Monday, January 29, 2018

Into the Land of Enchantment

South of Raton Pass, Interstate 25 drops onto the broad grasslands of northeastern New Mexico which are broken by volcanic hills, drained by the Canadian River and grazed by cattle and pronghorns.  Off to the west looms the southern portion of the Sangre de Cristo Range, its higher snow-capped peaks mostly hidden by mesas and foothills.  Today, ravens patrolled the highway, joined on occasion by a red-tailed hawk or kestrel.

A few miles beyond Las Vegas, I cut south on Route 84 which hugs the east wall of the Pecos River Valley before dipping to cross the river and then climbing back onto the High Plains; mountain bluebirds adorned this scenic route and a golden eagle scanned the valley from a roadside cliff .  Crossing Interstate 40, the road continues south as Route 219, undulating across rocky mesas and dry washes, covered with junipers and cholla cacti.  After angling southwestward to Vaughn, I drove the final 90 miles to Roswell on US 285, crossing some of the bleakest landscape on our Continent.

To renew my enthusiasm, I headed straight for Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, about 7 miles east of town.  There I made two loops on the auto tour road, encountering thousands of snow and Ross's geese, a fabulous variety of ducks, a few white-faced ibis, two American bitterns, at least six northern harriers and a host of open-country songbirds.  Hanging around until dusk, hoping to match Teale's experience (see yesterday's post), I did observe at least a dozen flocks of sandhill cranes as they returned to the refuge; not exactly a spectacle but inspiring nonetheless.  More on the Refuge itself tomorrow.