Cranes Return to the Rio Grande Bosque

This morning we took Owen, the namesake dog for this blog, for a walk in the Los Poblanos (the village) farm. Albuquerque sensibly protected crop fields along the Rio Grande Bosque from being transformed into residential real estate tracts.Los Poblanos combines working commercial fields (corn, alfalfa, and millet) with community plots where individuals can grow their own veggies and flowers. They also have a wonderful inn.

In Los Poblanos, we’ve observed road runners, a wide variety of birds, and coyotes in this diverse environment. And, during the winter, sandhill cranes.

The western flock of sandhill cranes spend most of the year in Northern Canada and even as far away as Siberia. But like many of our Canadian friends, they flee the frozen north to vacation further south in the United States.

The eastern sub-flock use the Platte River valley as a resting point before settling in for the winter in Texas. They are hypnotic to watch.

The western sub-flock follow the Rio Grande flyway into central and southern New Mexico where they settle in the river bottoms from Albuquerque south to the Bosque del Apache. We are fortunate to co-habit the bosque with the cranes from their arrival in mid-October to their departure to the north country in February-March.

Snow geese share the New Mexico flyways with the cranes, migrating at the same time.
Canadian geese also hang out in the area with the cranes and snow geese

In Albuquerque, the cranes graze in the farm fields along the river and move further afield into city park land and drainage arroyos. Everywhere, they make one or another of their distinctive clicks and clack calls.

Old Town is Always New

Explora even looks fun from the outside

I love wandering around Old Town as there is always so much to experience, from shops to museums to live music to festivals.

The museums are exceptional. Explora is a hands on science exploratation place for children. It is so popular with adults that they also offer adult nights.

The Natural History Museum and Planetarium has fun and unusual shores in addition to all those cool dinosaur skeletons. A recent exhibit brought all of Leonardo day Vinci’s inventions to life by making full sized working models. It was extraordinary.

The Planetarium at the Natural History Museum.
A great reminder that Albuquerque is over three hundred years old.

Tiguex Park is a fun place for a picnic and includes some interesting public art.

If you’re interested in Zuni fetishes, New Mexico Bead and Fetish has a great collection.

They offer explanations for what each fetish means

And while you are in Old Town, stop in for some fun candy at Old Town Candy & Sweets.

In addition to great chocolates, they stock all sorts of unusual candies and lunch boxes

San Felipe de Neri is an iconic Southwestern church. It is also still actively used for services, including both traditional and vampire weddings.

Most weekends, this gazebo is filled with entertainers playing music or demonstrating tango.

The entrance to the Albuquerque art museum sculpture garden hints at the delights inside. Its a great place to relax with a coffee and a sketchbook.

A fun mosaic invites you into Old Town

Many of the Albuquerque Museum’s sculptures are in front of the facility.

A recent sculptural addition (about border crossing) in front of the museum needs to be seen from all sides to be fully appreciated.

Wouldn’t you like to wander through Old Town with me?

Volcanoes and Rock Art

Three cinder cones appear on Albuquerque’s west mesa, few miles west of the Rio Grande River.

Image result for image albuquerque volcanoes

Locals refer to them as the Three Sisters or the Albuquerque Volcanoes. Geologically, they are the visible remains of a fissure type volcano that was several miles long and spewed slow moving lava. This fissure is a small part of the volcanic activity generated by the Rio Grande Rift Valley. Link

The lava filled low lying arroyos and, upon cooling, formed a distinctive escarpment around one hundred feet high.

Much of the escarpment eroded into large rough boulders and cliffs.

However, some of the boulders have a smooth surface. Indigenous artists used stone harder than the basalt to chip designs onto the plane surface.

Some of the images are representational and depict humanoid figures

Some of the images appear to be more abstract.

Spanish era artists, inspired by their indigenous predecessors, also pecked away at the rocks as the cross in the picture illustrates.

Petroglyph National Monument protects many of these works of art. Link



Albuquerque bosque at dawn

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

During the summer, it’s more comfortable to take my routine three to four mile hike along the river at dawn, when the air is still cool. Owen the wonder dog usually accompanies me. He’s more interested in checking out the bushes along the way than watching the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains and light up the Rio Grande River valley, however.

At first, the valley remains in shadow while the sun climbs the east slope of the mountains.

As the sun crests the Sandia, the atmosphere refracts the sunlight into the red and gold colors of the spectrum.

The water fowl along the river banks quack, honk, and screech as with the coming of the day.

Wonderfully Wierd Bosque Art

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

Hikers in the Rio Grande River Bosque come across some curious things that add Albuquerque’s reputation for quirkiness. These public art pieces are installed within the Bosque and other open spaces rather than along the city thoroughfares.

The cottonwood in Robert Wilson’s The Cube represents the life sustaining power of the bosque. The city of Albuquerque is symbolized by the repurposed fencing of the cube that surrounds the woodlands.

Encountering Arboreal Dome by Benjamin Forgey brings to mind the black monolith in the classic film by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, Forgey envisioned the structure, constructed of dead cottonwood limbs, to be a recreational place for picnics, storytelling, and the like. He also felt that some would quietly reflect while gazing through the dome.

Decades ago, steel jetty jacks were constructed to prevent erosion when the river overflowed its banks. They proved to be ineffective but were too costly to remove. The rusty structures remind one of “Rommel’s asparagus” defense works along coastal France prior to D-Day.

In her work, Salt Cedar + Jetty Jacks = Green, Jill Guarino Brown used a jetty jack as the frame for a funnel woven from salt cedars to demonstrate a repurposing of the metal structures as a mechanism for harvesting water.

Several artists teamed to produce The Web a land art piece that suggests the wonders of the bosque’s interconnected natural and human ecology.

An unknown artist used a slice of a tree trunk and pieces of bark to create a totem of a great horned owl, many of which live in the Bosque.

Perhaps, the little people who dwell in the Bosque built this elf circle.

Fairies, perhaps, but beaver definitely live in the Bosque and create their own distinctive sculpture.

The metal sculpture of dancing sandhill cranes is situated near an access point to multi-purpose trails through the Bosque. This piece reminds one of the annual migration of the cranes down the Rio Grande flyway from the Arctic in late fall and their departure in early spring.

Now that you know that these delightful pieces of art are hiding in Albuquerque’s bisque, will you seek them out?

Bosque Critters

Guest post by Ray Shortridge

The Bosque, a Spanish word for a forest, is about a one mile wide stretch of trees and underbrush, dominated by cottonwoods, on both sides of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. The Bosque stretches some two hundred miles north to south along the middle reach of the river. The ecology of the Bosque is both interesting and daunting.

In Albuquerque, a state park interpretive center and multi-use trails (hiking, jogging, cycling, and horseback riding) are maintained by several public agencies. The trails meander for miles along both sides of the river, enabling people to experience nature virtually in their own backyards. The Rio Grande provides life giving water to a narrow strip of the high desert, and many species of critters inhabit the Bosque, as well as the river itself.

Around dawn, Owen (the namesake for this blog) rouses me to take him to the Bosque for a three to four mile walk.

Owen. Ready to explore

Along the way, over the years, we have encountered a number of critters, sometimes startling Owen into flight/fight mode, but more often, causing mere disinterest. Many of our encounters with small birds flitting about the underbrush or even larger ones seeking fish in the river or the irrigation ditches, for example, have little relevance for a canine. And Owen is a canine par excellence.

A heron surveying his kingdom
A peregtine falcon watching for prey

Owen pays little attention to beavers or muskrats swimming largely under water in an irrigation acequia.

Swimming beaver is safe from Owen.

However, once we came across a beaver on shore returning to its lodge a bit late from browsing on bushes in the moonlight, and Owen woofed at the poor critter and chased it until it plopped into an acequia and splashed him with water from a thump of its tail.

On another occasion, we followed a porcupine down one of the trails. Leashing a curious Owen to spare us a vet bill to remove quills, took some time, so the beast waddled off into the brush a distance.

We’re far enough away to be safe from the porcupine’s tail.

We have seen bobcat paw prints but have yet to spot one. A neighborhood website recently reported a bobcat wandering around, about a mile from the Bosque. A friend near the mountains reported that a female bobcat frequently peered through her patio door to terrify her domestic cats. Definitely, bobcats have a sense of humor, of a predatory sort.

Reportedly, here are reptiles in the bosque, mostly turtles (full disclosure: this turtle picture was taken at the Duck Pond on the UNM campus and that of the serpent at the nearby Petroglyphs National Monument.)

Turtles in the sun
The snake is too close for comfort

Cougar and black bears live in the mountain ranges on the east side of the length of the Bosque, and they travel through it as they move from one hunting range to another. Neither Owen nor I have spotted them, their spoor, or their scat. However, we have spotted the distinctive scat of coyotes. Once we spotted nine in a group, perhaps a couple of breeding pairs with yearlings and pups, heading north along the other side of the drainage ditch.

Coyotes are curious and have shadowed me and Owen on a number of occasions for a mile or more along the trails.

The Bosque is a migratory flyover route, and greater and lesser sandhill cranes migrate in from the Arctic tundra in the late fall and stay over until early spring. And, of course ducks and geese dwell in the waters of the river and the irrigation acequia.

Cranes having a grain party
Ducks enjoying a water break

Of course, the roadrunner is an interesting bird to watch, year around. It is so beloved, New Mexico uses its image as the logo for our light rail, the Railrunner.

Finally, one might encounter something mystical in the Bosque. This unicorn type beast is a whimsy of a quirky artistic soul, one of many choosing to live in Albuquerque.

Which of the Bosque beasts would you most like to encounter?

Balloons Over the Bosque

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge.

The rift valley of the Rio Grande del Norte makes Albuquerque an addictive destination for hot air balloonists. Every fall, Albuquerque hosts the International Balloon Fiesta and balloonists come from all over the world to show off their ballooning skills. An ideal ballooning environment is caused by the Sandia Mountain Range shading the valley for a couple of hours after dawn.

This keeps the cool night air from rapidly warming up, thereby prolonging the buoyancy of the hot air balloon. Balloonists launching at daybreak can enjoy a lengthy ride viewing the Rio Grande, the river’s bosque (the longest cottonwood canopy in world), the lights of an awakening city, and the mountains.

Balloonists inflate the balloons by using fans to blow hot air generated by liquid propane gas into the envelope or bag. At night, during Balloon Fiesta, owners often tether their balloons to the ground with the burners lit, which makes a dramatic sight and is known as a “Ballon Glow”.

People often hire commercial balloonists such as Rainbow Ryders to take them up to enjoy the heady experience of unpowered flight. Often this is followed by a champagne toast. If you’re up for this adventure, make sure to wear a hat. Those burners are hot! In fall, winter, or spring, wear layers The early morning air at full altitude may be cool but it will likely warm up during your ride.

The balloon on the left seemed to follow me down a trail in the bosque, reminding me of the cult British TV show, The Prisoner.

When the balloonist ignites the propane burner to reheat the air in the bag, it sounds like a dragon is approaching. The roar can be a bit unsettling because one can hear it before before the balloon comes into view over a ridge line of copse of trees. A bevy of balloons make a great roar

Balloonists like to hover over the river. The waterfowl don’t seem to mind.

Thousands of balloonists from all over the world will once again rendezvous in Albuquerque this October for nine days and two weekends. It’s a spectacle worth seeing. Have you seen the new special shapes? They rock.