Saturday, October 19, 2013

Horsing around

Yesterday I took a new friend on what is, for me, my favorite hike in this area.  It starts at the Caballo Riverside campground, crosses the Rio Grande (one small step for a man...),
through a fence, up a watercourse, then up a deer trail to the top of the bluff looming above the far side of the river.
From 160' up, you get a good view of the area.  I have found 10 routes up that bluff, some simply steep and rough, some downright dangerous that I have done once and will not attempt again.  In 4 years of going up there, I have never seen any animal life up there other than the occasional bird.

That changed yesterday. 

When we came up to the edge of the cliffs, two horses appeared.
The lighter colored one was smaller than I am used to.  I am taller than her.  I am guessing she was not fully grown.  The darker one was more the size I would expect.  Both looked to be in good shape - well nourished, smooth, clean coats and no signs of limping, just relaxed browsing on that high desert plateau.
What amazed us was how friendly they were, particularly the smaller one.  She came up to us, was petted, nuzzled my arm, gently tasted my camera, and they followed us as long as we stayed at the west edge.  As we headed east toward the trail down, they watched us go. 

Then, almost like magic, they had disappeared.  It was a very cool hike.

This, by the way, is how New Mexicans stay warm in winter...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Welcome Back

I am at Elephant Butte once again. 

In past years I have watched the lake level drop, and drop... and drop.  Last October, I got to this place, where I used to look across the lake at reflections of the far bluffs.  I saw a vast grassland instead.

Spending much of the summer in the San Juan mountains in Colorado, at and near the headwaters of the Rio Grande, I was rained on a lot.  Most of the rain was light, but some was heavier.  The river, when I saw it, was flowing strong and vibrant.  Looking at national weather information, later in the summer I saw that this part of New Mexico was getting a lot of rain.  Of course, the obvious expectation was that I would see water in the lake when I returned.

I was wrong.

The lake is as low as last year.  I spoke with a friend here and learned that over the summer, the lake had dropped 20 feet from when I had been here.  The storms that had come through created a lot of flooding, did a lot of road damage, and raised Elephant Butte Lake 20 feet, to where it had been.  Further south, Caballo Lake was filled.

So once again, I will look out over grassland rather than lake as the winter storms pass by.  It has its own beauty, and I am not complaining.  I AM worried for the people that live here and try to make a living from an area whose economy is based so strongly on this lake, for the agriculture that depends on lake waters that just aren't here, and for those downstream who are hoping for, and needing, water that simply isn't here.

My first hike revisited the Rock Canyon area.  I follow a drainage channel from the road to the edge of the lake.  Much new scouring was noticeable from the floods.  One formation, which I call Tuffy, The Tug Boat, was unchanged.  (OK, who remembers THAT Little Golden Book?)

There is one good result of the flooding.  Last year, I did several clean-up hikes in Rock Canyon, picking up bottles and cans and other trash left here by visitors.  This year I saw very little of that.  Presumably it has been washed downstream.

One thing has remained constant - the skies.  They welcomed me back with a most rewarding show.