Where the Alligator Grows

Last Saturday, Jim and I took a break from watching

An Alligator Juniper

 the wind beat up our garden and went hiking with our friend, Michael Wester.

Michael’s family owns an in-holding in the Cibola National Forest, east of the Manzano Mountains, which are south and east of Albuquerque. The drive is fairly long but, once you leave Albuquerque, it’s through pretty countryside.

Well, “pretty” if your idea of pretty includes pastures dotted with scrub juniper, occupied by the occasional cow or horse, with lots of empty spaces in between. Fortunately, mine does. In addition to cows and horses, we also saw a fair number of ravens, but the hawks seemed to be on holiday. So were most of the smaller birds.

We passed through a few small towns with interesting sounding names: Tijeras, Escobosa, Torreon, and Manzano. My favorites were Chilili and Tajique, both of which have their roots in Pueblo Indian languages.

Many of these “towns” didn’t consist of much more than an old, Spanish-style church (usually without a resident priest, but with a well-tended cemetery), a general store (sometimes with a gas pump), and a cluster of old houses and battered trailers.

And dogs. We passed through several towns without seeing a single person, but I always saw at least one dog, usually middle-sized and brown. After a while, I began to entertain the fantasy that there were no people in these towns, just the dogs.

Eventually, we turned off the paved road onto a well-maintained dirt road. At this slower pace, we could better appreciate the wild flowers on the roadside, splashes of pink and white with a little yellow thrown in. Recent rains meant the area was fairly green – that is, “green” by New Mexico standards. Most folks would still find it rather brown.

(Reminds me of one September when David and Sharon Weber were visiting. We were heading out somewhere and I noticed that the recent autumn monsoon rains had really greened up the canyon across from our house. I said, “It’s nice and green this autumn.” To which Sharon, a South Carolina native, responded dryly, “Jane, you’ve lived out here too long. That’s not green.”)

Anyhow, progressing down roads of gradually diminishing width, we ended up on Michael’s family land. This is at a higher elevation than Albuquerque, so the dominant trees were Ponderosa pines and some of the taller varieties of junipers, including the alligator juniper pictured on this page. I particularly liked the alligator junipers, not only for their unusual bark, but also for how the trunks often seemed to be braided, rather than just growing straight.

There were other trees as well, clusters of scrub oak (you never seem to get just one), some impressive pion, and sundry varieties of pine and juniper. Unlike the forests I grew up with in southern Maryland, these forests have very little undergrowth. Even in uncleared areas, you could walk pretty freely, without threading along on paths.

Despite being further south than Albuquerque, the higher elevation meant spring wasn’t as advanced. Other than some Indian paintbrush, mountain mahogany, and some daisy-like flowers, we didn’t see a lot blooming, but I could see where not too much later the area would be glorious with penstemon.

Michael’s cousins, Wayne and Lorane, were wonderful hosts. We visited in a log cabin that Michael’s father (now nearly ninety) had helped build. Wayne is a carpenter and cabinet builder. He has done a wonderful job of maintaining the old cabin without robbing it of its character. (We also got to tour the work-in-progress house Wayne is building – from scratch, including cutting all the boards himself).

Wayne and Michael guided us on several hikes. We saw a small herd of mule deer, squirrels, and lots of birds. One thing I found very exciting was all the bear sign, including a fresh print down at the edge of one of the small ponds on the property and a place where a bear had clawed a gate post. We also saw elk tracks.

Much of the animal activity was near the water features on the property, including the large stock tank that held overflow for the cabin’s water. The stock tank’s metal surface was over-printed with muddy bear paw prints. In arid New Mexico, I guess one could say “Build a water source and they will come.”

Despite an excellent lunch and lots of chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, eventually we ran out of steam and figured we’d better head back to Albuquerque. We did so, changing altitude and with it the sense of the season, moving from spring in the mountains to hot, windy summer in town.

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14 Responses to “Where the Alligator Grows”

  1. heteromeles Says:

    Lovely picture Jane, thanks!

    I must correct one small detail: those clumps of scrub oaks were (probably) individuals. Scrub oaks tend to root sprout and root fuse.

    Root sprouting means that more than one trunk will come off a basal burl, and the burl (and roots) can live longer than the stem. Like a creosote clone, those clumps of scrub oak trunks could be a very old clone.

    Or not. One of the other cool things that scrub oaks do is fuse at the roots (or branches–I’ve got a great picture of scrub oak stems fused in an X). This means that two or more genetic individuals (genet) become one physiological individual (ramet).

    So those scrub oak clumps could be one ramet of one genet, and very old, or one ramet of multiple genets (perhaps grandmother oak fused to her daughters and granddaughters, and they care for each other this way) or multiple ramets.

    In case you have any Buddhist inclinations, this is a wonderful illustration of the teaching that the ego is an illusion. Oaks don’t just teach egolessness, they luxuriate in it.

    Enjoy the spring!

  2. Alan Robson Says:

    At least you managed to find your small towns with interesting names (and dogs). That’s more than Robin and I managed when we were on holiday in the far north of New Zealand a few years ago. We were staying in a town called Russell, which was quite easy to find, thank goodness. But after that our luck ran out…

    There’s a back road out of Russell which twines, twists and turns for mile after tedious mile until it joins State Highway 1 just south of Kawakawa. Interesting signposts along the way declare that it isn’t far to some small township or other and we were eagerly looking forward to visiting them all.

    “Hey,” said Robin. “It’s only six kilometres to Rawhiti. Won’t we have such fun when we get there? I can hardly wait!”

    Six kilometres of rugged bush and sheer cliffs later, with no sign whatsoever of Rawhiti, we learned that Ngaiotonga was only another ten kilometres down the road.

    “Well, I never did care much for Rawhiti anyway,” said Robin. “Let’s stop trying to find it. Let’s go to Ngaiotonga instead. I’ve heard that it’s a much more happening place in every respect.”

    Ten kilometres later we stopped and got out and looked around a bit. Ngaiotonga, just like Rawhiti before it, appeared to be town built of invisible buildings.

    “Perhaps it’s concealed inside a Klingon cloaking device,” I suggested. I kicked a stone out of the road and looked around a small, scrubby fern in case Ngaiotonga was hiding behind it. It wasn’t.

    “I’m bored with Ngaiotonga. Let’s go on to Tutaematai,” said Robin. “This signpost says it’s only three kilometres away.”

    “OK,” I said and we got back in the car and drove off. As we drove round the first bend in the road I’ll swear that I heard a distinct click! behind me as the people of Ngaiotonga turned off their Klingon cloaking device and resumed their partying.

    The road went ever on and on, but we never did find any of the small towns that the signs pointed to. Just endless bush and steep, rugged cliffs. Eventually the road met State Highway 1 and we turned on to it with a sense of relief. All the signs on the state highway pointed to places that really did exist. It was nice to be back in the real world. We headed north again, back towards Russell and the reality of the pub.

  3. Chris Dupee Says:

    Dear Ms. Lindskold:

    We are an independent bookseller in Bright’s Grove, Ontario, Canada – specializing in current and out of print hardcover first editions and signed books. Your books have a loyal following up here and we were wondering if there was any way to facilitate having you sign some copies of Five Odd Honors, as well as some backlist for our customers? We run a regular newsletter promoting the books and authors that we’re working with. It also includes interesting facts, stories, quotes, etc. about the authors and their books. It’s currently sent to over 5600 past/current customers.

    We’re happy to cover all the mailing costs of course and even have a U.S. P.O. Box to ship to in order to avoid headaches at your end with Customs declarations. We have dealt with numerous authors in the past and take pride in making it easy for you to ship the books back. Just recently we had an author tell us that it was the easiest autograph request to fulfill he’d ever had.

    Thanks in advance for your consideration – it’s appreciated greatly!

    Sincerely,

    Chris, Sue & Jim Dupee
    The Book Scouts

  4. Michael Wester Says:

    Actually, Lorane is Wayne’s wife, my cousin-in-law. It was somewhat breezy that day, so you could hear the wind in the trees, a sound I very much associate with growing up in New Mexico.

  5. Eric Says:

    I have only been to the Southwest once, on a family trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. It was without a doubt the best sightseeing trip my family has ever embarked on. (we actually managed to avoid looking like tourists for once) I loved having the chance to explore the desert. (we never came across any rattlesnakes, not for lack of trying) The territory in Arizona has given me a love for Southwest desert scenery that I have never quite gotten over.

  6. Mike Says:

    It’s amazing that you can drive for 20-30 minutes, in almost any direction, and be totally away from civilization.

    That’s one of the beauties of New Mexico, along with the vibrant colors that have attracted artists and authors to the state.
    There is so much to see, if you look, and so much you can miss, even if you are looking.

    Oh, and the dogs are in the smaller towns to alert those close by that someone is lost and looking for directions.

    Honest.

  7. janelindskold Says:

    Glad folks enjoyed going touring with me. It really was a great trip.

    Last night we had a toad sounding off in our tiny (158 gallon) pond.

    Sounded like a cross between a buzz saw and an angry cat.

    Water. Brings in the wild life every time.

    Now, Alan… Did you ever figure out where those towns were?

    • Alan Robson Says:

      No, Jane — we never did find them. I had a similar experience many years ago in Cornwall. There’s a little Cornish town called Mousehoule (pronounced Muzzle). We saw a sign pointing towards it and thought it would be fun to go there, so we folloowed the sign. Then we saw another sign to it and followed that one as well, eagerly anticipating the joys of Mousehole.

      Then we saw a sign pointing back the way we had just come! Where did Mousehole go? We never discovered…

      Many people are solipsists; the world only exists because the solipsist is in it, and when they die the world will go away. I’m an anti-solipsist. Places only exist when I’m *not* in them. When I travel to them, they vanish. Just pray that I never visit America. Who knows what would happen if I made a whole continent disappear!

  8. Susy Lawlis Gartman Says:

    This was my Meme’s ranch that we visited when I was young. I haven’t been there since I was 12 and I’m now almost 54. I still remember the trees and flowers surrounding the ranch.

  9. Paul Dellinger Says:

    Having enjoyed a brief but wonderful visit to New Mexico three years ago, I enjoyed being reminded of the scenery and “wildlife.” Almost like being there.

  10. janelindskold Says:

    Alan —

    We have ghost towns out here.

    Sounds as if you create them everywhere.

    Shall I ask you to stay on the other side of the world?

    Naw… I have a list. They won’t be missed!

  11. heteromeles Says:

    Alan,

    I hate to think of what happens when you visit a major metropolis. Do poorly signed neighborhoods disappear? You could do wonders for urban planning, with the proper guidance. 😀

    Anyway, I haven’t been to New Mexico since 2008. That *is* a long time to wait, come to think of it. Maybe it’s time to visit again.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    “Heteromeles” —

    You might want to consider coming for Bubonicon, our local SF convention.

    Otherwise, I highly recommend September. It’s probably our nicest month. You clearly love plants, and NM is odd for having more autumn flowers than spring — or rather, more showy, native ones.

  13. Hilary Says:

    I see an alligator sneaking around in that tree!

    Actually. It looks more like a crocodile. o.O

    Every time I’m trying to find someplace I’ve never driven to before, I end up trying to leave the city. Luckily the idea of driving around “out there” is not a scary one. Even if I did once have a dream that I found the mummified bodies of aliens amongst the cattle on the ranch.

    I’m going hiking twice this weekend! I’m so excited. I want to run around and roll in some sticker-less sand and look for petrified wood and avoid ants and take pictures. 🙂

    PS: If I ever drive out to your place by myself and it takes me a long time, I’m unconsciously attempting to leave the city and I’ll get to you guys eventually, no worries!

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