Category Archives: M&M Travels

The Way of the Cranes

“The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances.  He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation”.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Scholar

When the Sandhill Cranes start circulating high in the New Mexico sky in March, it’s a sign they are beginning their journey northward to their summer grounds in the Northern Rockies.  We decided to follow them to one of their stopover points where they rest and feed along the way, in the San Luis Valley, where New Mexico meets Colorado.  This song reminds me a little bit of their journey, all the unknowns, as well as how our own trip through life seems sometimes.

On the way there just past San Antonio Mountain on highway 285 we saw Pronghorn (Mai’s photo above).  We rolled into the San Luis Valley in late afternoon and took the back roads towards Monte Vista.  Amish buggies spooled by, drivers guiding the horses with reins.  We arrived at the National Wildlife Refuge and explored.  At dusk we were by the barn near the entrance to the loop road, and I heard an owl hooting close by.  I couldn’t see it, but I kept walking towards the sound.  I found myself at the base of a power pole with a lamp on top.  The next hoot was right over me, and I looked up past the light and there was the owl, perched on the poletop.  He turned his head directly towards me with an intensity fired by the current of the universal being flowing right through him.  I felt like I was nothing but a distraction.  Soon after another owl hooted from far away, and the owl above me took off towards those sounds.  It was the beginning of his shift.  He was wired.  It was like me at the start of a bikeride.

The refuge stewards wetlands for the birds to rest at night.  During the day these flying dinosaurs roam the vast San Luis Valley picking up bits of food from cuttings left in the farmers’ fields, and other things Cranes like to eat.  We spent two days and nights in the high valley with the wildlife, making sure we were at the refuge during the most active times for animals, at sunset and sunrise.  Just the sheer vastness of space and clarity of air opens your senses and refreshes your mind.  It’s a special place I’ve described in more detail in previous writings.

The lifeblood of the valley and every place is the water.  If Cormac McCarthy’s epic Western novel, Blood Meridian, covers how not to open up the landscape–in my reading of the novel, the cycle of violence is so complete it comes round to annihilate the perpetrators of violence themselves–the Crane migration through the San Luis Valley tells of a better way.  They follow the life meridian, water and the abundance it creates, and nurture themselves on the way.  The Rio Grande starts up in the mountain chains above the valley and threads its way down through New Mexico, weaving together Mexico and Texas, flowing into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is cold up there in Colorado, but it was so beautiful, Mai and I didn’t mind.  With the high altitude–the valley floor is over 2000 meters above sea level, and the mountains are twice as high–the sun is also powerful, and hits your skin with great intensity.  But it takes a while to warm up from the cold, vacuous nights!  Because of these harsh conditions, and geographic isolation, not that many people live there, and the night sky is premium.  I took a walk early one morning around the town of Monte Vista where we were staying to check on the stars, and the milky way and all the rest of the cosmos are still sprent across the blackness, envoys of beauty.

On our third day there I took a little bike ride before we headed out to follow the river back home.  I pedaled the farm roads that meander between the fields.  Nature is so powerful there, the water gushing, it invigorated my heart and mind.  Every day we have an opportunity to begin again, and it’s never too late to remember the old ways of navigating life on earth, and integrate them with all the information we observe with our new ways of seeing and communicating with each other.  Here in the San Luis Valley the snow keeps falling, the river is replenished, and each day nature instructs us.  When I listen I hear it, life emerging.  The talk of the Cranes reminds me of that, as they celebrate each day living their life, following the way.

home with nature right here in Albuquerque

Here are a few other posts I’ve made that include the San Luis Valley:
Pictures of Great Sand Dunes https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/cool-sunshine/
A description of valley geography https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/a-complete-world-great-sand-dunes-continued/ (this post is hyperlinked above)
A quick visit https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/cycling-up-americas-mountain/
And more posts on Cranes (with much better close-up pictures of Cranes!):
Whitewater Draw, AZ https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/the-year-of-the-bird/
Bosque del Apache, NM https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/homecoming-with-the-birds/
Bernardo, NM https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/bird-flight/
And Mai’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/

Advertisements

Bird flight

Mai and I started our year off right, making our first trip together in 2019 to the Bosque del Apache.  I hear the doves singing right outside my window at the moment, but at this National Wildlife Refuge nature is amazingly dense.  You sense the fabric  of life holding the world together.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  I’ve added a few words to guide you.  And if you wish to listen, Andrew York’s song Centerpeace below is a beautiful companion.  He’s interviewed in this video after he plays the song, and York says about his inpsiration: “Everything…Nature, primarily, seeing the patterns, and order, and beauty in nature, the organic quality the natural world has to offer, helps me to form my music…”

Photographers awaiting sunrise. Wildlife photography teaches patience, taking our time

When the Snow Geese decide to circulate, it is a an explosion of noise and color, uplifting for our hearts and minds

After flying out of the their roosts in the morning, birds graze together in the fields

Since moving to Albuquerque in 2014, we’ve been exploring the birds and their habitat.  For this trip we did an overnighter.  Saturday we watched the sunset and transition from day to night. We had a late dinner in Socorro, and spent the night at Days Inn.  We awoke at 4am the next day and left before sunrise to see the birds awakening.  It was gorgeous.

Synching up with nature is really tuning in to our own rhythms.  After it was almost totally dark, Mai spotted this owl in the top of the tree.  We stopped to watch.  Another owl soared across the sky and joined the first owl on the tree top.  What fliers!  The hooting was glorious.

The next day we took a drive around the refuge after the morning flyout.  We had planned on leaving after sunrise, but time flew by and we spent the whole morning there, then ate lunch at the San Antonio Crane restaurant.  Completely full, we changed our plans, canceling our trip to the hot springs.  We are delighted to be feeling more at home in New Mexico, and deepening our understanding of where we live.  My, how nature surprises us if we are open to all it.

We saw tons of wildlife, including a cute pair of Road Runners, our State bird

Last time we saw Javelina was down at Big Bend camping along the Rio Grande.  We saw them here again

Talking to fellow wildlife watchers, we learned more about being observant.  There are many trails there to walk and explore.  We can’t wait to go back and discover more.

Resources:

Check out Sansai Studio’s video of Snow Geese circulating:

Appreciating colorful New Mexico: A visual story

Walk on air against your better judgement.  –Seamus Heaney, “The Gravel Walks”

In the last year I’ve had the pleasure of traveling in New Mexico, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes with my wife Mai, snapping pictures.  Sometimes in a car, sometimes by bike, always on foot at some point in every journey.  Taking pictures is a balancing act between being fully present in the moment and framing a visual instant to realize a deeper meaning.  Although pictures just show surfaces somehow they can fuel our imaginations and help the world become incorporated into our being.  As Cormac McCarthy notes in his return to the Kekulé problem, “the world has a great deal to tell us while we have nothing at all to tell it.”

At La Cueva Farm near Mora, New Mexico we picked raspberries last September.  I’m ready to go again.  A big monsoon storm erupted and we took shelter in their Cafe, eating ice cream.

We took the raspberries back to our campsite at Morphy Lake and ate them over oatmeal for breakfast the next day, like two bears anticipating a long winter hibernation.

It was nice to pluck berries off the plants and feel the stems gently letting go of the ripe ones!

Morphy Lake was low on water, but still beautiful.  The rumbling storms at night were powerful!

Looking north from the Manzano Mountains out into the Albuquerque Basin.  Space & solitude.

Cycling off of old route 66 West of Albuquerque, horses galloped across the road and hilltops

This hotel is new in Albuquerque and links together what really matters in New Mexico.  Albuquerque is such an interesting city to ride in, in part because it is a city of open spaces, distinct cultural heritage, wonderful local flavors, reflective of the rural character of this State.

The landscaping is still new on the skirts of the building, but is growing up

Bikes make everything look better.  You can feel the energy rolling

We camped in the Gila National Forest and I went on morning rides.  The roads there seem like they’re made for cycling, & the region hosts the Tour of the Gila, a world famous cycling event.

Camping on the north end of Elephant Butte reservoir we were delighted by wintering Sandhill Cranes and surprising iterations of New Mexico’s mesmerizing atmospherics.

We visited Alpacas on Victory Ranch near Mora

Contrasts in New Mexico are sharp, between wet and dry, hot and cold, even daily temperatures fluctuate widely.  Everybody comes together to be fire wise and protect NM

We are not the only ones looking at New Mexico through the lens of photography!  Outdoor recreation is an emerging opportunity to bring people and nature together more sustainably.

Being here and being healthy is a grand adventure.  Fun!

Sources:

Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem, Nautilus, Nov. 30, 2017
http://nautil.us/issue/54/the-unspoken/cormac-mccarthy-returns-to-the-kekul-problem

A couple of these photos (the better ones!) are Mai’s.  You can visit her website and Instagram:
https://sansai.photoshelter.com

Almost all of my photos first appear on my Strava account, where I log my daily cycling:
https://www.strava.com/athletes/bikeyogi

Connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe with cycling

The way we treat the environment and the way we treat each other are intricately connected.  —Jonathan P. Thompson, “We are the environmental movement”, Colorado Sierra Club blog 

I’ve reached a couple milestones recently.  This is my 365th blog post on bike yogi.  For some reason, this has been a number I’ve had in my head as a goal since I started this blog in 2014 to write about cycling.  I also was trained as a cycling instructor this past Spring by the League of American Bicyclists.  I’ve wanted to do that for years!  And on Sunday June 17th, I connected two great cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with a bicycle ride along the Turquoise Trail, through Santa Fe, and on up Hyde Park Road into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

the turquoise trail connects Albuquerque to Santa Fe through rolling high desert terrain and beautiful mountains

I woke up early on Sunday to begin my ride by 7:15am so I could meet my wife in Santa Fe at Fort Marcy Park for a picnic at noon.  Although June is an extremely hot and dry month historically in the Southwest U.S., the previous day we received a steady rain and the landscape was still wet and fragrant.  Lingering clouds dropped some showers in spots as I rode.  It felt so good to pedal and circulate that oxygenated blood all around my body, and at the same time watch that vital ingredient in the chemistry of life–WATER–flow from sky to the waiting earth.

bike art along the Turquoise Trail

The atmosphere above, the ocean below–it’s one big system.  –Sylvia Earle, “Sunken Treastures

Spooling down the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway on a bicycle is a little bit like sailing on an inverted ocean, the clouds roiling in the sky with a fluid, wave-like motion.  I feel the beauty inside of me.  We already see the roads as an artifact of our culture, and a way into the culture, history and traditions of the land around us.  In Georgia, there is a pilot project on highway to farm the roadside and make it more ecologically productive.  As part of this project rethinking what a highway can be, Georgia is building bioswales to clean the water runoff, growing wheatgrass to sequester carbon, and experimenting with asphalts to make it quieter.  This sounds exciting, but right now by cycling I already feel the way this road is improving my health, today!  Why do for people what people can do for themselves?  Cycling is an economic engine.

Hyde Park Road leads up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

The infrastructure is the landscape.  –Jonathan Thompson, “River of Lost Souls

In Santa Fe I took the most direct way through town, and started climbing up Hyde Park Road.  Due to the high fire danger most of the recreational facilities from the road are closed, so there is very little traffic, and more than half of that traffic are bicyclists.  It’s so quiet I am spooked when I here twigs breaking in the forest next to me.  I look to my right towards the sound’s source and there are two deer running up an embankment.  They were enjoying the quiet too.  After I climb “the wall”, the steep two mile pitch through the State Park, I turn around to be on time for my picnic date with my wife.  It’s delightful.  After lunch we stroll through town.  In the Plaza in the center of town where the streets are closed to motorized traffic, all I can hear is a chorus of human voices.  It’s like a hundred conversations happening all at once, something like a symphony of voices.  A beautiful sound.  The fabric of community.  We stumble upon a free concert by the Santa Fe Concert Band in front of the Court House.  We lay on the grass and listen to the songs roll–Arioso, Black Horse Troop, A Touch of Carmen, The Phantom of the Opera. We drive home to Albuquerque together, feeling restored, hoping more rain will come soon.

The Santa Fe Concert Band played a Father’s Day Concert at Federal Park

Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.  –Albert Einstein

References and Resources:

We are the environmental movement is an interview with writer Jonathan Thompson https://www.sierraclub.org/colorado/blog/2018/06/we-are-environmental-movement

Georgia DOT is farming the roadside:  https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/georgia-highway-rightofway-farming-ray-anderson

Explore New Mexico’s Scenic Byways:  http://dot.state.nm.us/content/nmdot/en/byways.html

The Sun Magazine’s feature interview each of the last five months has been incredibly inspiring:
https://www.thesunmagazine.org

Jonathan Thompson’s book River of Lost Souls is in part about converting our economy so what used to be sacrifice zones contribute more to human well-being and our sense of place.  https://riveroflostsouls.com

Loving the land

Somehow, against probability, some sort of indigenous, recognizable culture has been growing on Western ranches and in Western towns and even in Western cities.  It is the product not of the boomers but of the stickers, not of those who pillage and run but of those who settle and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.  I believe that eventually, perhaps within a generation or two, they will work out some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water.  –Wallace Stegner

I was at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic over Memorial Day weekend, and was reminded how the act of cycling restores to us a sense of our better selves.  On Saturday the road from Durango to Silverton is open only for event traffic, which consists of thousands of people cycling.  And on Sunday, in downtown Durango they build a BMX (bicycle motorcross) course on Main Street and run mountain bike, kids, and costume rides through town.  The city is designed for enjoyment.

In this economy, what is circulating is people, and more specifically people filled with curiosity, joy and excitement.  Combine the human created atmosphere with the Animas River flowing through the heart of town, quaking Aspen stands, and the La Plata and San Juan mountains flying high on the edges, and you have what feels like a healthy community.  As my wife said, “the oxygen tastes good” in Durango.

Contempt for the natural world is contempt for life.  The domination of nature leads to the domination of human nature.  —Edward Abbey, quoted in “River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed behind the Gold King Mine Disaster” by Jonathan P. Thompson

To put Abbey’s idea into positive terms, perhaps embracing our human nature helps us to appreciate greater nature.  When we get on a bicycle, our legs flow freely around in circles, the wind blows in our faces, and we breath in more of that sacred oxygen.  We feel good.  We move forward.  When I become more alive inside, I see more of the life around me.  Cycling fits here.

The breaks

We got a lucky break this year on a trip to the Quebradas Backcountry Byway.  We heard hummingbirds arrive in Albuquerque, and we thought that might mean they would also be at Quebradas–which is about 60 miles south–pollinating the Ocotillo flowers.  We’ve been trying to time a trip to Quebradas for years to synchronize with the Ocotillo blooms.  Finally, it worked.

The byway is a gravel road about 24 miles long.  We spotted Ocotillos immediately, though I had remembered most of the plants were growing at the other end.   It is amazing how the bright red Ocotillo flowers make the landscape light up.  They sing a new song with their flaming reds.

We also spotted some pretty cactus flowers.  With the sparse rains and mild winter, it is amazing how these desert plants survive.  They have developed strategies for scarce water.

It was a great trip!  Although we saw a lot from the car window, the landscape really opens up when you get out and walk, moving at slower speeds, eyes trained to the ground.  Everything is hiding under nursery plants, grasses, shrubs and piles of rock.  It makes it even more inviting and rewarding to get out and explore.  Next time we’ll bring our bicycles.  It is perfect for it.

Other posts I’ve done on Quebradas, and the BLM Website:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/quebradas-or-breaks/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/quiet-energy/
https://www.blm.gov/visit/quebradas-backcountry-byway

Cycling and walking to get our bearings

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.  Connection is health.  And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is.  We lose our health–and create profitable diseases and dependences–by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.  –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture”, 1977, Sierra Club Books

If I can bicycle there, then I can live there.  This was the mantra I came up with after my visit to Japan last year.  It was my sixth time in Japan, but the first time I bicycled.  What a difference it makes!  I felt at home on my bicycle.  Cycling has been an essential way for me to get my bearings in places since I took it up in earnest over twenty years ago.  But feeling at home in Japan was different since it had felt so foreign.  Cycling is an activity that creates connections.

Wes Jackson of the Land Institute said Wendell Berry’s book on culture and agriculture “launched the modern movement for sustainable agriculture”.  The cycling and walking movements today are doing the same thing for sustainable transportation.  There is tremendous enthusiasm in the cycling and walking communities.  We need to support that by setting up our cities and villages, and the roads connecting them together, to encourage walking and cycling.  This is what I call structural encouragement.

Structural encouragement means that we design for those travel modes.  It would naturally occur to people that we are not only welcome to bicycle and walk, but it is part of the shared experience of living in the places we make our homes.  The infrastructure we design connects people to our own capacity and powers for creating movement.  It makes a woven world.

Human movement is the most fundamental form of human action.  That is why we call “movements”–such as civil rights, women’s marches, conservation efforts–movements.  When we march together, it symbolized the power of collective community action.  We let our legs do the talking.  It is the language that preceded language.  An invisible thread connecting us.

Cycling and walking are not only a ways of moving forward, they are ways of living in place.  They allow us to tune in more to what is going on with our bodies, and the places we live in.  It is a way of paying attention.  Designing transportation systems that facilitate human powered transportation (clean, renewable, healthy, sustainable, fun human movement!) is a direct solution that creates benefits now, and future dividends.  It’s a transformative economic idea, one worth investing in.  Check out the nonprofit I founded to learn more how we can accomplish this change together and how you can help.  https://bikeinitiative.org

Man is made of the same atoms the world is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny.  When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, what the stones do by structure.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” from the “Conduct of Life”.

Blog posts on my Japan trip 2017:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/cycling-japan-lights-my-fire/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/travels-in-japan/