I got a request to show some pictures from my current travels. So here are some interesting ones from the Jemez (pr. “hem-ez”) Mountains in northern New Mexico, west of Santa Fe and Los Alamos.
This is a view looking east across the Valles Caldera, the open cone of a (mostly) extinct volcano that erupted 1.5 million years ago. The whole caldera is about 10 miles in diameter; this (the most flat & open section at the south end) spans about 5 miles west to east. Surprising to drive up from the Los Alamos pinon-juniper canyon country, through dry Ponderosa Pine woodlands, into mixed (and moister) Ponderosa and fir forests, and come upon a 5-mile-wide grassland at the top!
Battleship Rock in the foreground, with the higher cliffs of the Jemez in the distance. A handful of miles north of the town of Jemez Springs. Almost looks Yosemite-like, and in fact this stream canyon that my friend and I took a long, adventure-filled hike up was reminiscent of the mid-elevation west-side Sierras in many ways. Willow, red-osier, Ribes, roses (with yummy hips still on!), and even a little poison oak filled the creek bottom, with Gambel Oak and the local drylands conifers growing above on the steep, red, clay and rock slopes. Found rodent middens of nothing but juniper berries, three different types of cacti (prickly-pear and two others I didn’t know) – and a few elk scat piles. Got lost, got found again…
The biggest wild stand of prairie sage (Artemesia ludoviciana) I’ve ever seen. It grows in scattered patches throughout this landscape. I’ve harvested this plant from the Flint Hills of east Kansas to 9,000 feet in the spruce-fir forests of the Colorado Rockies, and now as far south as the Jemez! It’s an herbaceous perennial like mugwort (also Artemesia), so the late fall/early winter before snow is a great time to harvest – the leaves and stems are perfectly dried, and harvesting doesn’t impact the plant’s regrowth. I found many of the stems I harvested were still full of seeds, so I scattered the seed heavily in nearby patches of similar ground. I use this plant medicinally (very cold, bitter, anti-microbial) and as a smudge or incense.
The McCauley Warm Springs, about 95-100 degrees. There’s no inlet here – this pool just bubbles up out of the earth, heated by volcanic activity far below. Notice the lush green growth around the edge – this continued far downstream from the spring. Many small fish in the springs too. Quite a microclimate – heated water year-round!
The pools were obviously dammed by human hands. Finding and caring for springs is an amazing way to connect with and tend your local water system and landscape, wherever you live – and whether they’re volcanically heated or not.
(Coming soon: some new insights I’ve been having into land management in western vs. eastern North America.)