A trip to New Mexico in 2007 provided my one and only view of the lovely Williamson’s sapsucker, this is a male perched on a favorite tree. They prefer Ponderosa Pine forests and that’s not a habitat I’ve been in much since. You can see the irregular and regular pattern of holes he’s drilled into the tree to encourage it to secrete the sap he craves. It was a wonderful trip although it had far more import than I could have known as when it came time to look for work a decade later, it got me thinking of New Mexico, which got me thinking about Arizona, and here we are.
This chart isn’t literally keeping me up at night but of the many unknowns in both starting a new job and moving to a new area it’s what scares me the most. It compares the average monthly high and low temperatures throughout the year, the highs and lows for Portland in blue, Phoenix in red and orange. I can’t wrap my head around how the lows in Phoenix match the highs in Portland.
I think I’ll love the winter in Arizona. I think I’ll hibernate in the summer.
We’ll have air conditioning, and the house we hope to rent has a lovely pool (as does our backup option). I love to swim but have rarely had the chance for decades so that I am very much looking forward to. And that’s not all, as there will be lizards. Oh yes, there will be lizards. I can think of only one lizard I saw in 21 years of hiking in the wet side of the Northwest. I saw them in the dry side to the east, and perhaps I’m forgetting some I saw on my side of the Cascades, but if so they were the exceptions that prove the rule: reptiles are few and far between near Portland. We met this eastern fence lizard (I think) on the Little Arsenic Trail in the high desert of New Mexico, looking forward to seeing lizards in the Sonoran Desert where we will live.
Reptiles and heat, one of them I’m going to love, hopefully I can at least tolerate the other.
I grew up thinking tarantulas were deadly assassins that would kill you if you crossed their path, as I lived far from their domain and my impressions were formed based on how I saw them portrayed on television. We love to demonize and vilify certain animals (and worse, people) based on primal fears, and on deliberate lies told to mask the real threats, but in truth tarantulas are not a threat to us. As my wife and I walked down the path and stopped to watch this tarantula in New Mexico, she noticed us (their vision is poor but they are good at sensing vibrations in the ground) and ran over to this rock and tried to hide in a crevice but was slightly too big to fit. I always feel bad when I frighten an animal when I hike but thankfully she decided to trust us and climbed out onto the rock. A lesson my young self did well to learn – I was the threat.
My wife and I were hiking up from the Rio Grande on our trip to New Mexico in 2007 when we met this lovely little creature on the trail. It was the first (and so far only) time I had seen a tarantula, a couple of job opportunities I’m pursuing are in areas where we might meet again. This one could still be out there, the females can live up to 20 years (the males only half as long).
Sometimes I think I take just a few too many pictures of my cats, but this glyph in the Rinconada Canyon at Petroglyph National Monument makes me think a kindred spirit once roamed these hills. Templeton thought it might be an image made of him, but I thought no since he was far too young. He said in human years yes but in cat years no. I don’t think that’s how it works, but on the other hand …
While in Taos, my wife and I drove out to the Wild Rivers Recreation Area for a little hiking and sight seeing. My wife wanted to touch the Rio Grande so after waiting for some thunderstorms to pass through, we hiked the Little Arsenic Trail down into the Rio Grande Gorge. Following a long and seemingly endless series of switchbacks down into the canyon, we were tired but happy when we finally reached the riverbank. The trees by the water had a beautiful red color and I loved the patterns in their bark. The hike back up was even more punishing, but I was excited to find a tarantula sharing the trail with us, the first one I’ve seen in the wild.
My alarm clock rang at 4:00am and I was on the road a half hour later, heading south out of Albuquerque and towards Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, best known for the spectacular fly-ins and fly-outs of snow geese and sandhill cranes during the winter months. It was late spring and those birds were long gone, but it was my first visit to New Mexico and I wanted to at least get a feel for the refuge. Even if it wasn’t the prime time to visit, I hoped for a few surprises.
The dark sky lightened as the minutes and miles passed, with the sun threatening to rise as I pulled into the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center. There were no other cars in the lot and I knew the center would be closed, but I hoped to find some trail maps and refuge information. When I opened the car door, I was greeted by a primal call coming from up the hill. Another call came, and then another. I didn’t recognize the call, so I grabbed the camera with the big telephoto lens attached and headed up the steps and towards the calls.
I moved slowly but anxiously until I saw a wooden pole with signs pointing in various directions. In the dim light I could see its top was crowned with a carved bird in the shape of a quail. I was a little disappointed when I guessed the calls were just a recording and no more real than the carving, something to give visitors a taste of the birds of the refuge. I decided to return to the car and head out onto the refuge proper. Before I could take a step the supposedly carved quail raised its head and gave a loud call.
I continued into the little desert arboretum as other quail were calling around me. It was a delightful little moment, to go from not sure if I’d see much of anything that day to being surrounded and serenaded by these birds on their high perches. The sun peeked above the horizon and I found this male in a nice location and angle to the sun, and only had to wait for the sun’s rays to reach him and for him to make his call.
I didn’t have to wait long.
A later look at my bird book showed them to be Gambel’s quail, a species I had never seen before. But names didn’t matter for now. I stood alone and watched and listened, mesmerized by my welcome to Bosque.
On our first trip to New Mexico, my wife and I spent our first day at Bandelier National Monument. Most of the day we wandered about the cliff dwellings built by the ancestral Pueblo, even putting aside our fear of heights to climb the wooden ladders to a kiva high in the cliffs.
We still had enough time at the end of the day to wander up to the western edge of the park and do a little hiking on the Cerro Grande trail. At the trailhead parking lot, this sapsucker flew up into a tree right next to the wooden fence. The tree was obviously a favorite as it had drilled a bunch of irregular holes on this side of the tree and a regular patchwork of squares on the other side.
It was my first time to ever see this sapsucker, a beautiful little jewel, and I was thrilled to be only a few feet away and watch it work the tree for sap. While we were watching, we heard a loud crashing sound a short ways away in the forest. As we looked up, a tree came crashing down across the trail ahead of us, unusual given the lack of wind. If we hadn’t stopped to watch the sapsucker we might have been on the trail when the tree came down, so this little bird became not only one of my favorite wildlife encounters from the trip but perhaps our most beautiful protector.