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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

117 Days

A snake-like trail is predicting possible thunderstorms for this afternoon and evening, with better chances for tomorrow.  We're doing our little rain dances, hoping for the best.  We have now surpassed the old record for consecutive drought days by eight.  I'm so anxious to see how the desert responds after getting much-needed precipitation.

Serious mountain biker

Partially-overcast sky

Monday, May 30, 2011

116 Days and Counting

Desert flora in the Tortugas Mountain foothills
116 days now without precipitation.  We keep hoping that 20% chance will materialize on Wednesday.  When Becca and I were hiking west of Tortugas this morning I kept wondering about the animals we saw out there, the White-Winged Doves and other birds.  How do they survive without water?  I know some animals (like the Kangaroo Rat) take all their moisture from plants, but other birds and mammals do not.  What about the deer--how do they manage?

I think I see a coyote

Two hikers plying the mountain foothills trail

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Lower Chihuahuan Again

The incredibly svelte Dr. K
We did a two-hour hike in the very dry lower Chihuahuan Desert this morning.  It's been 115 days (almost 1/3 of a year) without measureable precipitation.  A 20% chance of rain is in the forecast for next Wednesday, but those aren't great odds.  We're keeping our fingers crossed, doing little rain dance jigs whenever we get the chance.  The drought map shows marked improvement over the coming months.  Let's pray the prognosticators are correct.
Becca on break

Turkey Vulture low over the desert

A parched desert

The tongue

Leaves of the Soaptree Yucca

White-Winged Dove

Friday, May 27, 2011

Alameda Park, Alamogordo

Alameda Park
Drove the sixteen miles down to Alamogordo in order to do a long walk in Alameda Park, the longest, narrowest park I've ever seen.  The old Cottonwood Trees provide wonderful shade, though, and it was nice to have shade on such a hot morning.  While we were there a long, Union Pacific train sped by.  Funny because in Alameda Park there's a narrow-gauge railroad for kids that completely encircles the grounds,.
Huge old Cottonwood Trees

A train speeding past the park

Union Pacific locomotives

A very long train

Snapdragons at HiDri

Would you call this color "puce"?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perp Walk

Aspens in Cloudcroft's Zenith Park
After a walk in Cloudcroft's Zenith Park, Dr. K, Becca and I decided to park alongside the road to Ruidoso and hike in the easement area between the pavement and the fencing.  No sooner had we walked a few hundred yards, and had turned around for the car, than a park ranger stopped next to us and informed us--in a very nice manner--that the entire Lincoln National Forest is closed, even the easements alongside the roads.  So we returned to the car with our tails between our legs; everyone, that is, except Becca.
Packrat and Becca in Zenith Park

Stand of young Aspens on the road to Ruidoso

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Record Drought

A monstrously-large Yucca on Old Railroad Road
We broke the record yesterday of consecutive days without precipitation.  110.  Now we're on day 111 with no end in sight.  The forests in the Sacramento Mountains are noticeably dry, and are under extreme fire danger.  The Lincoln National Forest won't be reopened until the area gets significant rainfall, and that doesn't look to happen anytime soon.
Commander waits at the side of Fresnal Canyon Road

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mule Deer, Dear

Before we left the High Desert Research Institute this morning, a small herd of Mule Deer visited us on the grounds.  There were maybe eight or nine individuals (all does--some adolescents) who made a meal of some of the vegetation before bedding down for the day.  Mule Deer often bed down in the juniper and pine here on the property.

My favorite photo here is the fourth; if you look at the pic carefully you'll see that the two deer are nearly mirror images, one in sunlight, one in shadow.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Snow in the Desert?

Engulfing nearly 275 square miles of Chihuahuan Desert, White Sands National Monument is a sight to behold.  The white "sand" is actually gypsum, and it is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world.  It is fairly easy to get lost in the heart of the dunes, and trails are marked with white and orange poles; often, however, the poles get buried due to the shifting dunes.  There is no shade along the major trails, and rangers recommend carrying at least one gallon of water per person per day in order to stay hydrated.  Although the dunes seem devoid of life, animals and plants survive in the gypsum.  The interdunal areas, which retain moisture after rains, thrive with plantlife.  And many animals have adapted to the harsh conditions, including a rare albino lizard that can somtimes be seen scampering across the gypsum dunes.
Gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument

Sand Verbena blooms in April and May

Wind rakes the dune fields

Trail markers on the Alkali Flat Trail

Contrasting colors on the dunes

Black-and-white on white

Very little plant life in the heart of the dunes

Some vegetaion between dunes

A 4-foot marker nearly buried

Blooming Soaptree Yuccas in an interdunal area

White Sands with the Sacramento Mountains in the background

White Sands National Monument

Vista at White Sands National Monument
This morning Dr. K, Becca and I drove down past Alamogordo to White Sands National Monument to do a hike on the Alkali Flat Trail.  Although called White "Sands," the dunes are actually made of gypsum.  White Sands encompasses 275 square miles of desert, and it is the world's largest gypsum dunefield.  We had a little trouble spotting some of the trail makers (white and orange, 4-foot poles) because some had nearly been buried by shifting dunes.  Also, it was quite hot out on the dunes even though the ambient air temperature was only in the 70-degree Farenheit range.
Becca and Dr. K on the gypsum

Large gypsum dune at White Sands

Sand Verbena

Alkali Flat Trail marker

Not so white fur on the white dunes

Becca and Packrat at a lunch ramada

Interdunal flora at White Sands

Grand View--Not

Early morning moon A man and woman were just starting down the Bridal Veil Falls Trail when we rolled into the Grand View Trail parking lot....