Sunday, May 25, 2014

New Mexico - Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge
We've always liked Arizona, so this year we decided to give New Mexico a try and will be exploring from a base in Taos. This morning we headed for the Rio Grande Gorge, not too far away, as our first adventure. Yes, the Rio Grande River comes all the way north through New Mexico, and makes a canyon about 800 feet deep, running for about 50 miles. The entire area is either mountain or flat valley because of an old tectonic rift.
Big Horn Sheep

Parking at the rest area, we started down the West Rim Trail, and were surprised to see a pair of Big Horn Sheep just coming over the rim of the canyon for some morning grazing on the flatlands. I used my long lens, and they didn't seem to uneasy about our presence. We didn't see any of these sheep in Glacer National Park last summer, and I thought they only lived at much higher elevations, so this was an exciting surprise for us!
Western Tanager
Before every trip, we look through the field guide and make a list of target birds to look for. The Western Tanager was at the top of the list for this trip. Apparently they are like Cardinals in Kentucky, and can be found everywhere. One sang in a tree at our condo, another was in a tree on the way to dinner last evening. The trick is getting them to come our of the denser branches and out into the open for a good photo.
Common Ravens Flying in Formation
The birds at the gorge were absolutely overwhelming, with more swifts, swallows, and who knows what else, riding the currents up and down the canyon walls. None of those small birds stopped to be photographed, or even for a good ID, so we may have to hold a seance to decide what we saw, but I think it will include life birds such as the White-throated Swift,mthe Violet-green Swallow (it really is that color from the top) and, of course, Cliff Swallows. We were buzzed (literally) by a hummingbird, but it flew so fast there was no chance for an ID. The Common Ravens flew in formation, and you could hear their wings flapping. But the Turkey Vultures were silent and regal, gliding in the thermals. Before the morning ended, we even saw what I firmly believe to be a Peregrine Falcon, just from its silhouette.
Desert Flower
We don't have a guide for the little desert flowers blooming here and there among the sagebrush. We wondered how a hummingbird could survive here, since the flowers were all so small. But the aroma of the sagebrush! Oh my! Apparently people burn it like incense around here and I may have to get some. The local artists and native Americans set up shop along the road by the bridge, and we enjoyed shopping with them.
Earthship home
Have you every heard of an Earthship? Sounds like something from one of my science fiction books, but it is a new method for sustainable homes, which can be built anywhere in the world. The goal is to be entirely off the grid, producing all your own power needs, and much of your food needs. They use solar panels, windmills and glass to collect energy. All rain and snow is collected and stored, then used at least four times before being recycled in the septic tank. The walls are build from dirt-filled tires, then covered with adobe and recycled glass bottles and aluminum cans. About 30 of them were visible along the road with people actually living in them. As we left the visitor center, one man coming in asked a lot of disdainful questions, which the welcomer handled with great poise. Obviously, he thought the whole thing was something only a bunch of hippies would do, and he had no idea of sustainability.
Darkening Skies
I expected the weather to be chilly in the mornings, with perhaps a chance of showers, but not enough to worry about. However, it has rained pretty hard each afternoon since our arrival. Look at the clear blue sky with the Ravens in it, then compare these threatening clouds moving in. Since the valleys are so wide, you can watch it rain miles away in the distance. If you wanted rain, that would probably be pretty frustrating.
We learned to head for the car when the dark clouds gather. I felt sorry for all the bikers in town for Memorial Day, since they really got pelted by the rain, snow and - get this - sleet, that arrived in a few minutes. Yep, in New Mexico, you want to go hiking in the morning, then come back for a siesta in the afternoon.

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