Posts Tagged ‘Albuquerque’

New Mexico Skies © SR Euston

In extreme northwest Victoria, Australia, where the outback begins, lies a dry eucalyptus land called Sunset Country. I have never seen this place, but the name itself is its own reward.  Imagine—the evocation of the mere word sunset. What comes to mind?  Of course dazzling reds and oranges, reflected in the water or across desert rocks or through the trees.

When we say sunset, it is always with this anticipation of color. For most, the more color the better. Pink, rose, mauve, purple, magenta, orange, silver, gold, copper. But in photographing sunsets, the boundaries of artistic license, it seems to me, are pretty narrow. Brilliant red can turn into the garish commonplace; evanescent rose can look washed out.

The problem with sunsets in the early days of color photography was the color itself. Sunsets could look horribly fake. But with Kodachrome, things changed. Does anyone old enough to have a Kodachrome slide collection not have multiple shots of a sunset over this or that famous landmark? The color’s the thing and the only thing. It was satisfying to end your slide show for friends with a fantastic sunset, maybe with a nice silhouetted tree.

Oregon Coast 4:45 PM © SR Euston

When color prints became common, sunsets presented different problems. Compared to the brilliance of Kodachrome slides, or now the digital monitor, sunsets printed even on the best photographic paper don’t often have élan. They lack everything except  the color red. That is, if the photographer (with new digital tools especially) hasn’t fiddled with the spectrum, color value, saturation and hue. And in my view upping the ante on color is exactly what many professional landscape photographers have done. I admit to a deep prejudice against what I think of as garish obvious sunset pictures in millions of calendars and magazines.

Sunset Reflection on Wall © SR Euston

The following pictures, by the way, are not products of photoshop miracles, though there is what I think of as reasonable digital darkroom editing. But as I rail about the garish, looking at these photos on the monitor gives me a slight tinge. Can these colors be real?  SRE

One Minute of Purple Ocean © SR Euston



Cold Front Passing, Oregon© SR Euston

Green River, Utah in Repose © SR Euston


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It’s been blazing hot in Albuquerque since the 4th of July. No rain, 100°+ days, 75° at night. There’s been no break for anything to cool down. The grapevines were wilted yellow and the leaves on the oak and hackberry looked drooped and dejected.

Friday we decided to try the east side of the Sandias where the temperatures promised to be cooler. At the Sulphur Springs picnic ground off the Crest Highway it was a much more pleasant 75° and overcast. We ate at a table beside the spring-fed stream and read, with some interest, notices that we were in cougar as well as bear country. The cougar face on the poster looked more like a cartoon rendition but the warning that there was an injured bear in the area struck a rather more serious note.

We took a quick tour around the wet grassy meadow from which the trail takes its name. At one time, it was a shallow rainwater catchment which directed water into an acequia and down the mountain to the villages below.

White Fir, Cut and Stacked © SR Euston

As we made our way up the trail we passed through a huge dead zone, with white fir skeletons silhouetted against the canyon wall, stark reminders of the bark beetle rampage. The Forest Service has been busy taking down dead trees and scores of neatly cut 12” thick rounds, some 2 feet across, were piled along either side of the trail. It was a ghostly, almost surreal “forest.”

At the Wilderness boundary cutting stopped, and somewhat farther along the forest again showed signs of undisturbed life. Besides box elder and maples, ponderosa lined the stream bed. And there was a wildflower bonanza:  Red penstemon, giant dried dandelion-like milkweed, beebalm, yarrow, rosy purple wild geranium, blue asters, giant yellow Cutleaf Coneflower,  Purple Whipple’s Penstemon, and blue, white and purple Jacob’s Ladder.

Cutleaf Coneflowers ©SR Euston

We returned cool and refreshed but as we came through Tijeras Pass the heat again hit us hard.

Finally Saturday the weather shifted. A torrential downpour sent 0.75” down in about an hour. By this morning at our house we’ve had 1.3” of rain from the storm.

At last the monsoons have begun.

Five Hundred Years of Forest Growth, Downed by Insect Damage © SR Euston

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Today our neighbors are having their home re-stuccoed. I’m sure as the workmen climbed up on the roof they were surprised and, perhaps amused, to see in the adjacent yard, two pajamaed folks gazing through binoculars, at what must have appeared to be a blank back wall.

What they couldn’t see was that we were watching our hummingbird feeder.

We have two species: the larger, rose throated Broad-tailed and the smaller, more feisty coppery Rufous hummingbird. The Broad-tailed is identified by its particularly shrill metallic wing sound, while the Rufous dominates the scene with its sheer aggressive speed and daring.

At the Feeder

Our block has become a sort of “restaurant row” for the hummers. Three houses in a row have feeders dangling from ramadas and trees. Dozens of hummingbirds begin in the early gray dawn, zipping and zinging, scolding and chasing. For such tiny creatures they seem to expend an inordinate amount of energy chasing each other away from the sugar water we humans provide.  I guess between the sips of liquid sucrose power and the protein provided by the ever-present ants which wander into it, the hummers have discovered a veritable “all you can eat” buffet.

If one can get to the feeder.

I could swear that the Broad-tails hush their wings to sneak in under the ever-vigilant Rufous guard,  trying to swoop down to the feeder’s perch, drinking quickly and very very softly. But all too often the tiny male Rufous dives in with a flash of copper and red and chases off the intruder. Then everybody adjourns to the spruce hedge in search of tiny insects.

The Rufous has the longest migration (up to 3000 miles!) of any North American hummingbird. Maybe the long trip is what makes them so aggressively protective of their food sources.

In the late spring the hummingbirds return to our neighborhood to mate. In May and June, they provide an aerial show of remarkably fast U-shaped dives and climbs accompanied by very loud chitchitting.

Now it’s just the summer time food fights that entertain us. And that occasional, breathtaking rush of cochineal.

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Headwaters of the Rio Grande © SR Euston

Whenever we go toward either coast we’re always reminded of how loosely we use the term “river” here in New Mexico.

Rio Grande at Albuquerque © SR Euston

But, according to 2000 US Census figures, what we may not have in standard river metrics—volume or width or depth—we do make up for in sheer length. The Rio Grande, which bisects the state north to south, ranks fifth in the nation, 1900 miles from its headwaters in Colorado to its Gulf of Mexico destination at Brownsville, TX. Joining it near Del Rio, the Pecos, which begins in the Sangre de Cristos, is 926 miles and 15th longest. Both are so heavily used for crop irrigation, often no water actually makes it to the Gulf.

Mills Canyon, Canadian River © SR Euston

In Northeastern New Mexico is #19, the 800 mile long Canadian. It enters the Arkansas in Oklahoma. Southwestern New Mexico’s Gila River is #25,  a 649 mile tributary of the Colorado, another river that rarely makes it to the sea.

Our state’s one river that actually looks like a river doesn’t make the top 30. That’s the 400 mile long San Juan which runs through Farmington in Northwestern New Mexico and into the Colorado at Lake Powell.

San Juan-Chama Diversion Map courtesy of ABQ/Bernalillo Ct. Water Utility Authority

It seems I’m not the first to notice that the San Juan actually looks like your standard river with water flowing through it. Back in the 1960s, Albuquerque’s city fathers decided to do something to augment the city’s rapidly declining aquifer, then the only source of drinking water. Forty five years and $400 million later, the San Juan/Chama Diversion Project was completed. At the end of 2008 we Albuquerqueans began to drink interbasin-transferred water from the San Juan, delivered through a series of diversion channels into the (really really short) Chama River, then into the Rio Grande, then through a state-of-the-art filtration/purification plant and into our water system, and, finally, out my tap.

I’m not sure I agree with interbasin water transfers. In this arid land, they just seem to me to encourage inappropriate urban growth.

Nevertheless, I’m drinking some now.

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Sunday promises to be clear, cool and breezy as we head for the Piedra Lisa Spring Trailhead. We’re not alone. The parking lot is close to full.

Piedra Lisa (it means smooth stone) is a fairly steep trail, gaining 1200’ in about two miles. This does not stop the large number of families we see as the trail begins but after about the first half mile we find we’ve got the trail to ourselves. On the lower trail, cholla are in magenta bloom. As we head up Juan Tabo Canyon two types of Prickly Pear are flowering, one low runners with yellow or apricot blooms, the other with larger pads, its edges studded with bright yellow blossoms. Higher up we reach piñon/juniper forest dotted with the occasional douglas-fir and white fir. Gambel oaks cast mottled shade; the Fendlerbush is almost done flowering. The smokelike seed banners of Mountain Mahogany wave in the breeze.  Scarlet Claret Cups bloom.

Farther on we get great views of granite formations on the Sandias’ western face—the Shield, Needle, Prow and the UNM Spire, and panoramic views west toward the city. The trail itself reflects its Sandia geology, pulverized weathered sandy granite overlaying a smooth granite base. Heading up is slippery, coming down is treacherously slippery.

In a flash of color we spot a Western Tanager in the tree tops—almost tropical with its red head, yellow breast and black wings with white wing bars. He and his less showy olive-colored mate eat insects in a dead piñon. As birds often seem to do, he approaches and sits in direct sun, as though to encourage a positive ID.

At a snack break we watch red breasted nuthatches work their way down the tree trunks, snatching whatever little morsels they can find.

Winded but at the top close to the trail’s halfway point, we reach the Rincon Ridge. From the ridge we have a spectacular northeast view toward Placitas, where the trail ends at its northern terminus, after plunging down steeply into Del Agua Canyon and into the sandy box canyon below.

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Today we take one of Albuquerque’s premiere Sandia spring hikes: up Domingo Baca Canyon.

Just beyond our city’s eastern foothills open space, we pass through a serpentine gate (designed to keep out mountain bikers and horse back riders) onto US Forest Service land, and about a half mile later, enter a designated Wilderness Area.

Giant Granite Boulders © SR Euston

(BTW: How many other cities of over half a million people have wilderness area just a few short miles away from downtown?)

The Baca Canyon trail begins across dry pinon/juniper hills where the spring wildflowers are on full display: glorious orangey Indian Paintbrush, purple-blue Penstemon, red-orange Claret Cup and yellow-green Prickly Pear cactus, white tassel-topped Beargrass and giant purple-tinged, whitish bell-flowered soapweed Yucca. Occasionally we spot a rare Plains Larkspur, its maroon spurred flowers lining a leafless stalk. All this amidst clumps of silvery squirreltail grass, interspersed with carpets of bright yellow Perky Sue.

Canyon Stream © SR Euston

Canyon Stream © SR Euston

Turning northeast across a landscape of great granite boulders, we head into the canyon proper and are enveloped in the lush green coolness of box elder, oak and cottonwood, a sure sign of water. Another half mile and we begin to hear a brook’s gurgling movement. We spend the next mile or so crisscrossing its banks. Fendlerbush is covered with white four-petaled blooms. Mexican squawroot, popularly known as bear corn, sticks up like cobs from under the canyon’s pines .  There’s even the bright spring green of poison ivy.

Domingo Baca Canyon is also known as TWA Canyon, in remembrance of a 1955 plane crash in its dense forest. All 16 passengers perished. We’ve heard that wreckage remains scattered up a narrow side canyon, including the tail bearing the plane’s ID number. We’ve never attempted to find it. The trail is unmarked, unmaintained and rugged. And it seems somehow a ghoulish place to hike. Besides it’s spring.

Like every other source in a water-starved desert, by June the creek likely will be intermittent mud to bone dry. So although this unnamed flow would barely be noticed elsewhere, it’s an ephemeral sight worth hiking to for us.

And a sure sign it’s spring in New Mexico again.

10,000' Sandia Crest from Baca Trail © SR Euston

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Today it’s windy here. That means it’s springtime in the Land of Enchantment.

Spring Wind in Cottonwoods © SR Euston

Our weather radio cautions high profile vehicles to hold on tight through Tijeras Pass and we’re all supposed to be ready for blowing dust and “unexpected airborne objects” like WalMart bags and Burger King wrappers and plastic Adirondack chairs.

Today’s forecasts are particularly dire. We’ve reached the “red flag warning” stage for fire danger. The humidity is low  (a dry 11%), the southern gusts are coming in at just under 50 mph (drier) and there hasn’t been rain since late April. Driest.

But this year it has been windier. April 28-29 they predicted 75 – 85 mph gusts. At Sandia Peak behind my house a 99 mph gust was reported. At the airport, we got to 63 mph.

weather journal jottings © SR Euston

In our home, we take our weather seriously. While most people seem marginally aware–“Hot enough for ya?”–to us, weather is the subject of over twenty years of observation and record keeping. My husband received his first rain gauge at age eight.  Each morning as we sip our coffee we listen to the weather radio where we’re brought up to date on New Mexico highs and lows, current conditions and short and long term forecasts.

And then there’s our favorite, the “forecast discussion.” Mostly it’s a lackluster presentation, understandable for our rarely changing sunny days. But there is one weatherwriter who likes to jazz it up.  He/she’s occasionally droll and is known to use unusual turns of the phrase. For this latest bout of wind, here’s the story: “it appears that critical fire weather conditions will be but a distant memory Thursday through Sunday as the pattern becomes dominated by moisture sloshing back and forth….” For more great Albuquerque weather info check out http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=NWS&issuedby=ABQ&product=AFD&format=CI&version=1&glossary=1

Backyard Peach Blossoms © SR Euston

So, just like springtime peach blossoms and daisies, this too will pass. In another few weeks it’ll be hot, with thunderstorms. And I bet, as usual, just as the Sweet 100s planted earlier this week flower, we’ll have one of those five minute tomato-destroying hailstorms New Mexico famous for.

Spring Wildflowers Eastern NM © SR Euston

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Granite, Tree and Snow ©SR Euston

Snow not only brings a soothing hush to the racket and tumult of everyday urban life—it also gives rest and tranquility to our abused eyes.

Unfortunately, I can’t give an unambiguous answer as to what this means in its fullest. Maybe: “You know it when you see it.” Here’s another try: A slowing of the eye to allow for visual rest in the most simple and common things.

Door, Wall and Snow ©SR Euston

The visual world of today resembles a whirling newspaper page, like those in old movies that conveyed a big, startling event central to the story. The whirling page today attempts to convey a billion equally illusionary messages in a dizzying vortex of jarring light, and our eyes absorb it all in a stupor of dull fascination. There are the flashing billboards, the visual chaos of the strip mall jungles, the mess of odd angled traffic signs, and on and on. Top it off with the universal, unending bombardment of flickering photons from the television and computer monitor. Our eyes cannot escape,except ….

Hose, Snow, Cement ©SR Euston

Except in a calmness and classicism of naked cerebral lines. Except in cool  angles and warm, rounded organic forms. Except in the simple patterns of nature.

It’s really true, less can be more, for photography, as for all art. A minimalism of form and color can soothe and rest the truly weary eye.               SRE

Peachtree Trunk, Wall and Snow ©SR Euston

Agave in Snow ©SR Euston

Table Through Window ©SR Euston

Plum Tree, Melting Snow ©SR Euston

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Door in New Mexico Winter ©SR Euston

Yesterday I was sitting in the living room reading the Sunday comics. Given the toxic nature of public “conversation” these days, the comics have become my only consistent must-read in the daily newspaper. Red and Rover is my favorite. (Check it out at http://comics.com/red&rover/)

I heard a thump at the front of the house. Nothing particularly noteworthy. Lots of things go thump around here: Sassy jumping down from her kitty food bowl perch, a poorly aligned stack of refrigerated leftovers finally giving in to gravity, our dog Clara getting off the sofa.

But a few minutes later it happened again. This time brought me to the front door where a remarkable display was under way in the courtyard’s pyrocantha bushes.

So that’s where the thumps were coming from! There must have been at least 50 robins, darting, eating and fighting over the bright orange-red berries in the bushes and strewn on the ground. Backup diners lined the roof, lurked in the spruce tree and jetted back and forth. Miscued by the reflection of blue and clouds, flying robins were hitting our front windows.

Pyrocantha Berries ©SR Euston

Also working the berries were smaller yellow-sided, crested, cedar waxwings. In the oversized juniper the resident ladderback woodpecker began his tap, tap, tapping, heard but, as usual, not seen.

All at once what had seemed such a bleak and lifeless cold winter’s day was converted to a bustle of avian activity.

Preparing to head south in autumn, robins gather in giant flocks, often mixed with waxwings and other species. The largest flock winters near St. Petersburg, FL. Its estimated size peaked in 2007 at over 700,000 individuals.

Who’s does this surprisingly accurate counting? Participants in the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Now in its 110th year, from mid-December to early January, events are scheduled around the nation. Group leaders train participants on bird ID and the how-tos of counting. In New Mexico over 30 events are on tap, from Farmington to Eunice, from Peloncillo to Clayton. Compiled statistics and sightings help assess the health of bird populations and support ongoing conservation efforts.

Want to see what CBCs are available in your area? Go to: http://www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc/.

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Last night we had a big storm here in Albuquerque.

December Morning—Sandias ©SR Euston

Our first winter storm watch led to a downpour, thunder and lightning, peak wind gusts of 59 mph, a power outage, and this morning a snow frosted landscape. In places roads are black ice; some locations got a foot of snow.

This is not that amazing. It is, after all, December.

But a few afternoons ago I was reading James Hansen’s new book, Storms of My Grandchildren. In the final chapter, also titled Storms etc, Hansen outlines the next obvious climate disruptions we’ll begin to see even more frequently if we continue to ignore global climate change. First up, worse storms with greater frequency in odder locations at weirder times of year. Hummm….

Now I know enough to know that anecdotal events (like last night’s lightning and thunder, odd though it seemed) don’t make convincing evidence of climate change. But I do know that virtually all atmospheric scientists (save those few who won’t believe it until their beach houses are submerged) agree that global warming is a fact. Today the New York Times reported (above the e-fold NYT Dec. 8, 2009 online edition) that the World Meteorological  Association released its analysis stating that “a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending….Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the international weather agency, speaking at a news conference at the climate talks in Copenhagen said…there was no evidence that the various independent estimates showing a warming world were in doubt.”

So, here we all are in Copenhagen. Summit organizers warn this is the last chance. Scientists warn this is the last chance. Island nations warn this is the last chance. Will we honestly, courageously, humbly, FINALLY step up to the plate and take the  leadership role we imperially claim as our own when we want to invade somebody?

Oh how I wish I were optimistic. Still, I remain hopeful.

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