Bicycle Race — National Championship

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I didn’t get to see much of the national competition over the last weekend here in Albuquerque, but I managed to watch the criterium race on Sunday afternoon. It was interesting. The riders race for 45 minutes around a course and do as many laps as they can fit in. The time passes very quickly. There were a couple accidents, one was pretty serious, but he walked away from the bike, which was in several pieces. It isn’t much of a spectator sport — there were probably as many riders as spectators.  This race was for riders aged 50 to 55, I think.  But they didn’t look like any 50-year-olds I know. Some were former “Ironman” competitors.  Whippersnappers.

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I noticed a few riders dropped out or were removed from the race by officials for being too slow.  I was surprised at that because there was no chance that they were going to be lapped or were a hazard to other riders.   This was the second year that the competition has been in Albuquerque. There were time trials and a mountain race earlier in the weekend. 

There used to be a state-wide bicycle race where I used to live, and they raced on city streets through our town – the state Capital. This race was at the Balloon Fiesta Park and more of an open setting. Spectators could watch the entire race unfold from a single vantage point.

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This is at elevation; Albuquerque is more than a mile high, and the oxygen demands would be pretty high for the racers. I saw some riders using inhalers after the race.  I’m not a rider but I have friends my age (70s) who are avid and long-distance riders. One does ultra-distance races, but I’m a spectator. 

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Passing through Ojito Wilderness

The Ojito Wilderness is located north and west of Albuquerque south of highway 550. It is an arid desert sort of place on first glance but there are some interesting features. This is an area where some important dinosaur bones have been discovered over the years. DSCN4969a

I had an unexpected free day to go roaming and went up into the wilderness to get a few pictures of the distant wildfires but there were a few things to see at my feet rather than in the far distance. Here are a few images from in and around the Ojito Wilderness.

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Even in a drought of historic proportions, there will be spots where there is a little water seeping through from below. This coreopsis colony indicates a damp spot on the desert floor.

This is sparse and mostly desiccated land. There is evidence of huge water surges through the arroyos and an occasional seep or trickling wet-weather spring.

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Water doesn’t seep into rock so the runoff must be spectacular during heavy monsoon rains.

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Occasionally you might find evidence of a makeshift shelter out in the wild backcountry. I have come across three over the past couple years. They range from carefully placed stone wind shelters complete with a hearth to a simple shelter in a rock crevice. This pile of rocks appears to be the remains of some man-made rock shelter, now fallen into a pile of rubble. The placement of the stones is unnatural compared to the surroundings and appears to have tumbled away from the outcrop. It’s likely to be the remains of an ad-hoc shelter, possibly for a shepherd or a hunter at some point. A lot of work went into it at the time.

There is a nearby arroyo with a prominent animal trail clearly marked as a common crossing point. The trail comes out a few yards from the shelter rubble. A concealed hunter would have an easy shot even with a primitive weapon.

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It is a pretty unforgiving landscape but in the right season and with the right knowledge or experience, a hunter could survive.

The arroyo must carry a lot of water at times — likely some epic flash floods in rainy seasons.

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In this area, the topsoil, if you can call it that, is mostly a mix of volcanic ash and sand. You can see that it runs deep — there are no prominent bedrock outcrops protruding from the arroyo banks, which are subsiding into the streambed. The soil surface looks sterile, but plants have evolved to live in these places.

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One interesting feature is the seep holes that develop near the arroyo. There are large cavities under the soil surface that seem to be five or six feet deep and connected. There must be flowing underground water at some point that erodes the cavity and then surface water finds a crack or an animal burrow and opens a hole, like a skylight, into the cavities. This is in otherwise undisturbed compacted soil, not in rock. Some of the holes are quite deep. Eventually the arroyo will erode into the cavity and peel off a large section of the bank.

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The rocky canyon walls are eroding as well. Given the dry climate, this canyon terrain has probably not changed much in many centuries — but it slowly erodes. The old Clovis hunters probably would easily recognize this place.

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The junipers seem to be able to survive in some places. They are slow growers and will live for hundreds of years. A century of growth might produce a branch as big as your forearm. You don’t see very many “baby” junipers. The pleasant climate might not favor establishing a new tree from seed.

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There is an unpaved road (Cabezon Road) that runs along the south edge of the wilderness. There is really no difference whether inside or outside of the designated wilderness area except for the road and some evidence of off-road vehicle trails. The area here and near the White Ridge Bicycle Trails has been discovered by film production companies which might bring dozens or more people out for a film shoot. The area is fragile, and you can see their parking areas months after they have gone on to their next spot. The wilderness is protected from that heavy use.

The Smoke from Distant Fires

DSCN4942New Mexico is on fire this year. We are in a 1200-year drought with no significant rain expected until July and August. The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire is approaching 260,000 acres, approximately 406 square miles. The Cerro Pelado fire is close to 50,000 acres or 78 square miles. The popular perception of New Mexico is that it is mostly desert and if your only impression of the state is the view from the Interstates, you have not seen very much.

There are about eleven serious fires burning and some smaller ones. The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire has been burning for about six weeks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is the largest fire in the country and is less than 30% contained. The Cerro Pelado fire has been burning in the Jemez Mountains for three weeks and is 11% contained. The “Jemez” is a sky island mountain range surrounded by desert and fosters a special ecosystem that is frequently threatened by the fires.

I started a road trip on April 21 and spent the first night in Las Vegas NM. The Hermit’s Peak fire and the Calf Canyon were separate fires that have since joined into one. This is a picture of what the Hermit’s Peak fire looked like from Storie Lake, near Las Vegas on April 21:

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The humidity was at 5% on the day I left home and the winds were gusting to 60 mph  the next few days. There was no way to get control of the fires in those conditions.  This is a current view of the fire — you need to be in the next county to get a full view. HermitsPeakFire051022

The smoke plume is visible from Albuquerque, 150 miles away. The HP/CC fire area includes the traditional Hispano communities — small towns and villages settled initially in the 17th and 18th centuries by Spanish farmers and ranchers.

The Cerro Pelado fire, visible from my home, threatens the pueblo homelands for the Cochiti and Jemez and other pueblo tribal lands. 

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Yesterday was relatively calm compared to the windy conditions of the past few weeks. I drove up to the Ojito Wilderness, about 35 miles and could see the south edge of the Cerro Pelado fire. 

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The fire is burning toward the northeast — moving away from this area toward Los Alamos. It has entered the footprint of a previous wildfire and has slowed due to lack of fuel. To the south there is more rocky and barren terrain, so it is running out of fuel in that direction as well. It is encroaching on the Valles Caldera but being held back along a highway and by aerial bombardment by water tanker planes.

In this image, from Ojito wilderness, you can see the smaller Cerro Pelado fire on the left and the plume from the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire on the right, over 160 miles in the distance.

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We really don’t expect any change in the dry conditions for another eight to twelve weeks so it is likely that the fires will continue to burn. If the winds die down, the firefighters might be able to gain more control.

 

 

 

Local Color – March 2022

I have been going through my archives lately, year by year, because I realize that I tend to always go back to a handful of photos when I need an image. That is sort of the low hanging fruit approach. I have thousands of photos that I chose to keep but still only use a small fraction. I will be posting a few more now that I have been burrowing through the stack. This is the first installment of a Local Color series that will lead me into some other, less visited, areas. I will try to do this monthly for a while.

New Mexico and its inspirational high desert is my normal haunt and I have lived here for over 8 years so that pile is pretty high. Before that I lived in Missouri, a green and bucolic sort of place on the Missouri River. Occasionally I break out and roam to other places and other continents. I’ll try to give some background as I go along.

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Me — in my natural habitat. In this case, one of the Sandia foothills trails in Albuquerque.

Speaking of habitat, here are a few of my neighbors…

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This is Buddy, my companion Gambel’s Quail. He was unlucky in love, so he turned his affections to me and followed me around for a couple years until he finally found a girlfriend.

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Shelter from the storm: the previous occupiers of my land built a doghouse, but no dog ever consented to live in it. Today it sits in my yard and the local bunnies use it as a rain shelter.

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Moon shot — coming over the Sandias. This is one of many front porch photos. I can see five mountain ranges, but the Sandias grab attention.

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On the east side of the Rio Grande, we have the Sandia Mountains — Spanish for watermelon because they turn red at sunset. On the western side, the west mesa, is a chain of small volcanoes. The river flows through the Rio Grande Rift that stretches from Colorado to Mexico — a giant tear in the earth’s crust over 20,000 feet deep…now filled with sand.

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The Sandias command attention from the entire region.

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The volcanoes are cinder cones that provide an interesting area to roam.  A great place for wildflowers in the spring.

I have a cousin in Sausalito across the bay from San Francisco that I visit on occasion. He lives in a boathouse community — about as different from my habitat as you can be. I haven’t been there for a while — need to go back. I think these were taken on the Marin County headlands and at the dock community.

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Close quarters but unique living arrangement.

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Still life with houseboats

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San Fransisco

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Marin County backcountry — from Mt. Tamalpais, I think.

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Not Godzilla

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Sausalito and “the city” in the background.

Back home again — more local color from New Mexico…

Albuquerque was a major focus and hub for the Santa Fe Railroad. The company had a huge maintenance facility, an employee hospital, and operational offices. The “Railyards” as the maintenance complex is called is the focus of city attention as it quietly waits for a new life.

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The Santa Fe RR maintenance shops — a cavernous, abandoned structure awaits a new life.

Once you venture out of the immediate Albuquerque area there are many spots that call your attention. If you follow this photo blog, you will have seen some of these places before.

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The VLA – Very Large Array (west of Magdalena) is powerful enough to register a cell phone on Jupiter. Hasn’t happened yet.

Fall colors are usually spectacular.

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The Rio Grande Bosque Forest puts on a show with the ancient cottonwoods.

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Fall brings on the glory of the Aspens. This is near San Gregorio Lake.

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Fall color in Jemez Canyon.

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Puerco River country is largely empty now but was occupied by the Pueblo ancestors centuries ago. Some of this is Navajo land now.

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The Jemez Mountains are about a half hour away — mostly volcanic in origin.

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My old Kodak takes “watercolor” photos – not on purpose, that’s just how they come out now. It is a flaw in the camera, but it makes interesting images. This is a view of the Jemez Mountains.

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The Jemez Mountains are a “sky island” surrounded by lower, dryer desert habitat.

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The Sierra Nacimento is a small range just west of the Jemez Mountains. They are the western edge of the Rio Grande Rift. (Sandias are the eastern edge.)

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A long view of Cabezon Peak — an ancient volcanic plug.

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Once in a while you will see vestiges of the old west.

I’ll stop for now. Most of these photos are from 2015 so you can imagine what there is still to come. New Mexico is the “Land of Enchantment” — maybe so, but it is inspirational.

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Snow Day in the Desert

We woke up to snow today. What a blessing — this is only our second snowfall this winter and we need much more. This snowfall ended by noon and by 2:30 it was all but gone and totally a memory now at 4:30. The desert pleads for snow and rain. The experts say we are in the worst drought in 1200 years. That would be back to around the year 922. The ancestral Pueblo people faced that drought and a succession of later ones that drove them to find better places to live and farm. This is not something new. We have maybe one wet year out of five. Our normal moisture total for the year is little more than ten inches…maybe less now if you factor in the last few years.

We see hints of long-term drought damage. I have a small parcel of undisturbed land a few miles away from my home. I leave it alone and just go there to see what nature is up to. Not much, it seems. Being desert, it is fortunate to have a small number of juniper trees on it. Many of these trees are well over 100 years old but they look like small evergreens reaching maybe eight feet tall. In this climate, a juniper might produce a limb as thick as your forearm in 100 years. I have several there that are probably 300 years old and at least one that was probably living when Coronado passed through the area in the 1540s. It pains me to see developers bulldoze the old desert junipers to put up corporate feedlot-style housing developments that will crumble in less than 100 years. Many of those old trees were seedlings when this was part of Nueva Espana governed by a king across the sea. What I do not see when I visit my old junipers is any seedlings — no baby junipers. The climate has changed just enough that the new junipers cannot compete. The few that might germinate and try to put down roots are eaten by rabbits or other wildlife that have grown desperate for food. There is a similar story for cholla cactus. There are a number of older chollas that are slowly dying off, limb by limb, to reveal their latticed inner structure. But there are no young ones to take their place. Prickly pear seems to be managing slightly better. The yucca seems to be holding on. I have seen areas of desert about sixty miles south of here that are only yucca and prickly pear. That might be what we are transitioning to. This is all the Chihuahuan Desert with an elevation of about 5500 feet. The classic Saguaros of the Sonora desert could never live here.

I have made cuttings of cholla and prickly pear and transplanted them to my home. The rabbits and desert rodents will eat the cactus in the winter when there is nothing else available. I have a tall cholla, maybe six feet tall, and there is some evidence of winter rodents — desert mice or kangaroo rats or rabbits or even rock squirrels — eating some of the cactus flesh. The squirrels will harvest small cholla branches and position them by their dens to ward off predators — and me, too.

 

Some desert plants have a way of holding the snow (Agave and saltbush/sage)

 

So, we need more snow — a lot more. The snowpack in the mountains is far below what it should be by now. Miraculously, we have not had a lot of fires in our area — certainly not like California or Colorado. When you go into the National Forests there are places that actually look as though someone has raked the forest floor to remove the fuel for wildfires. There are other places that are just waiting for a spark. We had a windstorm about a month or two ago that blew down thousands of trees in the mountains. One ski area had over 3,000 trees blown down on its ski runs. The wind was clocked at over 100 mph, and they went down like dominoes.

Speaking of snow, and on a more pleasant note, winter is one of the best times to make a trip to Grand Canyon. It is particularly rewarding to see the canyon in snow. I did that a few years ago and was rewarded with spectacular sights and I had the park almost to myself. There were no crowds, and I was often the only person there at the overlook or on the rim trails. I’m going to go back again so don’t tell anybody.

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2021 Remembered

I decided to take a few minutes to review 2021 in pictures…. That proved to be a much larger task than I first thought.

These selections are more or less in chronological order with a short label or comment on the image or the day it was taken.

Waldo Canyon Road — January 2, 2021. We were suffering from pandemic cabin fever (a recurring theme this year) and decided to get out of the house and head over toward Madrid NM on the mostly unpaved Waldon Canyon Road. A landowner found an innovative way of using old tires to post “No Trespassing” signs.

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Near Cerrillos NM — The same day we took a wrong road leaving the little village of Cerrillos and found this gem of an old pickup truck. It looked to be well cared for but was sitting out in a field. You often find old cars sitting out in fields that look in pretty good shape for their age. They say that humidity is so low in New Mexico that nothing rusts. That is not totally true.

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Rio Grande – Siphon Beach — We took a mid-winter walk in February along the trail that follows the Bosque Forest along the Rio Grande. This is Siphon Beach where a weir is constructed across the river to maintain a water level of a certain height. We use an ancient irrigation system here that diverts water from the Rio Grande through acequia canals that send water to agricultural fields. Surplus water is returned to the river and used in irrigation systems downstream. This system was introduced into Spain by the Moors from North Africa and then used in Spanish colonies. The Pueblo Indians had similar irrigation canals. DSCN2744 (2)

Floaters in February — Siphon Beach is a put-in point for floaters on the Rio Grande. 

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Resident Lizard — Spring has sprung and the resident lizards are soaking up rays. They have to be vigilant to watch for the Roadrunners. This guy is in my courtyard and fairly safe.

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Sandia crags — One of many photos I take of the Sandia Mountains directly across the Rio Grande valley from my house. I have a good view from my porch where I shoot most of these pictures. On this day the clouds and setting sun were alligned in a way that set off the sharp crags of the Sandias’ western slope. Some cliffs ate 800 feet high.

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Camposanto – Fairview Cemetery, Albuquerque — We visited the old Fairview Cemetery in Albuquerque that is the final resting place for thousands of local people over the years. There is one section for military graves — regimented even in death in straight and stoic lines. The Hispanic graves are located nearby and display a wide array of decorations and are frequently tended, raked, and redecorated by family members. In general, there is not much grass in New Mexico cemeteries, which serves as a major difference from what I was used to in the Midwest. There is a large section of this cemetery that is covered in grass and shade trees. Some of the prominent families are buried there. One interesting section was apparently an area designated as a plot for members of the Bahai faith. I was not aware that we had a Bahai community in Albuquerque. This is a city cemetery. Country cemeteries, called Camposantos, are interesting and well maintained.

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Fairy Chimneys and Goblins – Jemez Mountains — One of my favorite walks this year was to explore the Goblin Colony up in the Jemez Mountains. I was not sure what to expect and it left me speechless when I got there. It was not an easy hike down a steep gravelly and forested slope. you have to descend from one tree to the next to stay upright in the loose soil. The Jemez Mountains are volcanic relics of a super volcano that rose up and collapsed into its magma chamber three different times over millions of years. The volcano covered the area with thick deposits of ash that solidified into Tuff, a sedimentary rock of igneous origin. Tuff, being made of ash, is fairly soft but it erodes into strange shapes. These vertical shafts are called Fairy Chimneys. The tallest one is probably 20 feet tall. These are all natural formations.

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Goblins on parade — The same slope has hundreds of Goblins, mostly facing downhill as if they are watching something. You can imagine distorted facial features on the stone formations.  There is no real marker for this place. You just have to know that it is there.  A lot of New Mexico is like that. DSCN3309 (2)

Rio Grande Gorge — In the spring, spurred on by pandemic cabin fever, we headed up to Taos and spend a week exploring the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, one of the country’s newest monuments. The Rio Grande flows through a gorge that cuts a 700-foot-deep trench through the Taos Plateau. Driving across the plateau, you don’t see the gorge until you are almost at the edge.

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Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, Taos — the highway running west from Taos crosses this modern bridge. It would have been a difficult crossing before the bridge was built. Sadly, this is a notorious suicide site and there are counselling hotline phone installations on the bridge.

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Earthship — We stayed at the Biotech Earthship community for a couple nights when in Taos. These are sustainable homes — mostly or entirely “off the grid”. It was very interesting and educational. They have AirBNB rentals for a few visitors. 

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Gallisteo Basin — South and east of Santa Fe is the Gallisteo Basin Nature Preserve. It is an area set asside for hiking and outdoor education purposes. The view is toward the southeast and away from the mountains that rise to the right of the picture. The Ortiz Mountains and the Sandias rise up between here and Albuquerque. We picked a day punctuated by spring thunderstorms.

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Rio Rancho Outback — Another place that you won’t know about unless you are told or hear rumors is the open lands to the west of Rio Rancho, the town of 100,000 people adjacent to Albuquerque. Rio Rancho is the third largest city in the state, but few people have heard of it. This undeveloped area is below a steep escarpment slope going down into the Rio Puerco valley. The Rio Puerco is mostly dry, but it once supported a number of Pueblo communities. The elongated mesa (Mesa Prieta) in the distance has several Indian petroglyph sites. The area is part of the Zia Pueblo lands or several large private ranches.

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Sandias at sunset — Here is another sunset view of the Sandias. The granite includes a large amount of feldspar crystals that reflect red in the sunset. Dust in the air at sunset can give it an orange tint. Sandia is the Spanish word for watermelon.

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Ojito Wilderness — West of Albuquerque, near the town of San Ysidro, is the Ojito Wilderness. This view is looking east toward the Sandias.

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Moonrise over Sandias — The moonrise is sometimes quite spectacular as it pokes itself over the top of Sandia Mountain. The full moon actually rises at different places each month in a multi-year cycle. you have to time the photo at the right time on the right day.

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What are you looking at? — I have a Goldfish Pond that attracts various kinds of wildlife including these large Dragonflies. This one looks like he is giving me the eye — “what do you want?”

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Backyard visitor — Among the visitors in my yard are several hawks. This is the smaller one. He might be a young one. I have plenty of live food for hawks and Roadrunners of other predators. I usually have three or four Gambels Quail families with a combined count of 20-30 chicks. 

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Ojito Wilderness — Another trip out to the Ojito Wilderness to visit the sandstone Hoodoos.

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Hoodoos at Ojito Wilderness — The wilderness is known locally as the place where the dinosaur bones are often dug up.

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Mesa Verde — In October we decided to take a big circle trip up into Colorado and Utah. This is a view of one of the cliff houses in Mesa Verde National Park.

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Canyonlands — We also visited Canyonlands National Park.  This is the Green River flowing south toward its meeting with the Colorado River.

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Gates of Lodore at Dinosaur National Monument — Another view of the Green River, this time flowing into the canyon named the Gates of Lodore by John Wesley Powell. The Green River picks up water from the Yampa River and flows south into Canyonlands.

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Great Sand Dunes — This is one of my favorite photography sites. The sand dunes pile up as much as 800 feet. You can see the ant-like people that have climbed to the top of the far dunes. The dune shapes change and show different colors at every visit.

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Great Sand Dunes — The shifting sand dunes pile up against the mountains.

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Inner light – Sandias — The Sandias are the eastern edge of a huge rift valley that is home to the Rio Grande River. The rift begins in Colorado and continues south to Mexico. It is several miles deep and filed with sand and rubble from the eroding mountains. In this December picture, the setting sun and the broken cloud cover conspired to enlighten a valley between the two major ridges.

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The Santa Fe Trail – 200 Years Ago

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail that connected traders in Missouri to Santa Fe. My wife had an ancestor who was a mule skinner on the Santa Fe Trail, and we retraced much of the route.  I returned a couple years ago to fill in the missing parts.

Although there were a few tentative trips to Santa Fe by French traders from Kaskaskia and St. Louis even in the 1700s, the actual Santa Fe Trail originated in 1821, from Arrow Rock, Missouri, on the Missouri River and then moved further west to Independence and Westport/Kansas City.  That was newly settled country along the rolling hills south of the river. In later years, it started at those places once the river traffic proved reliable in shipping goods to the west. The trail continued through the Civil War and up to the arrival of the railroad.

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Of course, once the wagons hit the plains of Kansas the scenery became truly expansive. The plains stretch out forever and you have a sense that you are inside of a shallow bowl looking out to the edges in the far distance. That view was better than the hind end of an ox or a mule, which was mostly what else there was to see.

After a few hundred miles the trail began to follow the Arkansas River. One of the landmarks was Pawnee Rock, now a small town in Kansas. The actual rock was a notable sandstone protrusion that could be seen from a distance. It was described as one of the finest sights ever beheld by man. Really? Having visited Pawnee Rock, I would say that it is a considerably better sight than the rear end of an ox. Perhaps prairie madness was beginning to set in.  Sadly, the rock was partially demolished by the railroad, so it isn’t quite as tall as it once was.  The train doesn’t stop at Pawnee Rock anymore, so a few years ago they converted the station to the town library.  That is an old pioneer grave marked on the slope of Pawnee Rock.

The route follows the Arkansas River. I apparently did not find the river very photogenic since I never took a single photo of it in my several trips along the trail.

The Santa Fe Trail saw a lot of activity during the American/Mexican War in 1846-48. In 1846, General Stephen Kearny led troops from Fort Leavenworth down the trail to New Mexico. Kearny took possession of Nuevo Mexico for the United States in a proclamation at Las Vegas (NM) and then continued to on take possession of Santa Fe. There was no real opposition. The Mexican Governor, Manuel Armijo, was in no position to put up a defense. He was probably more interested in continuing trade than defense. Mexico City was very far away. The main sticking point seemed to be one of religion and Kearny was quick to underscore the notion of freedom of religion in the US and that Catholicism would not be threatened.

The annexation of New Mexico Territory opened up more trade, but the Plains Indians still threatened commerce. Several army posts were established along the route. Fort Larned was a major stop along the trail. It was established in 1859 to protect the wagon trains on the middle Kansas part of the trail. It is well preserved today as a national historic site. We have images of Fort Apache from old toy sets or maybe television shows. Fort Larned never had any walls. It had some defenses from a creek that ran by, but you could pretty well see anyone coming from a distance.

The buildings are constructed of local sandstone and have served as a convenient place for soldiers or visitors to carve their names or the names of their wives or girlfriends in the stone. The fort was decommissioned and taken over as a ranch for several decades before becoming a historic site.

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Fort Larned is one of the several places along the trail where you can still see the wagon ruts. There was a lot of wagon traffic and, unlike what we see on TV, the wagons did not move in single file. The wagons moved several abreast, so the ruts are not a single deep impression but a series of elongated swales almost as wide as a modern highway. They are not easy to see in the grass unless you walk out into the prairie.  (That’s me at a much, much younger age.)

The trail continued west along the river past what became Dodge City (Ft. Dodge) and crossed into what became Colorado. The next stop was Bent’s (Old) Fort near present day La Junta, Colorado. The Bent brothers operated the fort as a trading post and a way station for the Santa Fe Trail traders. The historic site is a reconstruction of the original fort, made of adobe. It actually conforms to what we think of as a fortress.

The Bents were essentially the last “eastern” outpost on the trail. The proprietors, Charles Bent and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, established a trading company that built the fort in 1833. It was destroyed in 1848, possibly as a result of a devastating cholera epidemic among the Indians, and later reestablished at a location near present Lamar, Colorado.  Charles Bent was named Territorial Governor of New Mexico and moved to Taos but was assassinated during the Taos Revolt of 1847.

Going west from Bent’s Fort the traders were approaching the Rocky Mountains. The terrain was still relatively flat, but the elevation had been steadily rising. The taller grass gave way to the shorter stubble and buffalo grass of the high plains.  The front range came into view on clear days. The two Spanish Peaks were the first mountains that they saw close up, but they would then climb up and over Raton Pass, at 7,834 feet, and cross into New Mexico.

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The terrain was much different in New Mexico. The trail skirted the east side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. There were small Hispano villages in places. Cimarron was established in the 1850s and later had a notorious wild west town reputation. It had an established mill (the Aztec Mill) in the 1860s that still exists today. Later on, Abraham Lincoln’s White House chef, Henri Lambert, established a large hotel (now the St. James Hotel) that was frequented by everybody who was anybody in the old west. There were 22 murders in and around the hotel, which, of course, is haunted.

Further west the wagon trains pulled into Fort Union, a huge military depot that housed 4,000 soldiers and suttler/merchants that catered to the travelers’ every need. Fort Union was initially established in 1851 but enlarged and rebuilt three times. The national historic site includes the ruins of the second fort, built of adobe but now mostly melted away. The fort remained in service until 1891. Visiting the fort can be a somewhat spooky experience on a foggy day with a few snow flurries.

There was a hospital at the fort that provided medical attention. Blacksmith and wheelwright shops worked on the wagons. Supplies were bought for the last leg of the trip. The wagon ruts are still visible where the trail entered into the fort.

The wagons were beginning their approach to Santa Fe, only a few days more on the trail. They passed other landmarks, like Wagon Mound and Starvation Peak. They crossed the Pecos River, not much of a river as it flows out of the mountains. The mostly abandoned Pecos Mission and the Pecos Pueblo were located there. The old Pueblo was where Coronado was told about the city of riches, Quivera, that existed out on the Great Plains. In 1541, he roamed across Kansas looking for it and got as far as the vicinity of Salina before it dawned on him that he had been told a tale just to get him out of town. Later a large Spanish mission was constructed at the Pueblo and the residents were more or less pacified — for a while. The mission was destroyed during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt that forced the Spanish out of New Mexico for over a decade. On their eventual return, the Spanish constructed a smaller mission church and the community coexisted for almost a century until disease and attacks by the Apaches drove most of the residents away. By 1838 it was abandoned. Only the earliest Santa Fe traders found any permanent residents.  Much like Fort Union, the adobe walls are slowly melting away after 200 years.

Also, on this last stretch of the trail the route goes over Glorieta Pass, the divide between the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers. During the Civil War there was a battle fought here between Union Troops, some from Ft. Union, and Confederate invaders from Texas. The rebels were sent packing back to Texas. There are historical markers in the area, and I think an old bridge that survives from the time of the Battle of Glorieta Pass. This was one of the westernmost battles of the Civil War, albeit not a huge one.

The next stop is Santa Fe.

By now you probably feel that you have actually made the trip.

Don’t relax. You have to unload the wagons, make new purchases, and start the trip back. The weather is turning.

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Great Sand Dunes – Colorado

 

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I spent time at Great Sand Dunes National Park this month. We picked a near perfect day for photography and got there as the shadows were creeping across the dunes. That was due to the angle of the afternoon sun and the few cloud shadows that drifted across the dunes. The combination of the free-form dunes and the shadows and clouds made this a perfect day. I took a bunch of photos. I use a digital camera and rendered these images in black and white. This being early October, there was a lot of color subjects to be captured as well. 

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The dunes rise up 700 feet from the valley floor and seem soft and almost liquid against the hard mountain backdrop. There are lots of people roaming around on the dunes and you will see some in these images — more ant-like rather than human. It is interesting to me to capture some of the human footprints where the tracks lead bravely out onto a dune and you can see a point of hesitation — and then they turn around and stagger back. It is not an easy walk and while visitors think it is just a little jaunt, many of the dunes are 400 feet high. It is not as easy as it looks. Sometimes they pick a small dune to conquer. Sometimes they make it to the top.

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One can lose their bearings and orientation. I took a trail from a parking lot and worked my way down across a ravine and then up the side of a dune to a flat area and then climbed up a little more before I decided to turn back. But which way was back?  You can follow your own tracks back the way you came — but eventually you will lose them in the many undistinguishable tracks in the dry sand. I ended up walking back to a different parking area while thinking I was going the right way.

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The wind moves the dunes and leaves slight ripples or impressions along the edges. The dunes age always changing and never the same when you come back after a time away. My last visit was ten years ago and they are different but also the same. They will present a different face but it is still familiar.

 

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If the wind is blowing just right there will be a slight haze of airborne sand just above the surface.

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Sometimes it seems like an ocean.

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Sometimes you think you are looking at a meringue pie topping.

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It is always interesting.

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The horizon is always undulating.

October is a great time to visit because it can be very hot in the summer. 

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I have been to White Sands National Park as well but those dunes are so stunningly white (from gypsum) that I think I prefer the Great Sand Dunes because there are subtle changes in color and tone in the sand. Here are a few color shots.

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A sign of the times…

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People watching is a great past-time if you have enough time just to observe the human reaction to the dunes. Most people have never seen anything like this and are blown away. 

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Many will bring their dogs with them and the dogs have no expectation or frame of reference for what they are experiencing. They are ecstatic. This last image is of a lucky dog that made it to the top and is getting some praise for his effort.

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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.

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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:   SM.FS.R3FeeProComm@usda.gov DSCN3776

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