A Sandia Mountain High

Sunday, May 7, 2023

After having just returned from a fabulous week in southern New Mexico (blog posts to come) where we hiked and hiked, and got reacquainted with the Spring-time desert flora and fauna, we seemed to be craving pine and fir trees and some mountain air. How high do we dare hike? Would there still be snow? These and more questions rattled about in my mind as we headed the truck up the 13 mile long and winding Sandia Mountain Crest Road (central New Mexico).  Ahhhhh …… so invigorating!

Satisfying our craving (at 8500 feet in elevation) and answering the question about leftover winter snow (not a single snowflake to be found), we pulled up to the Tecolote Trail trailhead and began our ascent, in shorts and T-shirts. The first half mile up was brisk, both in temperature and pace, but after I was well warmed up it was time to open my eyes to investigate anything and everything growing, sprouting and blooming.

This was the earliest date (May 7th) in the Spring we’ve hiked Tecolote, so I was hoping to see a variety of wildflowers that were new-to-me species. I wasn’t disappointed! Blooming beautifully were the minuscule Pygmy-flower rock jasmine (in the primrose family), Arizona valerian (a species of honeysuckle), along with lance-leaf bluebells (borage family), and White Mountain bladderpod (a brilliant yellow 4-petaled member of the mustard family). Covering the slopes everywhere we’re the bright yellow flowers of Oregon creeping grape (aka creeping mahonia), and common along the trail were flats and flats of the dwarf purple and white lousewort (in the broomrape family), it’s flowers growing close to the ground amongst its deep green dense and curly margined fern-like leaves.  Perky Sue (a happy yellow daisy) and the soft-like-a-teddy-bear prairie pasque flower (a type of buttercup) rounded out the bloomers that I could find.

These pages in my journal focused on the shrubs and trees showing growth alongside the trail, drawn from snippets collected during the hike.

It was a perfect morning for a hike! Wished you’d been there with us.

Until next time …… How’s your Spring is shaping up! Do you have a favorite plant that’s blooming, or a singing bird tending chicks? I’d love to hear your story.

P.S. This journal page layout was inspired by an amazing nature journaler, artist and teacher, Jean Mackay who loves all of nature and sharing her discoveries through illustration. Thanks Jean!

Kowabunga! Desert Nomads

Observing nature, especially in a desert environment, requires cautious peering under scrub oak and cholla. It’s always wise to gently part the razor sharp leaves of plants like beargrass and banana yucca with a long stick. Everything seems well armed with spines, thorns or prickles. But look you must, because you never know what you might find cooling off in the shade of a big leafed buffalo gourd or making a noon meal of a prickly pear fruit in the shadows of fan-shaped pads. 

But when exploring it’s wise to always, always remember you might be surprised by a snake. So imagine our relief and delight when on a stretch of dusty trail we encountered our very first desert box turtle!

A true nomad of the southwest.

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Grumpy G. Gus …. A Sandia Mountain Sentinel

Sandia Mountain granite! Such distinctively gnarly gargoyles, whimisically odd and judgmental, critter and caricature mimics ……. There’s nothing like these boulders! This is a short story about one of a cast of thousands; Grumpy G. Gus.

But there’s a longer story too. Underneath the often comical-looking and recognizable characters that can be envisioned in these boulders, there’s an even more fascinating tale that tells volumes about the geologic history of central New Mexico. Come along and meet Gus and learn a bit about Sandia Mountain granite.

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10,000 feet: Birds atop Sandia Mountain

In an effort to escape the blistering temperatures brought on by a mid-July heat dome, we decided to take a cooling hike high above Albuquerque. At 10,000+ feet, the trails along the top of Sandia Mountain are a refreshing contrast to the dry desert habitats we usually enjoy.

Up high there are spruce, fir and aspen trees surrounding lush meadows full of blooming wildflowers. On the margins we found flying, flitting, perching and singing some of the prettiest birds we’ve seen all season. Let me share some of the fun facts I learned about two of these birds; the Violet-green Swallow and the Northern Flicker.

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Life List Birds: Scott’s Oriole and Hermit Thrush

Yes, I keep a life list of birds! But along with the list (which includes birds from around the world), I also try to learn something about the species logged, and lately I’ve been enjoying sketching them too.

It’s been a while since a new-to-me bird species came into view. So it was doubly exciting when I was able to increase my list by two on two consecutive days. Meet the Scott’s Oriole and the Hermit Thrush.

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