Amazing Discoveries

Bullock’s Oriole on feeder

Western (Bullock’s) oriole on hummingbird feeder. They can wreck them in short order.

The big news is that the orioles are back, as anyone can plainly see. Also of passing interest is that I have either eliminated the middleman or else he just left, and now the lights are back on. That’s a good way to put it, I think, even if the truth is that it’s always been dark in here and I just never noticed.

But I had a great hike yesterday! The last few times I’ve gone out, I’ve overshot my two-mile marker by fifty yards or more before realizing my mistake, and damn if it didn’t happen again. This time, however, I decided to keep going. The trail ran close to the edge of a cliff overlooking the junction of the Rio Pueblo and the Rio Grande, and I’d probably see something cool. Along the way I spied a curious arroyo I hadn’t noticed before and left the trail to investigate. (My ultimate goal in these instances is to discover a spring; failing that, a skeleton maybe, or a chest of gold coins from an old stagecoach robbery.) What I found was a small, mild-mannered arroyo about ten feet deep with a smooth sandy bottom like a manicured path. It surely led all the way to the cliff—where else?—and I wanted to find out.

Wow. Just wow.

I have to go back with my camera, because the end of this thing was one of the most dangerous places I’ve ever encountered. Torrents of water in eons past had smoothed out the opening. There were a couple of big flat rocks to draw you forward and then nothing but air! The view was amazing, of course. I stayed well back from the edge and studied the angle between the road far below and a straight line from there to where I was standing; the next time I’m down at the bottom, I may be able to look up and spot where I was. But that was enough, because the place scared me to death. As I worked my way overland back to the trail, I was surprised to discover another arroyo that also led to a sheep-eating exit at the top of the cliff!

There are so many ways to get hurt in this landscape, with compound fractures or worse around every bend. But I did make it back to the trail and headed for home. Along the way, I saw… I saw… a dam.

Yup. Across the small valley to my right, there in the middle of the freaking high desert, was an old bulldozed dam about fifty yards long, covered with sagebrush. At one end was a long-ago breach where the water had drained. In front of the dam stretched a wide, flat area like a river bottom where grasses and sagebrush grew thick and lush. The soil there was actually soft! My hiking stick went in almost a full foot with only gentle pressure. This is crazy, I thought. We’re in a terrible drought. There hasn’t been any water flowing in this little valley for decades. Even so, what little runoff there is must flow under the surface and to account for all that. I couldn’t believe it, and yes, I’ll get pictures of all of these things.

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  • Marti Fenton Whitedeersong May 30, 2014, 12:08 PM

    An oriole like this perched on our coyote fence a few days ago. I hadn’t seen one for years and never at my present house. I assume this is a stopping place on the way to somewhere. Good shot!

    • JHF May 30, 2014, 1:50 PM

      I didn’t see any last year. This spring has been incredible for birds, however. Maybe they like drought? More likely is that climate change has buggered the migrations and they’re all here at once. I’ve really never seen anything like it.

  • Carolfrombatonrouge May 30, 2014, 5:49 PM

    I envy your exploration. I love it.
    Can’t wait to see the pics.
    Orioles love oranges.

    • JHF May 30, 2014, 6:35 PM

      Well, that’s the neat thing about public lands here in the Southwest: miles and miles and miles of mountains and open space. (If the Cliven Bundys of this world had their way, everything would have a fence around with a “No Trespassing” sign.) The Taos Valley Overlook where I end up doing most of my walking is a 2,481 acre BLM-managed area that takes in some of the most spectacular views around here. There’s a nine-mile loop called the Rift Valley Trail that covers it all. Most days and even when the parking lot is semi-crowded, I can walk my own four-mile route and never see another person.

      Now that is a hoot.

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