Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Spotting the Little Dipper in New Mexico

The view from the top of the La Junta gorge. The Red River is on the left, the Rio Grande on the right.

Two days before Thanksgiving we went for a nice long hike with our fellow holiday-makers down the side of a mountain to the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Red River and the Rio Grande. Fifteen years ago Julie and I hiked these same northern New Mexico mountains with Douglas and Caroline and here we were back again--but with a few changes:

1. We were hiking in a new area.
2. We now had two kids in each family
3. We all felt a bit older.

The hiking path we chose was in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area, a nice chunk of Bureau of Land Management land not too far from Taos, NM. The wildlife list includes elk, mountain lions, bobcats, and lots of other interesting critters.

We decided to hike the La Junta Campground Trail down to the confluence--a distance of about 1.2 miles and 800 feet in elevation. But those 1.2 miles were on a narrow rocky trail at an angle that made us lily-white woodland dwellers from the East huff and puff. Our mountain goat-like companions live in Boulder, CO, so they had less difficulty with the hike.

The upper part of the La Junta trail was well managed with handrails and stairs or ladders for the more challenging bits of descent. We all carried packs with food, water, and extra coats for the kids. Up top, the wind howled around us, giving us a high-desert chill. The more we hiked and the lower we got there was less wind and our exertions warmed us quite thoroughly.

Red River, just above where it flows into the Rio Grande.

At the bottom, which we reached after about a 70 minute descent, we came upon the narrow flow of the Red River. I thought I had heard the metallic calls of the American dipper as we neared the river, but it had been years since my last encounter with this very cool species, so I could not be sure.

Once we got to the bottom, we crossed over a small bridge across the Red River. I scanned for dippers, the walked over to the Rio Grande side of the peninsula to scan there. Nada. When I came back, Julie had located the dipper, and we confirmed the call was indeed coming from this feathered swimmer. We both took lots of pix--Julie with her special Shila camera and me with my digiscoping rig.

BT3 at the confluence--a spot that really soothed my soul. I hope to go back one day.
Photo by Jay-Z.

Check out the rock in the center of this image for the back end of a dipper as it dives.

JZ and BT3 at the bridge over the Red River just above the Rio Grande. Photo by Phoebe.

My best digiscoped shot of the young dipper. Note the scaly appearance. Adults are solid slate gray.

We found it easiest to spot the dippers by their pink legs, which stood out nicely against the gray rocks they perched upon in mideam. You can locate the spots favored by the dippers by looking for their white poop on the well-used rocks.

We made the ascent in record time and then enjoyed a nice tailgate picnic with flatmeat sandwiches, salty snacks, and a few beers. Quite an adventure, quite a few memories made. Would love to do this every year. I am still a little sore from the hike!


At 11:05 AM, Blogger Rondeau Ric said...

My knee joints are disintegrating just reading this post.
I'm not sure if the strain going down would be worse than the 800 foot climb back out.
How much does a helicopter rescue cost?

At least you have hills at home. We are as flat as a table.

Cartilage challenged, among other things.

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous [email protected] said...

I probably would have loved to hiked out of there and I love those shots of the dipper! What an amazing bird! Can't wait to hear more about the adventure!

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

I got all wobbly looking at pic of the kids from above. Heights don't sit well with me.

Cute dipper!

At 7:41 PM, Blogger BT3 said...

The hike was invigorating, the birds were great, and being at the confluence of these two ancient and famous rivers was about as awesome and soul-stirring as it gets.

[email protected], I'm looking forward to my visit to RTPI--see you there.

At 8:27 PM, Anonymous S. Chimp said...

B, this really brings that wonderful hike back for me. We look like we've been up to our necks in endorphins in that bridge shot! Ooh, I love dippers and the places they inhabit. Oh, and you.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger dguzman said...

This native Texan's eyes teared up looking at these two boundary rivers coming together. Just think if Texas were small enough to fit into the space between them shown in your first photo! The Red and Rio Grande will always be the most beautiful boundary lines ever. Thanks for the shots of their confluence.


Post a Comment

<< Home