Category Archives: Road Trip

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

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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

Homecoming with the birds

The Sandhill Cranes and other birds have returned to the Bosque del Apache for winter again. Visiting them there is amazing beyond imagination.  When we inhabit that place with them we are swept into the great sea of life.  One small moment in time becomes eternal.  Nature’s grace wins us over.  The first thing we saw was a huge flock of snow geese fly out from a shallow lake.

The geese are plentiful, but the cranes’s elegance stands out.  They seem to be messengers of peace, gliding elegantly in the sky.  We sense their grace, but there is something deeper here that flows into our being and integrates with our identity, a knowledge that lives in this place.

The way of the cranes mirrors our culture.  They sing, dance, play, and bond as a family unit.  But we have something different in terms of our curiosity.  We are looking for more to make our spirits soar.  By observing the cranes and appreciating this place, we receive an influx of nature’s strength, even more than we knew to look for.  With love and respect we belong here.

Resources–for more great photos, visit Mai’s instragram, and/or her website:
https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/
https://sansai.photoshelter.com

We also rode bikes there.  Check it out on Strava!
https://www.strava.com/activities/1301356130

Happy Campers

Combine the head with the heart, and great things happen.  –Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, KY

One of the most important parts of cycling is rest.  Mayor Greg Fischer joked with Charlie Rose that he sometimes works 22 hours a day.  We are capable of taking on heavy work loads, but we always need rest.  Otherwise at some point the returns diminish.  To get my rest, I left the bike at home and Mai and I packed a simple travel kit and we went camping up near Abiquiu.

It was a great rest.  We return to the landscapes held dear to our hearts and receive an influx of inspiration.  Just as when we are reading and recognize our own thoughts there on the page, being close to the land helps us clearly see our own hearts and minds.  Our origins return to us with a certain alienated majesty, to use Emerson’s phrase.  Or we return to them.

We didn’t have much of an agenda besides eating, sleeping, and reflecting.  We watched the stars come out.  Recently I have had contact with many old friends, and I have been thinking they are like the stars in my life, surrounding me all the time, and there when I look.  We heard the coyotes sing in the night.  An owl hooting cooly.  The sunset colors mesmerized us.  During the day we observed the reflections dancing in the water, the forms of landscape reconstituted as an ever-changing mosaic.  The earth, the sky, and water, all bleeding into one.  We swam in the lake–cold upon first touch, but invigorating once we were immersed.  We took a walk.  We ate green chili burgers and ice cream.  We had a great time enjoying the beautiful land together.

Stepping into the Ojito wilds

Quantum physicists are starting to look at consciousness as a force of nature, like gravity.  –Joe Hutto, in “A Walk On The Wild Side”, The Sun Magazine, May 2017

We know little about where we live.  On Sunday Mai and I set out to learn more.  We drove about an hour northwest of Albuquerque for a walk in the Ojito Wilderness.

We barely saw anything until we parked and started walking.  Then it was like a whole new world opening up.  Around every turn of the trail nature’s forms surprised us.

A walk into a landscape like this ignites one’s curiosity.  Here the Colorado Plateau meets the Rio Grande Rift Valley, and the Southern Rockies.  A rich transition zone with deep history.

It is extraordinary to see the tales told in landscape.  The volcanic features, the sedimentary history, culture remnants.  We barely touched the surface of the poetic expressions here.

The biological mix was impressive.  Sagebrush and ponderosa pine meet up with high desert plants in Ojito.  So much variety bursting with Spring colors.

The sense of time is pretty remarkable.  A cultural crossroads.  The wildlife and landscape has persevered and developed remarkable resiliency.

It seems like a vast task to understand this place.  But taking a walk coaxed us along. We became better observers, little by little, taking time to look around.  Curiosity has its rewards.

Experiencing the exquisite and delicate nature of Ojito was an awakening.  Local understanding grants us important perspectives on becoming better citizens and global stewards.  Learning to appreciate where we live flows into developing a higher regard for other places like this one.

Quiet energy

The standard of beauty is the entire circuit of natural forms, the totality of nature…nothing is quite beautiful alone…but beautiful in the whole.  A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

On Saturday Mai and I headed south to two beautiful places–Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and Quebradas backcountry byway.  The roads at Bosque del Apache are open to cycling this time of year, when the Sandhill Cranes are in their Arctic habitat.  The Bosque’s wetlands–engineered in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps to mimic naturally occurring flood plains, and incorporated in 1939 by Roosevelt as part of the national system of lands dedicated to wildlife–nurture wildlife year round, and are surging with Spring runoff.  We saw Snowy egrets, Great egrets, a wild turkey, ducks, and many smaller birds.  With the new greens leafing out and wildflowers shooting up, it is serene and spectacular this time of year.

Bicycles are a perfect vehicle for exploring the refuge.  We stopped often to get a closer look and listen.  Details of the landscape appear and register with us the more time we spend there.  Gliding by bicycle, wide open to the world, with the warm sun caressing our skin, is sensational.

We came home through Quebradas, and stopped often to walk.  Flowers are opening, intricately timed for pollinators.  The Ocotillos are not quite out, still waiting for hummingbirds.  But the Creosote, Scarlet Beehive Cactus, yuccas, agaves, Indigobush, Lechuguillas and more are setting the desert afire in color this Spring, a time of quiet anticipation and emerging possibilities.

It’s amazing to be outside and see how it all fits together, and experience nature flowing into our lives.  These places are so healing.  Our civilization’s future depends on better including nature when designing places for people.  Each is a part of each, and our species requires great habitat too, like all forms of life on earth.  If our civilization–the things we do, build and make– invests more in ecosystem services, natural capital, and wildlife, that’s an indicator of progress.