Friday, January 21, 2011

New Mexico: Solitude Canyon, Bosque del Apache

Approach to Solitude Canyon
The "action" at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is focused on the heavily managed and manipulated marshes and wetlands on the Rio Grande floodplain.  But large sections of the refuge are Chihuahuan desert uplands well away from the river bottoms.  Three portions of the refuge have been protected in wilderness areas, and we chose to explore the periphery of one of those areas before we headed back to the airport.

A mile south of the refuge's main entrance there's a turnout and parking area off NM Rte. 1 that provides access to the Solitude Canyon trailhead.  The developed trail is a 2.2-mile lasso-shaped introduction to the desert.
View from within Solitude Canyon
The first half-mile of the trail gradually ascends the very sandy alluvial outwash from Solitude Canyon.  But, once the trail enters the canyon proper, it crosses over into the Indian Well Wilderness Area and the entire landscape changes.  Instead of traversing open ground, the trail follows the course of the Solitude Canyon arroyo, bringing walkers into close contact with the poorly cemented sandstones and unconsolidated gravels that make up the canyon walls.  As Kali said, "It finally got interesting."  Once the trail climbs out of the canyon, it loops northward and then delivers walkers back to the mouth of the ravine.

It was cold and windy on our walk.  As a result, we saw but one unidentifiable sparrow flit across our path during the entire walk.  Within the canyon, though, there were many eroded cavities and niches high up on the sandstone walls where Common Ravens had raised broods.  Some of the holes looked like they had been used for many, many breeding seasons.
The sandstone and gravel walls of Solitude Canyon

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