Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Upper Road

Weather: High winds and very warm afternoons; last rain 4/09/13; 13:47 hours of daylight today.

We’ve had the apricot frost, the apple frost, and this week the one that threatened the grapes, catalpas, black locusts, and roses of Sharon.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper rose, lilacs, iris. Catalpas, grapes leafing.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, hoary cress, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, greenleaf five-eyes, common dandelion, cheat grass.

In my yard: Siberian pea tree, spirea, tulips, grape hyacinth, Baby Blue iris, Dutch clover, oxalis, vinca, small-leaf soapwort. Buds on snowball. Chocolate flowers emerging. Black locust leafing.

Known unknowns: Pink bud, native dandelion.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small brown birds, gecko, ladybugs on peach, gray butterfly on Dutch clover, harvester and smaller ants.

Keep seeing or scaring up grasshoppers. Not a lot, but they are around.

Weekly update: People say time stands still in New Mexico. Where I live, the surface rocks were laid down during the Miocene, 12 to 15 million years ago, from pieces eroding from the Sangre de Cristo near Picuris. Grasses were evolving, and still dominate.

Of course, some things happened since then. The rift valley already had formed, but the Rio Grande didn’t become a flowing river until 3 or 4 million years ago. The Jémez caldera formed a million years ago. Man arrived.

Clovis is now estimated to have existed 13,500 to 13,000 years ago. Ranchers staked land in the late nineteenth century. I don’t know when they built the road that goes by my house, but someone maintains it, probably with a blade.

The land slopes toward the river. It drops eight feet from the top of the eastern hill to the road. The road is a flattened area that disrupts the flow of water to the down hill side. Just beyond where the road passes my house, the blade pushed dirt to the sides, creating berms that amplified its impact.

The land up hill is undisturbed. The land toward the river is steppe land dominated by winterfat.

I don’t know what dictated the location of the road, if it marked property lines or followed some natural contour it destroyed by its levelness. The land downhill has a gentler slope than the land to the east. The western side of the road is also flatter, while the uphill side has a shallow valley that separates a ridge-like hill from the main slope.

Directly across from the valley a line of cholla cactus grow. Like the grasses, they haven’t recovered from the dry summer of 2011.

The vegetation changes at that line of cholla. There’s little winterfat. If the ground is wet, four-winged salt bushes grow. If the land is dry, there may be a prickly pear.

It’s easy to blame the road. With the ridge, the road begins to cut though the slope on the uphill side, diverting water down the road, rather than across. But, it isn’t simply a matter of different water patterns. Cactus also can be found uphill.

The land is changing. A bit farther down the road, the land drops severely, and the soils are younger, laid down since the retreat of the glaciers.

Drive anywhere in this part of the state, and one of these plants is visible. Cholla grow on the east side of the road on the flat land before La Bajada Hill outside Santa Fé and on the east side going north of Española through San Juan land.

Prickly pear is harder to see because it lies low. Much of the winterfat probably was destroyed by grazing animals. The water loving chamisa, found here in the arroyo, and salt bushes that hug the water courses are found along the shoulders on the road south to Albuquerque where water collects from the pavement.

The vegetation says there’s more to the soil than sandy loam, for these common plants aren’t as promiscuous as they seem.

Notes: Koning, Daniel J. "Preliminary Geologic Map of the Española Quadrangle, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe Counties, New Mexico," May 2002.

Photographs: Unless noted otherwise, pictures taken 3 May 2013.

1. Four-wing salt bush along the road, grass and cholla cactus in back. San Domingo near La Majada, 17 April 2013.

2. Butterfly on Dutch clover, 4 May 2013.

3. Prairie hill looking toward the far arroyo with the triangular bank formation. The change in color marks the two hills, with the low area between. The diagonal tan line toward the right is the ranch roach. The tan stalks are grass that grew last year among the clumps that didn’t survive the previous summer.

4. Ranch road, looking north with the eastern hill to the right. In this area, grasses grow along the eastern berm and Russian thistles grew in the crown last summer. The Siberian elm hasn’t leafed yet this year.

5. Eastern hill with the berm along the road. Winterfat grows along the berm, but not on the hill. Junipers are widely scattered.

6. Across the road, winterfat dominates beyond the road’s berm. No grasses grow between them.

7. Eastern ridge sloping down to a low valley. The winterfat is limited to the berm.

8. Cholla line on western side of road, marking the change between winterfat in back and grasses in front.

9. Prickly pear and four-winged saltbushes, with scattered Russian thistles blown in. Neither the grasses nor the cactus have revived yet this spring.

10. Prickly pear growing among the grasses on the Cholla ridge on the east side of the road. Here the grasses are reviving. Stickleafs grew along the berm last summer.

11. End of the Miocene lands. Beyond the end of the bank, the land is Holocene alluvium.

12. Cholla cactus growing on the Juana Lopez land grant before La Bajada hill near Santa Fé, 15 April 2013.

13. Winterfat growing on Santa Clara land in flood plain in front of bad lands, 6 April 2013. Juniper is growing at the base where stones and water collect.

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