Coyotes & Folks

Just past dawn, one morning, a coyote hopped over our garden wall and settled in under a bush for a nap. We had heard coyotes yelping from time to time during the night, so perhaps this one was part of that pack. We had seen them while hiking, but having one snoozing just outside the kitchen window was a new one for us. This picture of a coyote was taken in the Rio Grande Bosque.

They are intelligent and curious creatures who shadow hikers apparently to see what humans are up to in their territory.

A coyote’s territory varies widely. In rural areas of the southwest and south, where resources are scant, a coyote might roam over forty square miles. With an urban environment or in the northeast, food sources are more plentiful and the range is much less. Coyotes now encroach upon Central Park in New York City from time to time.

Here is a pack of about nine coyotes trotting along a path in the Bosque. The hind feet of a coyote settles in the print of the front feet. An entire pack might trot along a path and leave only one set of footprints.

Coyotes (canis laprans) are descended from the wolf line of canids, and are cousins of the domestic version, the dog. Like the dog, which adapted to exploit human waste dumps after our species settled down after learning to produce food with in agricultural technologies, the coyote is very adaptable.

Humans evidently encountered coyotes in the American southwest, and the Aztecs referred to Coyotlinauatl as the god whose faithful wore coyote skins. The Aztec moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, was known as one who bays at the moon. Link

Over the last hundred years or so, coyotes have spread their range to New England and the South. The DNA evidence is murky and still being worked out, but northeastern coyotes are larger (befitting a lusher prey environment) and southern ones are smaller. And, there is evidence of repeated inter-breading with wolves and dogs. Today’s coyote is a mix master slush of canine DNA.

Regardless, listening to coyotes bay at night and glimpsing them observing you in the brush is an exhilarating experience in nature.

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?

Metro-complex at Mesa Verde

In the mid-13th century, Native American corn growers and their families fled their drought stricken farms  south and west of their cultural center at Chaco in what is now New Mexico.

Image Credit: National Park Service: Pueblo Bonito, Chaco National Park

These ancestral pueblo peoples had endured year after year of drought. The religion and agronomy promoted by the Chaco elite had failed to induce the rain gods to nurture their crops. Famine destroyed their faith and led them to seek territory with more rain. Some fled north to the higher altitudes of southwestern Colorado and southern Utah. They built many pueblos on the mesas drained by McElmo’s Creek and farmed the mesa tops and stream bottoms. Canyons of the Ancients.

The crops thrived with more rain, but at the higher altitudes, the growing season was shorter and variable. A late planting or an early frost severely cut into the yields of corn, beans, and squash. Moreover, they competed for arable land with peoples who had been farming in the region for centuries.

Facing starvation, the men of a stricken pueblo would attack a town that had more ample food. The warfare destroyed vulnerable pueblos and led others to settle in defensible sites. For example, the Hovenweep settlement.

Perhaps, most dramatically, were the many defensive pueblos built below the southern rim of Mesa Verde.

Ancestral pueblo peoples had lived on top of the mesa for about three centuries. The arrival of immigrants from the south along with  drought led to conflict. For safety, they built the spectacular pueblos below the mesa top that are now preserved at Mesa Verde National Park.



However, the drought and the social chaos it generated forced the peoples to abandon the metro-complex that they had built at Mesa Verde and the Canyon lands. Most of them re-settled in the upper Rio Grande Valley and developed the various Pueblo societies and cultures that now reside there. Link

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



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?

Travel by Tram

Albuquerque has spectacular views from its extremely safe Sandia tramway. According to the tramway, “it ascends from a base elevation of 6,559 feet (1,999 m) to a top elevation of 10,378 feet (3,163 m).

The tram reaching the top.
Great views
More great views from a trail near the tram
Great views at the top
The leaves are starting to turn at the top of the mountaim
Many folks ride the tram up and hike, ski, or bicycle down.
This heavy equipment looked like it was balanced on a sinkhole
A new restaurant is being built to replace the old one on top of the tramway
My brother and his husband seemed to enjoy the views

Afterwards, we stopped for food and drinks at the delightful Sandiago Grill at the base of the tram. In addition to fabulous views from inside and outside seating, their menu offerings have been jazzed up. The prices seemed a little higher than the last time I was there but are reasonable for the quality. My fish tacos were delicious. Unfortunately, this picture was taken after I’d messed up their plating. Forgive me, I was hungry!

Wow! Chainsaw Magic

I’m still putting up Japan pictures but my brother and his husband are visiting us in Albuquerque, NM so I thought I’d take a couple of side trips on my blog.

Onw of my favorite places to sit and sketch here is the woodcutters’ park at Pueblo Montaño. If you’ve ever watched chainsaw artists at work, youll realize how amazing these sculptures are.

The official name of the trailhead

The front of this one has a ghostly female image
The back has a fully fleshed out female visage

Love the little turtles on the back of this one

Different angles and lighting reveal new surprises