Monday, August 31, 2009

Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock is a pleasant diversion but not one of Ang Lee's better films. There are two principal problems. First, the main character, Elliot Teichberg, is so bland that it's hard to develop much interest in him. Second, his mother is so patently unpleasant from beginning to end that you can't muster any sympathy for her plight. (Near the end of the film, Elliot asks his father why his father has stayed with his mother for 40 years. His father replies, "Because I love her." This woman is so unlovable that you don't buy it for a second.) Furthermore, any film in which the second-tier characters are the most interesting (e.g., Liev Shreiber as the transvestite ex-Marine Vilma and Eugene Levy as dairy farmer Max Yasgur) is in trouble from the get go.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Handsome Devil

Hickory Horned Devil (Citheronia regalis)
Returning to work after lunch this afternoon (in the rain) I came across this Hickory Horned Devil (Saturniidae[Giant Silkworm and Royal Moths]: Ceratocaminae: Citheronia reglis) crawling through the wet undergrowth. According to David L. Wagner's Caterpillars of Eastern North America, its likely that this handsome devil, a fully-grown, final-instar larva, was wandering in search of a suitable pupation site. The pupa passes the winter in a below-ground cell. The adult that will emerge in the spring is a Regal (or Royal) Walnut Moth.
Hickory Horned Devil (Citheronia regalis); flash drive card for reference

Mushrooms and Summer Night Music

I know it's a little fuzzy; it was getting dark.

Last evening, my wife and I took a long, out-and-back walk in our favorite local natural area. By the time we were nearing our turn around point, dusk was coming on strong. However, just at that point, we came across this cluster of mushrooms growing astride the trail and the drainage ditch that bordered the trail. These images don't do them justice--they were strikingly orange-red in real life. They were also very small; notice the green acorn partially obscured by one of the larger caps in the upper center of the images. My best guess, after reviewing the images in Mushrooms of Northeastern North America by Alan and Arleen Bessette and David Fisher is that they are of the genus Hygrophorus, but that's a shot in the dark. I didn't collect any to try to do a more careful identification.

Not fuzzy but a little overexposed by the flash.
Summer Night Music

Last evening was cool here, cool enough to open the windows (vs. leaving them closed with the air conditioner running). It was also cool enough to snuggle in bed. So, we pulled-up the shade and opened the south-facing window in our bedroom, and we spooned for a while, my wife behind me, before we fell asleep. There was a gentle breeze, and crickets and katydids lent some background music. In our part of the Mid-Atlantic, the sky is usually bright with city lights, especially when it's cloudy like it was last night, so the leaves of the gigantic and ancient sycamore tree growing outside our house appeared in filigreed brocade silhouette against the matte-gray sky. The last thing I remember my wife saying before we fell asleep was, "This is just perfect."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Journey Home by Edward Abbey

The Journey Home

I just finished reading The Journey Home, a collection of 22 essays by Edward Abbey (author of the justly lauded Desert Solitaire) originally published in 1977. While Abbey and I are kindred spirits in lamenting the destruction and desecration of the natural world, the collection on the whole is only moderately satisfying.

Abbey is at his best when he combines his deeply personal recollections with a narrative thread. He accomplishes this best in "Hallelujah on the Bum" (retelling his hitchhiking and train-hopping trip from Pennsylvania to the West Coast and back in 1944), "Down the River with Major Powell" (an account of Abbey and two friends' trip down the Green River in Utah 101 years after John Wesley Powell made the first exploratory trip), and the second half of "Mountain Music" (in which Abbey recounts a climb to the knife-edged col between Mt. Wilson and Wilson Peak in Colorado). I also loved the three-page "Shadows from the Big Woods," but that's because it struck a particularly personal chord with me, but does not follow the "personal narrative" pattern of the other three excellent essays.

Slightly less effective are five other essays: "Disorder and Early Sorrow" (a very humorous recounting an ill-advised and ill-fated trip in a passenger car on an abandoned jeep track in Big Bend National Park in 1952), "Death Valley," "Manhattan Twilight, Hoboken Night" (written about the time Abbey spent in Hoboken, NJ, before the city became gentrified), "The Crooked Wood," and "Freedom and Wilderness."

Abbey stumbles in the remainder of the 13 contributions when he tries to be a naturalist and when he laments the loss of natural places. He's certainly spot on about his sentiments, but the essays come across as cynical and snide. Some are also outdated, especially "Return to Yosemite: Tree Fuzz vs. Freaks" and the longest contribution, "The Second Rape of the West" about strip mining for coal.

The book's only 239 pages long (in the hardcover edition I read) so it's not a major commitment. Plus, the great essays are gems to be savored.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Late Summer Images

My friend who manipulates photographic images had been in the hospital in July. She fell backward down the stairs and one of her lungs collapsed. While she was in the hospital (she needed surgery to reverse the collapse), the doctors determined that she has a grapefruit-sized bleb (a benign growth) on her lung and probably has had for a long time. So, she'll be back in the hospital for more surgery. In the meantime, she made these images, one from the morning glory vine she has growing in her back yard, and one taken at Higbee Beach on the Delaware Bay shore in southern New Jersey on a recent trip there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico (May 2009) IX

New Mexico's champion alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana)
Fort Bayard

On our second last day in New Mexico (May 21), we were somewhat at a loss for things to do because the sky was threatening rain and we didn't want to drive a long distance yet again. I thought about hiking to hot springs along the San Francisco River, but that was an hour's drive northwest on good roads, an indeterminate distance on a dirt road, and then a two mile walk to a location about which I wasn't exactly sure. Too much trouble. So, we decided to go to Ft. Bayard, about 15 miles east of Silver City, for a hike.

Ft. Bayard is an old cavalry fort that was established to fight the Apaches. Later, it became the locus for copper mining operations in the area, all of which have now been shut down or suspended. Then, the fort buildings were converted to a hospital, the current incarnation of the fort. Just south of the hospital complex, the entrance drive enters the Gila National Forest, and provides access to a set of trails in the foothills of the Black Mountains. We decided on a 5.5 mile circuit, including a side trail to New Mexico's champion alligator juniper tree (Juniperus deppeana).

The hike was easy up to the tree, crossing grasslands and low swells on a broad plain. The tree itself is growing alongside a brook in a copse of oak woodland, and it's mighty impressive. Because the prior day had been rainy, and because the day we visited was cloudy and drizzly, there were some nice opportunities for interesting photographs. We also came across numerous clumps of a parasitic plant at the base of the oaks that I couldn't identify on the spot but later determined to be bear corn (a.k.a. squaw root or cancer-root) (Conopholis americana), a member of the Orobanchaceae, or broom-rape family, all the members of which are parasitic.
Bear corn (a.k.a. squaw root or cancer-root) (Conopholis americana)

A fallen tree near the alligator juniper

Half-wet oaks arching over Sullivan Brook

From the juniper grove, we continued the circuit, climbing up into the hills on a deteriorating trail. Eventually, we reached the crest of the hill and passed through a gate in a barbed wire fence. The hike was downhill from there, in every sense of the word. Certainly, we began to descend vertically, but the fence was in place to keep cattle out of the area of the juniper grove. Though we never saw any cattle, their evidence was everywhere, from overgrazed pasture, cowpies too numerous to count, and a badly eroded and severely churned-up trail. The second half of the walk was unpleasant.

Near trail's end, Ft. Bayard, NM

We finally came out of the hills onto the plain again where there were several huge open growing sycamore trees. Our timing was perfect, because it began to rain just as we returned to our car.


The next day, we checked out of Bear Mountain Lodge and headed back to Albuquerque for our flight home the next morning. En route we drove through the incredibly scenic Iron Creek canyon, but it was raining and we didn't have a chance to stop. The drive to Albuquerque took 5:15, including a stop for a quick lunch along the way.

We checked into our motel near the intersection of I-25 and I-40, then headed over to Old Town to do some final shopping. The store where we had bout some great fetishes in the past was no longer there, but my wife bought an unusual Navajo ring in another store.

At 5:00, we headed back to the motel and got dressed for an early dinner at Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro. Our prix fix meals ($29.00 each) were superb, from appetizer to dessert.

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico,(May 2009) VIII

Ring muhly (Muhlenbergia torreyi) at the edge of the pinion-juniper woodlands
Bear Mountain Lodge, Silver City, NM

Short Detour

On Tuesday morning, May 19, 2009, before we explored the cultural resources of central Silver City, we accompanied the volunteer naturalist at Bear Mountain Lodge on a guided tour of one of the lodge grounds' trails. The driest, sandiest, and most exposed portions of the the trail were bordered with a strikingly unusual grass (at least for this Easterner): ring muhly (Muhlenbergia torreyi). The grass obviously gets started from a single plant in the center, then the center dies back and the grass expands outward from the origin. It has a an umistakable growth form that can spread for dozens of feet.

The Catwalk

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit the Silver City area was to walk The Catwalk National Recreation Trail in the Gila National Forest. After we finished birding at The Nature Conservancy's Gila River Farm on Wednesday morning, May 20, we drove a half-hour north on US 180 to the town of Glenwood, where we turned east off the main road and drove five miles to The Catwalk trailhead.

The Catwalk is a trail developed through Whitewater Creek canyon that replaced a pipeline originally built in the 1800 to provide a dependable source of water for mining and refining operations near Glenwood. Workers who created the original trail penetrated a mile into the canyon to install pipe. Where the creekbed filled the entire canyon bottom, the workers bolted the pipeline to the canyon walls and installed a metal grate on top to allow them to walk up into the canyon to service the pipe. The grating was narrow and precarious, hence the nickname "catwalk." Over the years, floods have washed out most (but not all) traces of the original pipeline and walk, but the Forest Service has rebuilt and modernized the popular trail, making it among the most popular attractions in southwestern New Mexico.

When we arrived, the skies threatened rain, but we had driven over an hour north of Silver City, and we didn't want to waste all that time just to come back another day. So, we began walking the trail. The walk begins as a rocky footpath, but quickly reaches the steel grating affixed to the canyon walls. When we reached the suspended section, we asked a couple leaving the walk to take our pictures, then we quickly moved on into the canyon. The walk was disconcerting but exhilarating as the creek roared and foamed under our feet. After a few hundred yards, the metal grating ended and the trail continued up into the canyon as a rocky footpath with occasional wooden steps in the steepest sections. At its upper end, the trail terminated under a huge overhang of rock, with the creek surging among gigantic boulders below. (It is possible to continue up the canyon on the Whitewater Creek Trail into the Gila Wilderness.) That day, a group of high school kids was wading and swimming in the creek despite the cloudy skies and cool temperatures.

Whitewater Creek near the terminus of The Catwalk Trail

Just as we reached the upper end of the trail, it began to rain. We decided to wait to see if it would stop, but after 10 minutes, with no end in sight, we started back down the trail. We stopped every place there was a rocky overhang in the cliff to get out of the rain, waiting at one point for 20 minutes, mashed up against the rock in a really uncomfortable position as the rain poured down.

Finally, the rain let up a bit and we continued down the trail. We encountered a couple and their dog (the guy was tall, slender, and very good looking) equipped with rain gear.

Naturally, by the time we reached the parking lot, the rain had stopped. As we sat in the car eating our lunch, a car pulled up and disgorded two bedraggled looking backpackers who plodded up toward the trailhead, headed for a backcountry trip in the Gila Wilderness. While I yearned to accompany them, I thought about backpacking in the rain in the mountains and gave the whole concept another thought. (It ended up raining for the next several days, so they probably had a soggy trek.) I recognized the person driving the car that had brought the backpakers to the trailhead--it was the woman who had taken our picture as we first entered The Catwalk. I expressed surprise at seeing her again, and she said that she was an artist who lived in Glenwood, and that she had seen the two backpakers walking past her house. She took pity on them and drove them the five miles to the trailhead. Glenwood sounds like a nice community.

Two more birds on this trip (neither "life listers"): Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus) and American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus).

Gila Descending by M.H. Salmon

Having visited southwestern New Mexico in May and hiked several day trips around the Gila Wilderness, I looked forward with anticipation to reading Gila Descending, an account of Silver City, NM resident M.H. Salmon's trip by foot and canoe down most of the length of the Gila River in New Mexico and Arizona. In the end, I was a bit disappointed. I didn't much like the author as he portrayed himself. He's a self-described "houndsman" and coyote hunter, and he never lets you forget it. I have no problem with hunting for meat or to maintain an ecological balance, but M.H. Salmon clearly loves to pursue and kill coyotes (whose pelts he does sell, at least). Nevertheless, his love of hunting was a turn-off for me.

I also disliked his writing style. He informs his readers that he writes for outdoors magazines, so clearly he is able to sell his writing, but I found his style to be affectedly "down-homey"; it didn't ring true to me.

It was also irresponsible of him to bring a cat along with him on this trip. The cat could easily have wandered off, and in one instance, the cat nearly drowned when the canoe capsized with the cat leashed to the struts. But, like nearly everything else in the author's life (according to irritating little hints dropped throughout), he had a truly ambivalent relationship with the cat.

Salmon is not good at describing the landscape and the countryside. I did not come away from the book with a clear, well-developed picture of the rugged landscape of the upper Gila.

Though Salmon reports that the Gila disappears well short of its historic mouth at the Colorado River, he ends his trip before he reaches the de facto "end" of the river. I kept waiting for him to discuss the river's demise in the irrigated deserts of Arizona, but he didn't.

The book, divided into three sections, would benefit from more maps. There is one map of the entire Gila drainage at the beginning of the book, but a more detailed map of each of the individual sections would have been a welcome addition.

While I have gone into great detail about why I was disappointed by the book, it was by no means a waste of time. His trip was interesting and depicted with enough sense of adventure that I'd like to try it myself some time. Furthermore, the author's heart is certainly in the right place when it comes to enjoying and defending the Gila in particular and wilderness in general. So, all in all, the book's a good--but not a great--read.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico (May 2009) VII

Gila River at TNC's Gila River Preserve (View upstream toward Gila Wilderness)

A Banner Day for Birds

Wednesday morning, May 20, after breakfast we headed northwest from Silver City to explore The Nature Conservancy's Gila River Farm Preserve just outside the hamlet of Gila, NM, on a guided tour with Mike, TNC's premier birder in New Mexico. This section of the Gila is just outside the border of the Gila Wilderness, and by this point the river has emerged from the mountains and has begun to flow through low hills in a broad valley.

Gila Wilderness as viewed upstream from the Gila River at TNC's Gila River Farm Preserve

Once our caravan arrived at the preserve, Mike gave us an overview and orientation, and then walked us over to an irrigation canal to give us an introduction to water rights in New Mexico. He explained that water rights must be used or that they will be rescinded and reallocated. He also explained that The Nature Conservancy is in the forefront of making the case that maintenance and restoration of natural ecosystems is a legitimate use of water rights (cf., consumptive agricultural use), but that such use was not yet approved. Therefore, TNC partially uses the water rights that came along with the farm that it bought to create the preserve to encourage the development of wetland habitat at the low ends of existing agricultural fields and to recharge groundwater.

After the water rights primer, we spent most of the morning birding on the irrigation canal bank, in an artificial pond, and in the riparian corridor along the Gila River. This two-hour birding trip may have yielded more species per hour than any other birding venue I have ever enjoyed. What follows is a list of all the birds we encountered, including several new "life-listers" (indicated with an asterisk) for this Eastern birder.
  • Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  • Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus)--rare, pair on a nest
  • Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
  • Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) *
  • Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
  • Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
  • Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) *
  • Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)
  • Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis) *
  • Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
  • Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens)
  • Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
  • Cassin's Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans)
  • Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
  • Common Raven (Corvus corax)
  • Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus) *
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
  • Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)
  • Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
  • Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)
  • European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
  • Lucy's Warbler (Vermivora luciae) *
  • Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)
  • Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
  • Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
  • Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  • Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca caerulea) *
  • Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  • Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
  • Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  • Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii)
One thing that truck me when we finished our walk was how much of the avifauna of the grasslands and shrublands of New Mexico is comprised of flycatchers. Of the 37 species we observed that morning, nearly a quarter (eight) were flycatchers.

Gila River flowing southwest from TNC's Gila River Farm Preserve

As we were driving out of the preserve after our walk, headed for the Catwalk National Recreation Trail, we came across a huge King Snake stretched across the road. The rest of the group, which was following in cars behind us, stopped to see the snake, and then gently encouraged it to move off the road.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter

Over the weekend, I finished reading The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter. Baxter wrote The Feast of Love, a National Book Award nominee, so he clearly can write. In fact, many parts of this reasonably short novel (210 pages in the hardcover edition) are very, very good. But the conclusion is so muddled, confusing, and unsatisfying that, regrettably, it ultimately is not worth reading.

The novel focuses on two men, Nathaniel Mason, a Midwestern transplant attending graduate school in Buffalo, New York, and Jerome Coolberg, a cold, enigmatic, and slightly scary self-styled intellectual. Jerome develops an all-consuming interest in Nathaniel's life, going so far as to have Nathaniel's apartment burglarized and then wearing Nathaniel's purloined clothes. It looks like Jerome is trying to steal Nathaniel's soul/identity...or is he?

There's an ostensibly clever little "catch" on the third-last page of the book that's supposed to either (a) explain the foregoing 207 pages, or (b) leave the denouement open for interpretation by the reader. If Baxter's intended goal was (a), then he's not been clever or skillful enough as an author to achieve his objective; if it's (b), he's done a fine job, because there are many, many interpretations possible--all equally legitimate and all equally unsatisfying because they're so untethered to reality.

After I finished the book, my wife and I went for a walk to talk it over (she'd read it the week before). In a discussion lasting well over an hour, we could not come to an agreement on exactly what had happened--the book's that obtuse.

My initial reaction on finishing the book was that Charles Baxter was not a talented enough writer to pull off successfully what could have been an intriguing, complex, and intricate thriller about the nature of personal identity. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that I'm right.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back to My Roots

I was professionally trained as an aquatic ecologist. I earned my professional degree studying the aquatic invertebrate communities inhabiting a series of six parallel streams draining off a ridge in the central Appalachian Mountains. At that time, I was especially interested in stoneflies (Plectoperans), but the position I accepted after graduate school took me to the Coastal Plain in the deep South where stoneflies are few and far between. Then, I took my current position in the urbanized Piedmont on the East Coast, and our streams are too damaged to have much of an interesting Plecopteran fauna. In short, I lost my stonefly mojo. And, because I'm basically an administrator, I lost most of the rest of my invertebrate mojo, too.

However, recently I was enlisted to help with a multifaceted stormwater research project, and the team leader knew of my background. So, I agreed to sample and identify macroinvertebrates in a stormwater treatment wetland. Last Friday, I pulled on a pair of hip waders and I ventured out into the field after years of being bound to my desk.

As I collected the samples, I noticed that I had netted some dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, micro waterstriders, backswimmers, snails, water measurers, and water boatmen, but I'll have to sort through the samples more carefully over the next few weeks and pick the bugs from the detritus--tedious work!

It was good to be back in the field, though.

When I looked at the images that my assistant took of me, I noticed that (1) I desperately needed a haircut (which I got over the weekend), and (2) my Carhart work dungarees are cut too generously to flatter my butt. Vanity.

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

While we were sampling, a Green Heron (
Butorides virescens) alighted in a dead tree adjacent to the wetland. I'm sure it wanted to come down to eat, and we were delaying its lunch.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico, May 2009 (VI)

Indian rock art from a cliff face near Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

A Short Detour

I'm reading Edward Abbey's
The Journey Home: Some Words In Defense of the American West. It's a collection of essays and short memoirs published in 1977. In the first memoir, "Hallelujah on the Bum," Abbey recounts his introduction to the West during a three-month hitchhiking and train-hopping circuit of the West when he was 17 years old in 1944. Here's his description of passing through New Mexico aboard a railroad boxcar:

Brightest New Mexico. The sharp, red cliffs of Gallup. Mesas and mountains in the distance. Lava beds baking under the sun. Old volcanoes. Indian villages, cornfields, antique adobe churches, children splashing in a stream, an enchanted mesa. And over all a golden light, a golden stillness, a sweet but awesome loneliness--one old white horse browsing on a slope miles away from any sign of man; no fences; one solitary windmill standing in a grove of junipers, cowpaths radiating toward the horizon; a single cottonwood tree, green as life, in the hot red sand of a dry riverbed.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

From The Nature Conservancy's Mimbres Preserve, we drove north on NM 35 to its intersection with NM 15, then north on NM 15 to its terminus at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Though the drive was only about 30 miles, it took us 1-1/2 hours because the road is tortuous and simply can't be driven fast.
Besides, it was very scenic and there was no reason to hurry.

As we approached the Visitors' Center, the sky became increasingly dark and we heard rumbles of thunder. We went into the Visitors Center, where we got oriented, bought some postcards, and a tiny bowl painted with Mimbres-inspired artwork created by a contemporary Arizona artist.

We left the Visitors' Center and got back in the car for the 1-mile drive to the trailhead for the cliff dwellings. As we were driving, the heavens opened up. We got to the trailhead parking lot and waited in the car for the rain to slack off--a good 30 minute wait before we were confident that the worst had passed. The trailhead is located on the east bank of the Middle Fork Gila River at the end of a suspension bridge over the river. We paid our admission fee and crossed the bridge into the mouth of Cliff Dweller Canyon. The trail rose slowly up through the lush canyon, winding through riparian vegetation alongside a beautiful mountain brook, and then emerged onto rocks just below the caves containing the cliff dwellings.

There were several volunteer docents stationed throughout the dwellings, but visitors were allowed to wander freely through the partially restored and stabilized ruins. The structures were much the same as we had seen at Chaco Canyon, except that these ruins were located in protective caves high above the canyon floor, which added an additional element of intrigue to the site.

View of the Gila Cliff Dwellings and Cliff Dweller Canyon from the trail leading up to the cliff dwellings

View of a portion of the Gila Cliff Dwellings looking up Cliff Dweller Canyon into the adjacent Gila Wilderness

A ladder leading down from the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
The route through the dwellings requires the use of this ladder.

The Middle Fork Gila River looking south (downstream)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Late Summer Meadows and More

I had a chance to take a mid-morning walk in my local natural area this morning (August 4, 2009). The Joe-Pye-Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) was in full riotous bloom, and New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) and the first goldenrod (Solidago spp.) flowers were beginning to show color.

I caught the image of a Tiger Swallowtail (Pterourus glaucus) male alighting on one of the Joe-Pye-Weed flowers, along with a honeybee.

Crossing from the meadow into the adjacent dark, cool, moist forest, I noticed this ironwood or hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) growing just inside the edge. At first, the tree's angular form struck me as very Oriental, but I don't think that this image conveys the same feel I had in the woods; nevertheless, I still like it.
As I emerged from the woods back into the meadow, I came across these Tiger Swallowtails in copula. The female is above, the male hanging below. The pair soon took flight, with the female doing all the heavy lifting and the male tagging along for the ride (of course).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico, May 2009 (V)

The Nature Conservancy's Bear Mountain Lodge, Silver City, NM
Bear Mountain Lodge
Sunday, May 17, we spent the entire day driving from our bed-and-breakfast at Thoreau, New Mexico south to Silver City--a pleasant and scenic but long seven-hour drive. Our route took us back east on I-40 to Grants, then south on NM 117 through El Malpais National Monument, south on NM 36 to Quemado (don't blink), south on NM 32 to Reserve, and then finally south on US 180 to Silver City. We arrived in Silver City, drove around town to get our bearings, and then headed four miles north of town to The Nature Conservancy's Bear Mountain Lodge, a small bed-and-breakfast hotel on 165 acres bequeathed to The Nature Conservancy and operated as a center to proselytize TNC's mission. Since we're already firmly committed to conservation, we didn't need much convincing to sing with the choir. Bear Mountain Lodge opened in the early 1900s as a boy's school, then was converted into a resort. When the resort failed, the buildings fell into disrepair, but were rescued by a couple from the East Coast who renovated them, expanded the rooms, and re-opened the resort. By the time the wife was aging and trying to find a buyer for the resort, it had become renowned for its proximity to great birding and outdoor venues in the Gila Wilderness, so she donated it to The Nature Conservancy. The lodge is fabulous. We stayed in a four-unit "outbuilding" called "Myra's Retreat" (formerly the resort's laundry). The main lodge also has 10 rooms, a dining hall, a comfortable lobby with fireplaces and easy chairs, and a "resource room" with books, maps, and local information. Our room had a king-size bed, an easy chair, a wardrobe, and a view out onto the garden where birds came to bathe in the artificial stream and pond. The room was decorated in very tasteful and understated Southwestern style, with artwork provided by a downtown gallery.

The lodge used to serve dinner (on June 1, 2009, dinner service ended), and we ate breakfast and dinner at the lodge every day. The food was exceptional--all the more reason to lament that dinner is no longer available. After dinner the first evening, we still had plenty of sunlight left, so we took a walk on one of the trails through the property, stopping at a high point to take a picture of the lodge in the background. The lodge sits in an area the was formerly native grassland, but fire suppression has allowed the pinon-juniper forest that cloaks the surrounding hills to begin to march down to the grassy flatlands. TNC is gradually beginning to control the encroaching trees, but it's a big job--especially if each tree has to be treated individually.

Bear Mountain Lodge in encroaching pinon-juniper forest
The Mimbres Preserve
One of the benefits of staying at Bear Mountain Lodge is that TNC offers free guided walks of their preserves. On Monday morning, we accompanied one of the volunteers guides to the Mimbres Preserve (actually a group of several preserved parcels strung along the Mimbres River) about 45 minutes east of Silver City.

The Mimbres is a small but beautiful stream. In the Mid-Atlantic, we'd call it a creek or a run, but in the desert Southwest, it's a river. The Mimbres has no natural mouth and never has; once it leaves the foothills of the mountains, it just flows across desert until it peters out in the middle of nowhere. But here in the hills, it is a fine desert stream with a great riparian corridor.
We parked at the preserve parking lot at a farm with an old wooden barn and walked down the slope to the shade and coolness of the streamside gallery forest. Birdsong was everywhere once we entered the woods.

Old barn at The Nature Conservancy's Mimbres Preserve

A cholla at the edge of the riparian zone
The Nature Conservancy's Mimbres Preserve

We used steppingstones and a few unsteady boards to cross the river (which was no more than ankle deep anyway), and then found an old military road-cum-trail that parallels the river. We walked upstream a few thousand feet, enjoying views of the river and birding throughout. Then we turned around and retraced our steps to a point in the trail where we could climb a knoll to survey the surrounding landscape. Our guide told us that the top of the knoll used to be the site of a Mimbres Indian village (pre-dating the Anasazi), and that occasionally pottery shards were found by cautious observers, but we saw no evidence of buildings other than some rocks.

We came down off the knoll and skirted a broad meadow bordered with seep wetlands full of endangered frogs. Then, as we were circling back to the stream crossing, we had a chance to see Blue Grosbeaks and, even more exciting for me, Yellow-breasted Chats (Icteria virens), nesting in the shrubs in the middle of the meadow. These chats were life-listers for us.

Mimbres River at The Nature Conservancy's Mimbres Preserve

Mimbres River at The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) Mimbres Preserve
TNC encourages such logjams to diversity habitat and provide structure

After we returned to our car, we headed for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument--the next post.