Have you rescued a leaf today?

It’s always a grand idea to save leaves raked up in the Fall into big piles scattered about your yard. These cast leaves provide important habitat for overwintering birds, small mammals and insects. In the Spring they break down forming compost which helps recharge the soil with nutrients and microbes that fertilize new seedlings and build soil structure.

But what about that lone leaf, now brown and crunchy, alone on the ground? That leaf, once part of a network of thousands that once beautifully graced a massive shade tree growing bravely alongside a busy city street? That leaf, now fallen to a surface covered in concrete or pavement, is skittering about in the late morning breeze searching fruitlessly for an organic resting place.

Full journal page

After leaving our favorite Albuquerque Mexican restaurant the other day, I stepped into the parking lot and noticed a giant sycamore leaf scratching and skidding across the pavement. Seconds later, an incoming car full of hungry customers about to park, was on a collision course with this abandoned leaf! Yikes! Quickly playing out the scene out in my mind, I dashed across the pavement and scooped up this big brown leaf, rescuing it from being smashed into bits and pieces.

Close up sketch of the upper leaf surface, showing the “skirt” over the petiole.

Whew! That was a close call. Naturally this leaf deserved better treatment and a chance to contribute to Earth’s complex web of resources. And that’s what would happen ……. after a few sketches in my journal, of course.

The rescued sycamore leaf before being placed in a compost pile

This big, brown, crunchy sycamore leaf is now a part of one of the various compost piles we keep scattered about our yard. If leaves could feel, I’d like to think she’s so much happier being rescued than the alternative. Would you agree?

The compost pile topped with the rescued sycamore leaf. Home at last!

Have you rescued a leaf today?

Escapito #6: Summer Sequel …. A Desert SW Escape       Part 4: Indian Bread Rocks, AZ to City of Rocks, NM

October 22/23, 2022

We usually know where we’re headed in the morning, but how we get there is another story. As we left Indian Bread Rocks we talked about optional routes to reach our destination …. City of Rocks State Park. There were several choices, and since we’re not interstate highway fans (unless absolutely necessary) we opted for the road less traveled; through New Mexico’s “Bootheel” in the extreme southwestern part of the state.  Going this way we might just catch a glimpse of that infamous Border Wall too.

Although this route was the long way to City of Rocks (200 miles versus 110 miles), it was definitely eye-opening. As we traveled lonely roads, dodging no less than 3 huge rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the pavement, the only vehicles we saw were border patrol. It was windy and hot as we approached the Mexican border, and we strained our eyes to see something resembling a Wall off in the distance.  Between Hachita and Columbus, NM, we could make out what looked to be a RR bed in the valley bottom. Binoculars weren’t much use, as this very straight line wasn’t resolving into a Wall, until ….. all at once we saw the RR track climb straight up a pretty substantial hill. That answered the question …. that faux track was indeed the Border Wall, and we had already seen miles and miles of it.

Border Wall

A short distance out of Columbus, driving very close to the border, we found a side road that appeared to lead down to the Wall, so we went to investigate. Coming within about a quarter mile of the Border Wall we saw how very tall it was, and how it was built with metal slats too close for a person to squeeze through, but spaced and angled just so to see Mexico beyond. 

Border Wall

We’re both glad to have seen this Wall for ourselves. Rest assured I’ve no intention of turning my blog posts into political commentary, but I have to say this obscene border wall is absolutely embarrassing and offensive. 

Border Wall

On to Columbus, North to Deming and to City of Rocks State Park.

Our assigned campsite was a pull through and it was a snap to get The Felix all set up. Then it was off for a nice romp through the assortment of boulders that were created from volcanic tuff and eroded over years to form what appears like, from a distance, a city of high rises. There’s a marked trail through the rock formations that lead you to some of the best rocks and views. But it’s more than okay to wander wherever your legs take you … and sometimes it’s like a maze with many dead ends.  The Park also has a nice botanical garden, many “outside the city” trails, and a super visitor center with helpful volunteer staff offering info like lists of plants, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals you might encounter in the park.

Discovering City of Rocks
Roy and Luna rock hopping

Before a big cold front blew in bringing rain and winds, I was able to do some sketching, we spotted lots of new-to-us plants (still in bloom) and a gorgeous rainbow grasshopper. Several birds (cactus wren, curve-billed thrasher and canyon towhee) paid us a call at The Felix.  About to go searching for the covey of scaled quail making quite a racket somewhere in the rocks, we changed that plan ….. a good decision as we would’ve gotten drenched with rain!

Rainbow grasshopper calling City of Rocks home
The approaching storm made for nice photos
Cat-claw Mimosa

This was our third trip to City of Rocks, and not likely to be our last. It’s a fun place to visit for a short time or an extended stay.

Before the storm

We were going to enjoy one more day in SW NM east of Las Cruces before returning home, but the weather forecast for the next many days called for high winds, rain and snow ….. so, not at all disappointed in all the ground we covered we came home a day early, driving all 283 miles in good time thanks to a tail-wind assist.

(Turns out the next day, had we stayed one day longer, would’ve greeted us with rain, freezing rain and snow by the time we got home. I could feel it in my bones!)

All in all it was a great Escapito #6, all 4 stops and the 922 miles in between, and a fun way to close out the 2022 camping season (or is it?!).  Stay tuned!

Thanks for coming along!

Escapito #6: Summer Sequel …. A Desert SW Escape       Part 3: Clifton, AZ to Indian Bread Rocks, AZ

October 21/22, 2022

Another short (96 miles) drive took us from Clifton, through Safford (to find ice cream ….. it’s getting warm!), and then south of the nearly deserted town of Bowie to visit a sprawling garden of giant granite boulders called Indian Bread Rocks.  We seem to find the most amazing collections of boulders and rocks around, and this area didn’t disappoint. Unable to find out the origin of the name “Indian Bread Rocks,” this new-to-us recreation area sits in the foothills on the northeast fringes of Dos Cabezas Mountains Wilderness Area …. both areas managed by Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Public lands “Rock!”

Scene just before entering Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area …. Previews! Dos Cabezas Mountains in the background

To access Indian Bread Rocks (maybe the name came from the big loaf-shaped boulders?), you must first pass by a few miles of pistachio orchards looking ready to harvest. Wonder where the irrigation water for these big trees comes from way out in this desert? We then made a southwest turn onto a gravel road (Happy Camp Canyon Road) and in 3 miles we arrived at the designated Indian Bread Rocks picnic area, “sandwiched” between extremely large boulders.  No camping here tho … so we continued on up the deteriorating two track road, pushing bawling cows out of our way. These free-range Brahman bulls, cows and calves turned into camp visitors after we set up about 3/4 mile beyond the picnic area.

Entering Indian Bread Rocks Recreation Area ….. a loaf with a face?

With the rocks calling louder than the bellowing livestock, we brought The Felix to rest and took off on foot, walking further up the dusty road to scope out the area for a longer hike after temps cooled down a bit (85 sunny degrees and loving it!). 

Free range Brahaman cattle

The surrounding granite boulders really were very excellent, and seemed to be animated as well. Many looked like bakery goods; loaves of bread, pancakes, popovers and muffins. Some reminded me of dinosaurs like T-Rex and triceratops. There were precariously balanced hoodoo-like boulders, and many with dark hiding places that make perfect roosting places for bats (which we enjoyed at sunset). 

Discovering Indian Bread Rocks

Indian Bread Rocks plants consist of Chihuahuan desert species with impossible-to-navigate and tire penetrating thorned mesquite, and 6 foot tall spiny prickly pear choking the valley floors. But up small riparian areas (mostly dry washes where water may flow during the monsoon season) we found large oak trees, ocotillo, intermittent water dependent mesquite and cat claw mimosa, sotol and many other shrubs, wildflowers, ferns and grasses. We didn’t hear many birds, but they were around, and we found an assortment of insects (grasshoppers, true bugs, beetles and wasps) flying, hopping and snacking on desert plants. 

A mesquite branch sporting those tire penetrating thorns!

One of the most common insect was the Comanche paper wasp; seen flying everywhere, with exaggeratedly long yellow hind legs hanging down as they flew.  I learned this species of wasp is common here, and colonies of 25-30 build paper nests between the rocks and in the dense vegetation. They didn’t seem aggressive but we were careful to keep The Felix well buttoned up while we explored, as we camped in a small opening surrounded by large velvet mesquite.

Comanche paper wasp warming up in the morning sun
Indian Bread Rocks scenery
Roy and Luna … a bit of a rest from hiking
Indian Bread Rocks scenery

I dare say Indian Bread Rocks was the highlight of our Escapito. It’s always fun to explore new areas. But revisiting familiar areas is also lots of fun. Our next stop, City of Rocks State Park, north of Deming, NM is one of our favorite places ……. for rocks! Can’t get enough.

Stay tuned for Part 4 of this Summer Sequel: Indian Bread Rocks, AZ to City of Rocks, NM 

Escapito #5: Public Lands Boondocking through central New Mexico

“The Felix” was loaded and ready for a fun boondocking adventure through forest and desert, ghost towns and lava flows, rainbow colored ridges and badlands.
Central New Mexico is a splendid place to explore and discover wildlife, geology and spectacular scenery.

Come on along with us for 4 days of camping fun in the Land of Enchantment.

Continue reading “Escapito #5: Public Lands Boondocking through central New Mexico”

Summer Bugs and Botany: Cochineal Dye Making

It was a rainy day in most of NM, but what a welcome relief to be getting moisture! As we hastily hiked the lower Copper Trails, we noticed the prickly pear seemed to be draped in a more-than-usual white fuzz, and it wasn’t cotton ball shaped but dripping and running down hundreds of cactus pads. Every direction we turned we found nearly every prickly pear to be covered………………….
And then we spotted hundreds of thousands of brilliant scarlet red bodies of the cochineal insect ….. exposed, naked and frantically trying to hold onto their food source, the vertical surfaces of prickly pear pads.  The rain had “melted” their protective coats of fine white wax and the green pads of the cactus looked white washed. 

Opportunity!

Continue reading “Summer Bugs and Botany: Cochineal Dye Making”

Summer Botany: Banana Yucca Seed Pod Dissection

After trying for 4 years to collect one of the giant seed pods from our small population of banana yuccas, I was sure this would be the year. One of the plants was in full bloom about a month ago, and after noticing the fleshy fruits were enlarging, I kept watch almost daily.

I should’ve suspected the local population of mule deer were also keeping close watch, because a week ago they snuck in and harvested every single seed pod! Disappointed? Yes. But still determined …….

Then a few days ago I discovered another plant loaded with a dozen of the huge fleshy green pods! Without further ado, I liberated 2 of them and dissection began …..

Continue reading “Summer Botany: Banana Yucca Seed Pod Dissection”

The Road to Master Naturalist: The Middle Rio Grande Bosque Tour and Lessons Shared by a Nature Journaler 

“From the spillway below Cochiti Dam to the headwaters of Elephant Butte Reservoir, the Middle Rio Grande Bosque is more than a cottonwood woodland or forest. It is a whole riparian (or riverside) ecosystem…..”

This is how “A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque”1 begins, and on June 26th, the Master Naturalists’ trainees spent quality time touring and learning about the nature of this very special area.  

Continue reading “The Road to Master Naturalist: The Middle Rio Grande Bosque Tour and Lessons Shared by a Nature Journaler “

The Road to Master Naturalist: A Field Trip … Tijeras Creek Remediation Project

Yay! After waiting out Covid for 2 years, Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) is once again holding classes for Master Naturalist certification! Both Roy and I applied and were accepted into the program along with 20 other students of all ages and backgrounds.

Many of the classes are being held via Zoom meetings. But thanks to scheduled field trips we are getting to know each other while learning some cool stuff, including a visit to The Tijeras Creek Remediation Project, in our home town. We never realized!

Continue reading “The Road to Master Naturalist: A Field Trip … Tijeras Creek Remediation Project”

Spring Has Arrived! Part 2: More Season’s Firsts

Sometimes when hiking familiar trails, it’s easy to get lost in thought. Just being outdoors is very meditative, don’t you think? My mind wanders and it seems my head is high in the clouds, or at the very least I find myself looking up to marvel at that seemingly endless New Mexico blue sky. After all, my boots know where all the foot-tripping rocks are, and autopilot kicks in until ……

Out of the corner of my eye, a slight movement. A small stone gets pushed aside by the wary approach of a snake! Now’s not the time for daydreaming. It’s time to pay close attention to each footfall, because Spring in New Mexico has woken up all the slithering, crawling and buzzing wildlife and they are back at work.

Continue reading “Spring Has Arrived! Part 2: More Season’s Firsts”