, is an exception, as it is an almost all possible ways…our pandemic year. Today, October 26, is our first snowfall. It is actually a snowstorm – snowing all day and most likely well into tomorrow. So, this year we are having an earlier winter than usual. We are in a drought and urgently need the moisture, so everyone is happy.

My cat isn’t. Archie just earned outdoor privileges and he looks forward to going out (under supervision) to sniff and scratch and roll in the dust and climb among the potted plants. Today was a shock – it stopped him in his tracks and would not venture out the door.

I took the opportunity to get out a few times over the last couple weeks to get some fall pictures. The colors were very nice but a little subdued because of the drought. What I am focusing on here is more of the spent and last surviving flowers of fall. The seed heads often show an amazing level of natural engineering. So that is pretty much what this posting is about.

Pomegranates at Los Poblanos

Four-winged Saltbush seeds cover the stems and almost looks like it is cloaked in chenille. Giant Mullein stands tall like a candelabra. There are whole meadows of Mullein up in the local mountains. It is not native but was very early introduced from Europe or Asia. The Indians discovered that the seeds could be used to paralyze fish.

I actually don’t know for certain what that red flower is . It might be aa variety of Indian Paintbrush but where I’m familiar with it the plant is never as large as this. Purple Asters are almost gone everywhere but these were still blooming along the Jemez River. These wild Asters get a fuzzy dandelion-type seed head and spread in the wind. There is a bright yellow variety that grows most places but seems to bloom earlier. The thistle, too, was blooming later than normal.

Whatever it was it was blooming its heart out. It might be a form of Chamisa. We have dozens of yellow flowers this time of year. I had a few bunches of wild coreopsis/tickseed come up in my yard this year for the first time. Below is Chamisa mixed with Asters growing next to my front door. I think Chamisa is known as Rabbitbrush in some areas but here it blooms profusely all through the fall and earned a different name in Spanish. I don’t plant any of this stuff but I just sty out of its way when it wants to come up. This is the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and much cooler than the lower Sonoran Desert people see in Arizona. Something is always trying to bloom.

Some spent or almost spent and dried flowers waiting for the birds or wind to scatter the seeds. The Apache Plume, below, is in a pink form. I usually see it as white when wild . It is grown commonly as an ornamental and sometimes just shows up.

The fall tree colors were a little drab from the drought and it all seemed out of synch and did not all turn together as in some years. Our bosque forest, along the Rio Grande, had some beautiful individual old cottonwoods.

It is still snowing and drifts are starting to pile up. Certainly not a blizzard but more persistent snowfall than usual. Winter is officially almost 60 days away….but here we are. I decided not to trudge out to the mailbox through the snow. All I get is election ads and people wanting donations. That can wait.

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Garden Colors – Early June

It’s 95 degrees and 15% humidity here this afternoon. The sun will get you if you don’t take precautions. But the flowers are showing off. There is a little breeze and quite pleasant in the shade.

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The pond is looking pretty good. The lilypads shade the water and that keeps the algae at a minimum.

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The Fire-Breathers — Mexican Bird of Paradise — have taken over the show. The Hummingbirds like them.

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My Spanish Broom is showing off in spite of being injured by a late frost. It is huge, maybe twenty feet tall.

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Mojave Sage is not appreciated as much as it should be. In detail, it is very pretty but most people see it as flowering mounds.

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My mystery flower keeps blooming. This is a volunteer that just showed up in a flower pot (how convenient) but I don’t know what it is. The leaves come in threes and are lance-shaped. I have at least one other volunteer like this in my front yard growing next to a wild yellow aster. They pick nice places to grow. If you know what it is, let me know.

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At any rate, I hope it comes back next year.

My Desert Willow will be blooming soon and I see some wild Mexican Hat coneflowers coming up. I planted coneflowers but the rabbits ate them.

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