Discovering Places: San Ysidro Trails

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I took a couple hours and went out to San Ysidro Trails, a BLM public use area about thirty miles from where I live. This was my first visit although I’ve gone past it many times.  The area is just west of the town of San Ysidro  (NM) on highway 550. There is a sign and a small parking lot. The gate is locked so you need to request a key if you want to bike or do any off-road vehicle exploration. Check with the area rules on how to get the key and what is allowed. Take plenty of water.

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The area is located just to the south of the Jemez and Naciamento Mountains and bumps up against the Jemez Pueblo lands to the north. The highway is the south edge and across the highway is the Rio Salada, White Mesa and the Ojito Wilderness.  The trails area has two small canyons and there is usually some permanent water pools in the deeper recesses. I visited in early May and there was a surprising amount of water in the canyon…it is probably drier later in the year. That much water means there is wildlife in the area and there were plenty of tracks but in the middle of the day I didn’t see much. I heard a few things moving through the Junipers and sage but didn’t actually see anything. There were hawks circling in the distance, some songbirds and what I assume was some type of large grouse that took off in a frenzy when I got too close.

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The name “trails” is deceiving because there are no real developed trails but there are lots of faint trails going off in random directions.  The place is mostly sand and a little broken cobble with some significant sandstone (?) outcrops and canyon walls. Actually the geology seems puzzling. I saw sandstone and what looks like shale but also lots of igneous rocks scattered around including some obsidian. The Jemez Mountains are volcanic and there is a lot of solidified volcanic ash (Tuff) so I may be mistaking the tuff for sandstone.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI only had a couple hours so I started off following the footprints of some other recent visitors up one of the random trails. At first, on the macro level there isn’t a great deal to see: mostly junipers, sage, cholla cactus and prickly pear scattered on slightly rolling sand hills. The interest is in the details — there is a wide variety of broken stone mixed in with the sand and a variety of blooming wildflowers. There is a lot of cow poop but no cows. When there are cattle in the area I guess they are responsible for the random trails.

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The high cliffs are across the highway

It takes a little bit of walking to get away from the highway sounds but eventually you are out of range and in an interesting desert landscape. This is the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert at about 5,600 feet in elevation. Keep your eyes open, this is rattlesnake country. You will also see some interesting stuff if you pay attention. I saw a small white horned lizard (AKA horned toad) no larger than a cricket. I didn’t know they came that small. He easily blended in to the sand and rock pebbles.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep walking in a roughly northeast direction and you will eventually arrive at the western canyon.  As far as I know they have no other names beside West and East canyons.  On the way I passed something I guess was an adobe shelter of some type – now just dirt mounds with a little wood and sheet metal mixed in. There also are a few old forgotten fences with rusted and broken barbed wire. There are gaps in the fences if you follow the animal and hiker trails.

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The (west) canyon was a major departure from the sand and gravel. Intermittent rock walls are maybe fifty foot high at the most and there is a lot of tumbled down boulders. The canyon floor is lush green grass. I was running out of time so I just stayed at the western canyon. The eastern canyon is reported to be more impressive and is a slot canyon in a few places. I saw some hedgehog cactus growing in the canyon which is a departure from the usual cholla and prickly pear.

 

 

Heading back to the car is a little tricky unless you marked your route. If you just head south you will eventually get to the highway some distance east of the parking area.  I need to make a full day of it and get over to the east canyon on my next trip.

 

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It Must be Spring

The weather has been perfect the last week or so and I’ve made some headway in my outdoor chores. The rock garden (AKA Rabbit Salad Bar) is looking better and I’m planting more aromatic plants that rabbits won’t eat. I discovered the Curry Plant at my local pueblo nursery. It has a strong curry aroma from the leaves and it can be used in cooking but it is actually part of the daisy family. It looks a little like lavender or rosemary but gets small yellow flowers. I have lavender, Mojave Sage, Yucca (red), and Agave in the rock garden right now along with the curry plant.

The goldfish pond is looking better but still needs a lot of work. As best I can tell all of my goldfish survived the winter. The pond never actually froze solid. Right now I have too much vegetation in the pond and need to remove about 60 percent of it but that is going to be a major effort. I’ll need to hire somebody to help with that. (ca-ching).

The storage building roof has been repaired — good for fifty years they say. I won’t have to ever do that again. I repainted the doors and the wood trim but it needs a little bit of stucco repair in the back…local critters must have tried to get inside. I’ll patch that up for now. Eventually the house and storage building will need to be re-stuccoed as well as the garden wall. Big bucks for that.

Rabbits are at it again. We will have a bunch of babies. I’ve seen more coyotes the past few weeks than I can remember. They tried to lure my neighbor’s dog away, a big dumb pit-bull, and he was happy to go but the neighbors were able to corner him in my back yard and take him back home. Coyotes have sort of a Lorelei effect on dogs…they lure them away and they eventually become dinner. My lizards are lined up like soldiers on the rocks and the garden wall soaking up sun. Roadrunners will get them later in the season but they seem to be having a couple weeks of peace.

My quail are back in droves again. They seem to be all paired up — no bachelors calling for a mate. Sometimes the women are fickle and will keep looking for a better match but things seem settled. We have Gambel’s Quail and Scaled Quail and the two can hybridize. Gambel’s have a dark plume on their head like a California Quail. Scaled Quail have a scaled feather pattern and a white tuft on their head. No babies yet that I’ve seen but the pairs keep running back and forth across the road in front of cars like it is some sort of game. They only fly in an emergency or if the car is getting too close.

No hummingbirds yet…at least none that I’ve seen. My flowering plants are still a month away from full bloom so hummingbirds are hanging back or visiting the valley orchards further south. I have never been able to tell the species apart — we only had one type where I used to live but there are six or seven varieties here.

Goldfinches are here in big numbers. I’ve noticed quite a variety in them as well. It might be different types or it might be that some birds are changing to summer plumage at different schedules.

 

The windy season came and went. Tumbleweeds were flying and bouncing down the highway. I have a few tumbleweeds that I need to get hauled away along with some overgrown sagebrush and four-winged saltbush that are encroaching in various places. Shortly after I moved here I was bragging to my neighbor about the pretty green shrubs I had growing along the fence. They were bright green and had a uniform rounded shape…nice I thought. He informed me that I was growing tumbleweed. It gets thorny and brittle as it matures and then snaps off at the base and spreads seeds by rolling along in the wind. I sheepishly pulled up my pretty green shrubs.

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Wandering Toward the Outlaw Mountains

cropped-p61200291.jpgIf you take a look at the header image on this blog you will see a huge expanse of New Mexico desert, green from a rare period of frequent rains, and in the distance a shadowy hulk of a mountain. The mountain is a cluster of mountains called the Sierra Ladrones, the Outlaw Mountains, and they are about forty miles off in the distance from the camera.

These mountains are isolated from any other mountain range and are considered a “massif” in geologic terms. They sit like an island, complete unto themselves. Unlike many of the other local mountains, the Sierra Ladrones are not volcanic but are an up-thrust of Precambrian rock that somehow, through ancient tectonic movements, managed to rise above the surrounding surface and withstood erosional forces over the eons of time. Ladron Peak reaches 9,176 feet in elevation, some 4,000 feet higher than the Rio Grande valley to the east. Monte Negro, a secondary peak, rises to 7,572 feet. Most of this is BLM land but Sevillita National Wildlife Refuge includes part of the southeastern slope.

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I have been fascinated by the Sierra Ladrones and always look for them when I venture south from Albuquerque. They play hide and seek. Now you see them — now you don’t. That’s because of the terrain and the Interstate 25 highway route that follows the Rio Grande south to Socorro and Truth or Consequences…that’s where the people live, after all. Not many people live up near the Sierra Ladrones; only a few isolated ranches and a few ranchers running cattle on open range. It would be a hard place to raise a family, albeit a beautiful place.

On a whim, I decided to see if I could get close to the mountains and maybe find a way to get up into them. I’m no mountain climber or even an endurance hiker so it would depend on finding a road. After a little searching on Google and my highway map I found that Socorro County Road 12 would be the way to get close. There are a few webpage accounts of hikers and climbers venturing up into the mountains and there is a wilderness study area described on one webpage — CR 12 seemed to be the preferred route. This is an unpaved road running from Bernardo, past the “ghost” town of Riley to Magdalena, on US 60. The sign says it all.

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The route out of Bernardo follows a portion of “old” Highway 60, or maybe “old” Highway 84 depending on the map. There’s not much there — a KOA campground and a rickety bridge over the Rio Puerco.  This is the paved part…okay, mostly paved…but the pavement runs out just past the bridge where you take a hard right onto CR 12. You are pretty much on your own from here. I think I saw three ranch trucks all day until I got back close to the interstate.

The road is certainly unpaved and for much of the early portion it has a jarring wash-board surface that almost makes you want to turn around. Maybe that’s intentional to keep the faint-hearted folks out. After that it gets better and turns into a bumpy but reasonably well maintained dirt and gravel road.

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This is mostly BLM land. Some of it it fenced and some is just open range. I didn’t keep track of my mileage but after about five miles or so you encounter power lines.   I lost track of the number of cattle guards I crossed but there were plenty. If you do see an approaching rancher’s truck you will see the dust long before you see the vehicle.  There was always a wave.

 

I’ve said often enough that I have the curiosity of a fourth grader even though I’m almost sixty-seven. I can’t remember the last time I took a walk and didn’t find something that caught my interest. A lot of times my pockets are full of rocks or seeds or something that warrants closer attention. When I’m out walking I’m looking at plants and the geology, mostly. There are animal tracks and burrows and places where some unseen drama took place. Luckily, I’ve not yet encountered a rattlesnake…yet.  Mostly there were lizards, a few birds and a desert cottontail. The ground was desert sand and dust. It made me think of decomposed tuff or volcanic ash, probably blown in over the centuries from the ample number of ancient eruptions. There is an active magma body under Socorro and TorC that fuels the local hot springs.

I paused at a dry arroyo but there was no exposed bedrock. About a third of the rocks I saw strewn around on the surface was milky quartz — sometimes an indicator of a nearby vein of some type of ore. Where I’m from I’ve seen that with a little silver and tungsten ore. There were also some nice examples of reddish feldspar-rich granite. I always wonder how these fist-sized rocks appear out of nowhere.

Some of the plants I know, like the Apache Plume growing wild through the area. They sell that as a popular ornamental and out here it looks healthier than in my yard. There was a woody, yellow-flowered bush that I didn’t recognize. It seemed to be full-grown at about three feet tall.  Most prominent is the cholla forest stretching all the way to the mountain. Some were in bloom and being visited by bees…who manage to survive out here somehow.

There doesn’t seem to be much available for cattle to eat or enough water to keep them alive. They seem to do quite well, anyway. I saw several young calves running through the cholla and a small “herd” staring at me on one of the tracks leading off of the county road.

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As I said, I was out here wandering with no particular agenda or goal. I had no expectation of actually getting up into the mountains but was just looking for a possible route. I got a late start and it was well into the afternoon and I was twenty-some miles out on an unpaved road. It was a gorgeous day and it lifted my spirits…I’ve been a little glum lately.

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From the higher elevation you can look back towards the Rio Grande valley and see the dark colors of the river bosque and the wetlands and across to Black Butte and the mountains beyond the valley.

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Clouds were building by the late afternoon and it was time to head back home. The danger is more from lightning than from rain but there are some arroyos that would be subject to flash flooding. I’m satisfied that I’ll be able to continue this trip at a future date. There will probably be a part two at some point.

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60 Feet Square

It is cool and a little damp which is odd being that this is a desert. Our windy season is mostly over but the temperature has dropped and we have had a few rainy and foggy days. Rainy day here means we might get a shower or two with just enough to wet things down a little. Happily, my rain barrel is full again.

I’ve had a miserable cold and I have been hoping for some warm sunny days so I could bake it out by soaking up rays. I have plenty to do outside but don’t feel like going out. This is a persistent cold virus that I’ve been fighting for two weeks and now heading into week number three…my first cold in about four years. People say it takes three weeks to feel better but still longer to feel right.  I actually know who gave me this cold and I’m plotting revenge. Nothing serious.

It was damp and foggy this morning but the fog burned off and it was sunny for a few hours. Now, a little past 2 PM, it is cloudy and cool again. The sun will be back in an hour or so. I took advantage of the morning sun and got out and worked on my pond and a little in the yard. I took a few pictures all within about a sixty foot square in the front of the house.

Watson, my faithful companion, just turned sixteen and mostly lounges around and watches me in the hope that I do something interesting. That doesn’t happen very often and he falls asleep.  The Lilac is blooming  and there are buds on some of the flowering bushes. It will all explode in blooming frenzy in about two weeks.

I’ve been having some algae problems with the pond and I seem to have a leak somewhere. That is often related to the amount of vegetation in the water. I need a warm day to get out there and do a thorough clean-up job. The fish seem not to notice.

The Mountain Mahogany is blooming — in it’s own fashion. You have to look close and fast because the flowers are small and don’t last long in variable spring weather. They have a faint scent that reminds me of nutmeg. There will be small tufted seed heads later in the summer.

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I have an ancient sagebrush growing out beyond the walled placita. One definition of “Sage” is someone who has attained wisdom. This old gnarled and twisted thing has seen a lot and has sheltered countless families of desert rabbits. It probably has acquired some wisdom but I have no idea how to measure that. I also have no idea how old it is but it certainly predates the house. It reminds me of those old Bristlecone Pines that appear to be dead but are still living — still have a pulse, in a manner of speaking. The contorted trunk has a lot of interest.

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There is a certain muscularity in the wood.

I have a family of Jackrabbits just beyond the rear wall in a sage and saltbush thicket. The Quail are calling but you seldom see them. Mourning Doves come a few times a day to call out and bathe in the pond or stumble around on the rocks by the stream.

Thanks to El Nino, we had a wet year last year and the drought was finally broken but things are always precarious here. We still had only a little more than twelve inches of rain…that’s a wet year. Up on the hill, near Loma Barbon, I lost a few juniper trees to the drought and even the Cholla cactus look defeated. The desert rabbits have eaten most of the Prickly Pear cactus and gnawed on a few Chollas.  Maybe there will be a turnaround this year. I have never seen a “baby” juniper seedling up there because the wildlife will nip it off. We could use a few coyotes up there but it must be easier for them to forage the outlying housing developments. They are getting lazy.

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So Now Comes The Wind

tumbleweeds

So now comes the wind —
Our winter’s downhill neighbor
testing the hinges.

From beyond, somewhere
in a distant mountain place,
it comes to life.

It finds its power —
it scours the dead and dying —
it tries to take you.

But you bow your head.
You divert your swollen eyes.
It passes over.

A born acrobat,
Tumbleweed pulls up her skirts
and scatters her seeds.

It takes what it wants
leaving man and beast behind
tumbling into Spring.

 

Roads Less Travelled — White Sands, NM

White Sands National Monument is a mesmerizing place. The rolling sand dunes beckon you to come out  and take in the wonder of pure white gypsum sand stretching out to your horizon. It is as if you were walking on the sea and off in the distance there is an island of yucca and grass…so you go to investigate. After a few of these islands you might be a half mile from your car. If it is 100 degrees, that half mile is a long way. If you follow your tracks you can get back but if you strike out thinking you know the way straight across the dunes you can get lost.

There were two recent deaths at White Sands as a family tried to hike a trail through the dunes in intense heat without sufficient water.  My last visit was in the fall of 2013 and it was pleasantly cool.  The sand dunes are always moving so your next visit won’t be like the last. The park managers have to struggle to keep the roads uncovered. I have posted a few pictures from our visit.

 

 

Hummers

Trumpet flower calls

and the hummingbird responds

the moon sees it all

This has been quite a year for hummingbirds. I can’t guess how many I have around the house…and almost in the house.  They are a marvel and a joy to watch but this year, with all of our rain, we have a lot more than usual. It’s getting sort of ‘ho-hum’ in some respects. Where I moved from we had only one variety. If it was a hummingbird it would be a Ruby Throated Hummingbird…period.  Here, in the New Mexico desert, we have four or five types and I still can’t identify them after two years of trying.

If I sit outside on the front or back portal it won’t be long before I have a visitor. One visitor brings another and then there is an aerial acrobatic fussing match. The little hummers are very territorial or else I must be regarded as something of a prize to be fought over.

I have a Trumpet Vine in the front courtyard that climbs up a pueblo-style ladder on the wall. In previous years, under earlier owners, it just laid on the ground more like a ground cover but I built the ladder and now it is upright and is Grand Central Station for hummers. There are also Mexican Bird of Paradise and a Desert Willow trees in the courtyard  that bloom all summer and attract hummingbirds.  I have a large goldfish pond with large water lilies but that seems to be the domain of the dragonflies. I’ve never seen a hummer go to a water lily.

Watson, my cat, enjoys snoozing on the portals and must birds will make a fuss about it if they are close by and he is roaming around or even just lying quietly. The hummers don’t seem to mind and I don’t think they even notice him. He’s fifteen years old and is a slow mover so they think he’s part of the geography. He sees them but doesn’t quite know what to make of them — he’s accepted them, too. “Live and let live” is his motto…unless you are a bug.

Some birds seem to be front yard hummers and some are backyard hummers. One of my backyard birds needs a lube job because it sounds like one of his bearings is going out. He makes a high-pitched metallic clicking sound when he flies.  Maybe he is actually a drone and I am under close government surveillance. They say the military has perfected small drones that can pass as hummingbirds……nah, there’s nothing to see here.

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