The Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert Photo by Carla DeMarco "As we toiled across these sterile plains, where no tree offered its friendly shade, the sun glowing fiercely, and the wind hot from the parched earth - the thought would keep suggesting itself, Is this the land which we have purchased, and are to survey and keep at such a cost? As far as the eye can reach stretches one unbroken waste, barren, wild, and worthless." So wrote John Russell Bartlett after crossing […] Read more »

Rio Mimbres

Technorati Tags: fall,outdoors,Grant County,Luna County,southwest The Mimbres River in New Mexico’s Mimbres Valley Photo by Carla DeMarco. Autumn slips across the desert quietly. Although nights grow chill, summer’s heat lingers in the afternoons, and the greenery brought on by summer rains simply fades to dusty olive, bleached straw, and weathered brown. As the soil dries out, mesquites, desert willows, and ocotillo drop their leaves without any fanfare. But here and there where water flows - a spring, stream, an irrigation […] Read more »

Playas

Technorati Tags: generalinterest,outdoors,summer On these hot, dry June days when the horizon shimmers, set to dancing by the waves of heat that rise from the ground, I think of beaches. Not ocean beaches - playas -desert beaches. Playas are the dry, incredibly level beds of ancient lakes. Found in desert country throughout the southern Southwest and northern Mexico, and the Great Basin country of western Utah and Nevada, normally-dry playas occasionally fill with a skim of water - sometimes no […] Read more »

Kit Fox

Technorati Tags: fox,kit fox,wildlife Driving up the east side of San Augustín Pass one morning, I spotted a small, buff-colored animal with large, pointed ears lying dead on the pavement. Richard stopped the car and I walked back to see what it was. The animal was almost delicate and about the size of a house cat, with dense, buff-colored fur and a long, bushy tail tipped with black. That generous brush of a tail; the large, pointed ears; doglike face; […] Read more »

Mirages — optical illusions

Technorati Tags: generalinterest,mirages In 1959, the Smithsonian Institution Annual Report carried the story of strange mirages seen near Yuma, Arizona. On hot, unusually still days, a clear image of a city appeared in the desert to the west of Yuma. It was no phantom either - the shimmering image was unmistakably that of San Diego, California, 150 miles west on the Pacific Coast, beyond several mountain ranges. Mirages are tricks of the atmosphere, optical illusions caused when a layer of […] Read more »

Kingfishers

Technorati Tags: birds,animals,wildlife While jogging down the irrigation ditchbank one afternoon, I heard a loud, rattling call. A not-quite-crow-sized bird flew up from a perch above the ditch with strong, precise wingbeats, headed downstream. Its distinctive silhouette included a daggerlike bill and a ragged crest atop a big head. Its plumage was sober blue above and pure white below. A wide blue-gray stripe crossed its chest. The clattering call, which sounds like a loud wooden rattle, and the unique silhouette […] Read more »

Birds — evaporative cooling

Technorati Tags: birds,wildlife One searingly hot summer afternoon, I spotted a thrasher standing quite still on the ground in the shade of a small tree. The thrasher’s long curved bill was open and its wings slightly spread. At first I thought that it was sick. But then I noticed a plump white-winged dove perched on a branch overhead. It too held its mouth wide open; as I watched, I could see the skin of its throat pulsating rapidly. Neither bird […] Read more »

Winter rain

Technorati Tags: Winter,rain,generalinterest The ocean visited us one morning during our first winter in Las Cruces, New Mexico. My step-daughter and I walked outside to retrieve the newspaper and were enveloped in a dripping mist redolent of seaweed and saltwater. “It smells like Puget Sound!” exclaimed Molly, drawing in great lungs full of soft, pungent air, her words exhaling silvery wisps of mist. She was right: the damp air smelled salty, with a faint tang of crabs and tide-rows of […] Read more »

Creosote Bush — fragrance of the desert

Technorati Tags: plants,plantlife,plant,Creosote bush,desert My family and I moved to Las Cruces in summer, arriving on the heels of a late-evening thunderstorm. Darkness hid the landscape by the time we drove round the bend on I-25 north of town, but our noses told us where we were. The cool night air pouring in the car windows bore a rich and complicated mix of odors: citrus, sweet nectar, vinyl, camphor - emanating from creosote bush, the fragrance of our new home […] Read more »

City of Rocks

City of Rocks. Photo by Mark Erickson. The landscape of Southern New Mexico, West Texas, and northern Mexico has not always looked like it does today. In fact, beginning some 45 million years ago, parts of the region literally exploded, dramatically altering the shape of things. Time after time, volcanoes in the area erupted, spewing forth immense quantities of thick lava and clouds of boulder-to-dust-sized rock fragments. Torrential rains caused mudflows of volcanic debris to surge off the hillsides, drowning […] Read more »