Category Archives: Open Space

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

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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/

Cycling in rural Southeastern Arizona

One of my favorite things about living on the farm is that I can ride my bike to my cousin’s house and play.  –Greta, daughter of Tedd Haas, a farmer from Bonita, Arizona.  From the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) story: “Arizona Farmer puts conservation in action”

On our recent birding trip to McNeal, Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape.   I think my wife is used to this by now.  After every trip we take I want to move there.  This is probably what makes me a  geographer, that I throw my heart and imagination into the uniqueness of every place. Even though we left after four days as planned and returned to our lives and love at our home in Albuquerque, my imagination and dreams take me back to this location all the time.

After the six hour drive down the Rio Grande valley and then over the continental divide on Interstate 10, we spent the first night recovering in Willcox, Arizona at the Days Inn, where we picked up the local literature including the Wings Over Willcox guide.  The next morning I set out on bicycle to meet Mai at our destination, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where we would camp for two nights.  You miss most of the landscape traveling at 65-75 miles per hour in an automobile, but cycling is slower, gentler, and immersive.  A recent storm left white snows on the high peaks of the Sky Islands–the high mountain ranges prominent above the spacious desert basins.  The air was crips and clear under Arizona’s astringent light.  Though I had arrived the day before, being on my bike made me feel like I was present, definitely here.  As I pedaled and tuned in, I heard cranes and then saw their graceful silhouettes gliding in the sky.

The Sulpher Springs Valley reminds me of the San Luis Valley up in Colorado.  With center-pivot irrigation technology, farmers bring ground water to the surface and distribute it to crops in the fields. It’s startling to see such a diversity of agriculture, from grapes and pecans to corn, beans, and tomatoes. Because water and soil is precious, farmers practice conservation.  The native grasslands and wetlands are also increasingly being recognized as vital and protected in public lands and through partnerships using conservation easements, like the one at Cienega Ranch.

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The cycling here is gorgeous.  I pedaled down Hwy 191 from Willcox towards the Chiricahua Mountains, and then south on Kansas Settlement Road, where I passed the Bonita Bean Company.  The valley feels huge, but the roads, energy and water infrastructure, and buildings serve as a mesh of civilization between the wild reaches of the Sky Island ranges dominating the horizons.  Pedaling circles and streaming down the road, I watched the landscape slowly unfold.

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Somehow it ws the landscape and not the beautiful campus or the textbooks or even the library that made me feel smarter…  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”, from The Sun Magazine

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We came for the cranes, but the raptors are abundant and also incredible.  They like the high perches of trees and telephone poles by the road.  It’s beautiful to watch them fly.

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The second day I cycled through Gleeson, taking the long way from our campsite to meet Mai at the Douglas swimming pool.  The Gleeson road to Tombstone is a delight.  From Tombstone to Douglas I went through Bisbee, which has to be one of the best cycling places anywhere, tucked into the Mule Mountains.  Cycling by day, watching the starry skies at night, and observing the cranes fly in and out from their roost at dusk and dawn was great living.  Returning to city life, I feel ambitious.  We can boldly envision a night sky above our cities that is dark and allows people to connect with the stars–this is a good point of departure for equating progress with pollution, even light pollution.  We are already paying closer attention to restoring wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and making transportation safer and a way for people to connect better with our communities.  Cycling has a role to play in every place around the world. It certainly fits well in Southeastern Arizona, making us envoys of beauty like the birds and stars.

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Area Rides and Cycling Culture:

Every October there is a big cycling event out of Douglas, AZ
http://www.perimeterbicycling.com/cochise-cycling-classic/

The Willcox Flyer takes cyclists towards the Dos Cabezas and back to Willcox
https://www.facebook.com/WillcoxFlyer

The Bisbee Bicycle Brothel is pretty amazing
http://bisbeebicyclebrothel.com

Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds.  Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled.  The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap.  It was freezing outside.  Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon.  I lit the stove and heated water.  I looked around.  The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn.  I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped.  It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.

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Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife.  The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes.  They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.

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Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out.  Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa.  At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters.  We met some great people.  One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S.  Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore.  Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel.  Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond.  The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going.  Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.

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I came home with questions to research.  I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last.  It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for.  I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.

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If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.  –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

Sunset with the cranes

Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a Love like that!  It lights the whole sky.  –Hafez (1315-1390), Sufi Poet

Mai and I spent Christmas Eve in a wildlife refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque.  Mai brought her tripod and used her Nikon camera to take video.  It turned out pretty good.  Here is  a clip below.  In case you like it, I’ve included links to more of her videos from yesterday.  Each one is different with the changing light and happy music from the sonorous birds.  Enjoy!

More crane videos from Mai at Sansai Studio:

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/WataIBJ2sSY

https://youtu.be/RDCtVV0AQDE

Mai’s website is here:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com

Finding peace on the bike

Everyday when I get on my bike I learn something new about the transformative powers of cycling.  Creative thoughts flow.  If I’m angry or hurting, somehow cycling helps me work through those feelings, and turn that energy to the positive.  Cycling is constructive.  Cycling and sport in general helps us focus our energies, overcome fear and use our life for the good.

When I watched a story on New Mexico’s opioid crisis, it made me think of how cycling can change our course.  Then my friend sent a link to a video of Juanjo Mendez’s story.  Juanjo was injured in a motorbike crash, and felt depressed afterwards.  But cycling brought him back.

Dr. Leslie Hayes in Rio Arriba County suggests the real solution to drugs is to get meaningful things in peoples’ lives.  We are not going to arrest or medically treat our way out of the opioid crisis.  We need love.  Stories like Juanjo Mendez’s are proof cycling adds meaning and hope.

Cycling helps us cope with pain and trauma.  If addiction is an effort to avoid pain, as Dr. Gina Perez-Baron suggests, cycling and sport in general may be a constructive outlet to deal with our hurts in a healthier way, even focusing our energy to propel us towards our goals in sport and life.  To get super proactive building healthier lives,  we can promote cycling and healthy sport.

Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.  —Nelson Mandela

References:
“New Mexico deploys best practices to avoid the worst outcomes in the opioid crisis”
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/new-mexico-deploys-best-practices-avoid-worst-outcomes-opioid-crisis
Photos are from Saturday’s ride  https://www.strava.com/activities/1251054152

Family cycling, an outdoor adventure

Visit Utah released this promotional video of a family touring the US Bicycle Route System across Utah.  Loving the concept of experiencing the Southwest in this way.  Cycling gets people that authentic experience we are craving, and is central for developing sustainable tourism.

Resources:
Read the companion article on Visit Utah:
https://www.visitutah.com/articles/utah-at-15-mph/

Find out more on the US Bicycle Route System from Adventure Cycling:
https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/us-bicycle-route-system/

Read about our 25 scenic byways in New Mexico:
https://www.newmexico.org/things-to-do/scenic-byways/