Soledad Canyon January 7, 2019
Our naturalist experience of New Mexico since we arrived here two days ago can be summed up in one word: DRY. All of the rivers, washes, arroyos, ponds? Bone dry! It seemed not to matter what direction one drove in, there is more dry. We decided to drive up into Soledad canyon this morning from our little apartment in downtown Las Cruces. We had heard that there was water up in the canyon, but with a near super-drought of 19 years and counting, we weren’t expecting any.
The road to the canyon gradually climbed out of the city toward the mountains, and the houses got sparser and sparser as we went. No sign of water anywhere! Drought-adapted plant life everywhere, but no obvious signs of animal or bird life. Occasionally we’d see a furtive Dove or Raven, and that was it for birds.
The drive took about 25 minutes and we parked in the sun in a small dirt parking lot and read the BLM signs: “Pack in, Pack out” “Stay on the Trails” “Watch for Rattlesnakes”. There was one other car in the lot, and as we began hiking the gradual slope up toward the canyon (which was about 1.5 miles away), we were greeted by a couple with two rather excited Border Collies coming back to their car. The dogs were much more interested in the smells around us than us, which is not surprising given their acute sense of smell and their hyperactivity. After that, it was just the two of us walking on a little rising trail that sometimes merged with, and then diverged from, a sweet, dry, sandy wash, that was leading toward a huge bowl surrounded by gorgeous jagged mountains.
We noticed a half mile farther on that the vegetation was getting a little thicker with more shrubs and small trees, and a Canyon Towhee popped up for a moment before disappearing into the shadows of his chosen shrub. We kept a keen eye out for any movement of lizard, or rabbit, or bird, but saw just the one bird.
Soon after, there was a distinct change. It was almost like someone switched on a light. One moment we were in a fairly barren, super dry place, and the next moment, all the plants seemed a little greener, and the hillsides came alive. First, a flock of about a dozen Dark Eyed Juncos twittered across the path in front of us, then, suddenly, there was flood of Juncos around us, maybe 200 of them moving in every direction, perching, diving, floating, disappearing, reappearing, pump-scratching, cracking and manipulating seeds with bills and tongues. Mixed in with them were Black-Throated Sparrows, Black-Chinned Sparrows, more Canyon Towhees, White-Crowned Sparrows, Brewers Sparrows, Rufous-Crowned Sparrows, Rufous-Winged Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows: Sparrow Heaven!! And this all seemed to happen right about at the moment when we started to hear the faint sound of water! Beautiful life giving water!
Since I am a Sparrowphile, I felt happy enough to burst. It wasn’t simply being surrounded by a huge profusion of Sparrows of many different species. It was being filled with the realization that the Sparrows KNEW where to be. Cindy was herself rather taken with the Black Throated Sparrow, so I’ve included a picture of one here.
The waterfall was delicious, if small, and seemed to to be cascading down in to a little shady grotto from hundreds of feet above. What amazed is that where the water fell upon the Canyon floor, it went into the ground and disappeared. Ten, or twenty, or a hundred feet downstream, there was no water at all, and no water anywhere except right there for miles and miles around. And the Sparrows knew, as I’m sure all the other vertebrates and invertebrates did as well. I wanted to come back at night with night goggles and see what other animals were drawn in by truly “the only game in town”. Maybe next time! A young man arrived at the waterfall while I was climbing up the rocks for a better view of the water, and introduced himself as “Angel”. He looked to be about 20 years old, and said he often hikes up here to meditate. I recognized him as a brother. Brother Angel, brother Sparrow, sister tree, brother mountain, and sister waterfall, thank you!