Saturday, May 31, 2014

Floating Down the River

Dick floating on the Rio
Many years ago, when Dick and I were much younger, we went to West Virginia every fall to go white water rafting on the Gauley River. We started with the easy stuff - just floating down the New River, and worked our way up to the Lower Gualey, then the Upper Gauley with class 5 rapids, where olympic kayakers train. After an incident with a paddle resulting in 3 root canals, I gave up my career as a white water rafter. So I was glad to just relax and enjoy a smooth "float" down the Rio Grande this morning, enjoying the cool breeze, warm sun, and birds in the wetlands.
Black Crowned Night Heron
It can be both surprising and reassuring to see familiar birds from home so far away. We've found several Black Crowned Night Herons and Blue Herons along rivers and ponds. A Spotted Sandpiper with a bright orange bill flew ahead of us down the river. I never realized how hard it is to focus on a bird from a moving raft.
Canada Goose Family
Our river guide Syd, a nice young woman who loves the outdoors, told us about the plants along the river, while we told her the secrets of all the birds we found. The ducks and geese escorted their youngsters along the shore, and didn't seem to mind us looking at them.
Common Merganser Female
The surprise of the morning was this stunning female Merganser. She probably had a mate somewhere, but we didn't see him today.

Syd was polite enough to listen to us talk about other trips we have taken over the years. After two small stretches of "noisy" not "white" water, we put back into shore for the morning.
Common Raven Surveying the Canyon
 The Ravens and Vultures soared up the gorge, inviting us to continue our day along the river, so we drove back to the Rock Slide Trail - marked as easy, except for the rock slide. Once upon a time, there was a road into the gorge. When the rock slide covered much of it, they turned the rest into a hiking trail from the bottom of the gorge to the mesa top above.
Rock Wren
The Canyon Wren sounds like a wind-up toy that is running down, and although we called back asking them to visit us, they decided to stay on the rocks. This Rock Wren flew over to find out who else was singing in his territory, when we played his song on my phone app. He challenged our right to be there, and we eventually decided to accept his mastery of the canyon, and walked on up the trail.
Geologic Formation
Dick and I have indulged our geologic chimpanzees on this trip, bending over to collect small shiny rocks along the trail. The rocks in the gorge are basalt, laid down by volcanoes some 3 - 4 million years ago, fracturing in a typical columnar fashion. At one point, though, we had to clamber up some loose rocks for a closer look. At the top, a layer of basalt. Below that, an orange layer of sandstone, (which is a sedimentary rock) in which other hikers carved their initials. But below that was a layer of small rocks and pebbles laid down by an ancient river millions of years before the volcanoes.  Walking back down into the gorge you can track this layer of orange, hollowed out beneath the basalt, higher and higher on the cliff face as you descend. It's pretty cool stuff. But tomorrow will be even better. We are going to Valles Caldera, the remains of an ancient super volcano just west of Los Alamos. Of the 6 super volcanoes in the world, 3 of them are in the United States - Yellowstone, Long Valley Caldera in California, and Valles Caldera in New Mexico.


Anonymous said...

No rain today, and none expected in the days ahead; quite different from our first week. High desert sun at 8,000 is quite formidable.
a traveling companion

Syd said...

Your pictures are wonderful! I'm glad we got to spend the morning together, and it was a pleasure to meet you both!