Bosque del Apache V: Overflight


Tens of thousands of snow geese and as many as 15,000 sandhill cranes begin arriving mid-November to rest and refuel from their long southern migration flights. Most will stay until the end of January, spending each night safe from predators in 2-to-3 feet of marsh water. At dawn, the snow geese begin stirring; soon their honking and flapping of wings raises to such a din, flock after flock lift off, ‛flying out’ to the surrounding fields to feed. As the sun sets, they return to the wetlands for the night.

This time of year thousands of people are drawn to Bosque Apache to witness this twice daily incredible ‛sight, sound, and motion’ show, which is further enhanced by the low-angled winter sun as the birds circle against the 7,000′ Chupadera Mountains.

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Bosque del Apache V: Sandhills Rising


Each morning during their migration rest at Bosque del Apache, the Sandhill Cranes rise from fields flooded by 2-3 feet of water, where they are safe from predators. In groups of 3 to 10 they fly to nearby grain fields, where they spend the day feeding, only to rise again as the day fades and return to the safety of the wetlands for the night.

Weighing 8 to 10 lbs. and with a wingspan of up to 6 feet, Sandhills look ungainly while standing, but stretch into beautiful aerodynamic form with their powerful pumping wings slowly lifting them into the sky


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Bosque del Apache V: Framed by Mountains


Twelve years ago I moved from Maryland’s very flat, eastern shore to Santa Fe to live amongst beautiful mountains bathed by incredible high desert light. Yet I still can’t quite believe the anomaly that is the 4,500′ Bosque del Apache wetlands preserve.

The wetlands’ color and texture magically blend against the Chupadera mountains’ 7,000′ east face during the sun’s morning ascent.

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Bosque del Apache V: Wetlands


As the sun begins its climb, the wetlands gradually emerge from darkness, revealing wonderfully subtle shades against the water, whether still or rippling. Continuing to climb, the light’s angle widens against increasing color variations and emerging shadows until thousands of light geese stir with their gutteral cries, as the wetland colors and textures explode…

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White Sands IV


At 4,000′ elevation, the 275 square mile White Sands’ dune field comprises the world’s largest surface deposit of gypsum. Located 250 miles south of Albuquerque, and just north of the White Sands Missle Test Center, White Sands National Monument is situated in New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin between two 8-9,000′ North-South mountain ranges — the San Andreas Mountains to the west, and the Sacramento Mountains to the east.

The white gypsum sand is unlike typical desert sands made of quartz, or sand found on most beaches. Because the white gypsum reflects the sun’s rays resulting in a high rate of evaporation of surface moisture, the white gypsum sand is cool to the touch.

Because of southern New Mexico’s exceptionally clear weather, Germany trains their fighter pilots from an airbase 20 miles SE of White Sands; often they leave contrails that contrast dramatically against New Mexico’s blue, blue skies.

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Great Sand Dunes II


15 miles north of Blanca Peak, a Colorado sand dune field emerged as a result of the last major volcanic activity in the San Juan Mountains some 30 million years ago. As the Rio Grande carried volcanic ash eastward, prevailing southwesterly winds – offset by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ snowmelt – maintained the unique balance of these trapped dunes:  shifting back and forth according to the strength and direction of the prevailing wind relative to the degree of the snowmelt’s runoff.

Reaching heights of 750′, these are the highest and tallest sand dunes in North America.

Native Americans have long observed this unique dune field’s wandering, shifting nature: the Jicarilla Apaches: “it goes up and down,” and the Utes: “the land that moves back and forth.”

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Blanca Peak


Twenty miles northeast of Alamosa, at the very southern end of the more extensive Sangre de Cristo range, Blanca Peak, at 14,351′, is the highest summit of the Sierra Blanca Massif, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as well as the highest point within the Rio Grande’s entire drainage basin. In addition to being the fourth highest peak in Colorado, Blanca Peak is higher than any point east in the U.S.

Known to the Navajo nation as the Sacred Mountain of the East, Blanca Peak is considered to be the eastern boundary of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland.

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San Luis Valley


San Luis Valley — 8,000 sq. miles, averaging 7,600′ elevation — is the largest high desert valley in North America. Situated in south central Colorado, with a small portion extending south into central New Mexico, this gradually-sloping, 122 mile long north-to-south flat basin, 74 miles wide, separates Colorado’s two largest mountain ranges – the San Juans to the west, and the Sangre de Cristos to the east.

As part of the Rio Grande Rift, San Luis Valley extends east from the Continental Divide. The Rio Grande River rises out of the eastern San Juan Mountains and flows south into New Mexico; Colorado rivers west of the Continental Divide are drained by the Colorado River. Receiving little precipitation, the San Luis Valley is comprised of desert lands; with no clear southern boundary, it is generally considered to include the San Luis Hills of southern Colorado and the Taos Plateau of northern New Mexico.

Along the eastern edge of San Luis Valley are two significant features:

Blanca Peak, at 14,351′, is the fourth highest mountain in Colorado, and the highest peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Situated at the southern end of the more extensive Sangre de Cristo Range, it is the highest peak in both ranges, and is located 20 miles east-northeast of the town of Alamosa. Blanca Peak is also the highest point of the entire drainage basin of the Rio Grande, and is higher than any point in the U.S. east of its longitude.

Fifteen miles northwest of Blanca Peak, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is situated in the lee of the Sangre de Cristos. These sand dunes, reaching as high as 750′, are the highest in North America.

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Independence Pass


At 12,095′ elevation, this narrow strip of the Continental Divide is the high and extensive Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado. Situated midway between Aspen and Twin Lakes, it includes eight of the twenty highest Rocky Mountain peaks. Independence Pass is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the US.

Overlooking the alpine tundra environment above the treeline, Independence Pass offers incredible views east of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, and the second highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

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Mount Garfield


Mount Garfield at 6,780′ elevation is the high point of the Book Cliffs range — a series of desert mountains and cliffs stretching 200 miles from western Colorado into eastern Utah, north of Grand Junction. Appearing primarily along the southern and western edge of the Tavaputs Plateau, these cliffs are largely composed of sedimentary materials that cap many of the south-facing buttes, appearing similar to a shelf of books.

Within the Colorado Plateau geologic province, these cliffs of Cretaceous sandstone begin where the Colorado River descends south through De Beque Canyon into the Grand Valley before running west to Price Canyon near Helper, UT.

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Flaming Gorge


The Green River is both the inflow and outflow of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, whose elevation when full is 6,040′. Created in 1964 by the completion of the Flaming Gorge Dam, the reservoir is mostly situated in Wyoming, as its northern tip is only 14 miles southwest of Rock Springs, WY. Just its southern end dips into northeastern Utah.

Rising out of western Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, the Green River is the principal tributary of the Colorado River. During John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition down the Green River, he named the Flaming Gorge for its spectacular red sandstone cliffs surrounding this part of the river. The Green River continues south through Utah, before it merges with the Colorado River 40 miles into western Colorado.

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Wind River Range


Another Rocky Mountain range in Western Wyoming, The Winds run generally NW-SE for about 100 miles, and include more than 40 peaks in excess of 13,000′. Gannett Peak, at 13,809′ is the highest mountain in Wyoming, though only 33′ higher than the 13,776′ Grand Teton. Except for Grand Teton, the next 19 highest peaks in Wyoming, are in The Winds. Two National Forests and three wilderness areas encompass most of the Wind River Range, as the Continental Divide follows its crest.

Shoshone National Forest on its east side, and Bridger-Teton National Forest to the west, and the entire Wind River range, are all part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Portions of the range are also within the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Indigenous peoples of the Great Basin, such as the Shoshones and Absarokas (Crow) Native Americans lived in the range beginning 7,000 and 9,000 years ago.

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The Snake River Valley


The Snake River’s headwaters are formed at the consolidation of three tiny streams, at an elevation of nearly 9,000′, on the southwest flank of Two Oceans Plateau situated in western Wyoming’s portion of Yellowstone National Park.

Flowing south through Jackson Lake, the ninth longest river in the US continues on south through Jackson Hole valley between the Tetons and Wind River Range, before making a large western sweep through southern Idaho’s Snake River Canyon, and then northwest through Oregon and Washington, where it becomes the Columbia River’s largest tributary, as well as the largest North American river to empty into the Pacific Ocean.

Looking east from the Tetons – the Snake continues its 1,078 mile journey to the Pacific — between the Tetons and The Wind River Range — as it flows south through Jackson Hole.

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The Teton Range


The Rocky Mountains’ north-south Teton Range includes 9 peaks in excess of 11,000′ elevation, with Grand Teton being the highest at 13,770′. Beginning just south of Yellowstone National Park, the Teton Range is situated primarily on the Wyoming side of the state border with Idaho, with most of the range’s east slope located in the Grand Teton National Park.

This area, 2.5 billion years ago, was an ancient ocean that gradually filled with sand and volcanic debris. As additional sediment deposited over millions of years, heat and pressure metamorphosed this sediment into gneiss, until eventually magma was forced up through the cracks in the gneiss to form granite, anywhere from inches to hundreds of feet thick.

Then, 6-10 million years ago, stretching and thinning of the Earth’s crust caused movement along the Teton fault: as the fault line’s west block rose to create the Teton Range – the youngest of the Rocky Mountains — the fault’s east block collapsed forming the valley called Jackson Hole.

While the west side of the Teton Range appears as high rolling hills transitioning smoothly into flat pasture, the Teton’s spectacular east-facing granite slope — too young to have eroded into soft hills, and without lower peaks to obscure it — rises dramatically 5,000 to 7,000′ above the valley floor.

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Gallatin Gateway


Beginning just south of Bozeman, MT, the Rocky Mountains’ north-south Gallatin Range, including 10 mountains above 10,000′ elevation, extends south 75 miles, averaging 20 miles wide, into the northwestern section of Yellowstone National Park. The Gallatin River flows north threading through Gallatin Valley. Opposite Gallatin Range, along the west side of the Gallatin Valley is the Madison Range. Along the eastern edge of the Gallatin Range the Yellowstone River flows north through Paradise Valley.

About midway between Gallatin Gateway and Yellowstone Park is the Big Sky ski resort situated in the Madison Range on 11,161′ Lone Mountain.

As US 191 heads south from Bozeman, the Gallatin Valley narrows dramatically as it begins to wind between the Gallatin and Madison ranges. Along the east side of Gallatin Valley, its foothills climb east up the Gallatin Range, while to the west Ted Turner’s 113,000 acre Flying D Ranch lies against the spectacular Spanish Peaks sub-range to the south, with its 11,015′ Gallatin Peak, and stretches from the Gallatin River west over the Madison Range to the Madison River at Ennis.

Gallatin Gateway is where the Gallatin Valley narrows to wind between the Gallatin and Madison ranges; a dear friend’s lovely ranch, perched on a south facing bench, provides wonderfully picturesque views of the melding of these three mountain ranges.

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Lamar Valley


Originally referred to as the East Fork of the Yellowstone River, the 40 mile long Lamar River rises out of the Absaroka Range along the eastern border of Yellowstone National Park, and meanders northwest and then west to where it flows into the Yellowstone River south of the Montana Border. The wide, expansive Lamar Valley is home to bison, elk, coyote, grizzly and wolf.

In 1995, wolves were re-introduced in the northeast corner of Yellowstone Park along the Lamar River at Soda Butte, Crystal Creek and Rose Creek.

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Beartooth Pass


The Absoraka-Beartooth Wilderness Area contains 30 peaks above 12,000′ elevation. As an integral part of the 20 million acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it borders Yellowstone National Park’s eastern side, straddling the Wyoming-Montana line and encompassing two distinct mountain ranges: the Beartooth Mountains, named after the likeness between a jagged mountain peak in the range and a bear’s tooth; and the Absorakas, named after the Crow Indians (Absoraka being the Indian name for crow).

Along the eastern side of the wilderness area, The Beartooths have the largest unbroken area of land within the lower 48 states in excess of 10,000 feet elevation. Comprised almost entirely of beautiful but fragile, high, treeless, bald granite plateaus interspersed by glacial lakes, the Beartooths include Montana’s highest mountain, the 12,799′ Granite Peak.

North of the Beartooths lies the Absaroka range’s stratified volcanic rocks, forested valleys and rugged peaks forming a chain of mountains that includes spectacular peaks east of Paradise Valley, beginning in Wyoming, including the Absoraka’s highest mountain, Francs Peak (13,153′), and continuing north into Montana.

Heading west from Red Lodge, Montana, (5,500′), US Route 212 goes up, down, and up again, for 70 incredibly tortuous miles along the Montana-Wyoming Border through the Beartooths; winding south into Wyoming just before the 10,947′ Beartooth Pass, (the highest road in the northern Rockies) and then back north into Montana over the 8,100′ Colter Pass, through Cooke City (6,400′), and finally climbing to Yellowstone’s NE entrance at 7,500’ elevation, once again in Wyoming.

The views along the Beartooth Pass are spectacular and unnerving. Whether the high tundra mountain tops, or deep down in the incredibly steep valleys, the views are difficult to fathom.

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Sangre de Cristo Mountains X


The tenth and final successive exploration (at least for now) of the west face of Santa Fe Baldy’s portion of the Sangre de Cristo range, immediately north of Santa Fe.

Eight months since my last exploration, the setting sun, through clouds scattered over the Jemez range 20 miles west, slowly diffuses Santa Fe Baldy’s own atmospherics.

Santa Fe Baldy IV<br>Sangre de Cristo Mountains X - 2014 Santa Fe Baldy II<br>Sangre de Cristo Mountains X - 2014 Santa Fe Baldy III<br>Sangre de Cristo Mountains X - 2014 Santa Fe Baldy<br>Sangre de Cristo Mountains X - 2014

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Sangre de Cristo Mountains IX


The 9th of ten successive explorations of the Santa Fe Baldy portion of the Sangre de Cristo range, immediately north of Santa Fe.

Winter’s earlier, crisper light emphasizes Santa Fe Baldy’s west face, especially when framed with low hanging clouds.

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Sange de Cristo Mountains VIII


As winter sets in I continue my visual explorations of the Sangre de Cristo mountain ridge surrounding New Mexico’s 4th highest peak, Santa Fe Baldy.

Blending the snow-covered mountains’ more subtle palette allows for a very different interpretation…

Santa Fe Baldy<br> Sangre de Cristo Mountains VIII - 2013 Santa Fe Baldy II<br> Sangre de Cristo Mountains VIII - 2013 Santa Fe Baldy III<br> Sangre de Cristo Mountains VIII - 2013 Santa Fe Baldy IV<br> Sangre de Cristo Mountains VIII - 2013

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