"TYPICAL" NEW MEXICO, BROWN WITH A SPRINKLING OF GREEN
This week I'd like to show you some of the landscape images I captured in New Mexico, and the difficulties photographers can have in adapting to a completely alien environment. We all get used to our own turf, and while it is exciting to encounter a new environment, it can also be disorienting. The trick is to try to react quickly, since most vacations are over far too soon. While I am familiar with the High Desert of Eastern Oregon, I was thrown by the even higher elevations of New Mexico, and the very different contrast of large population centers with deserts right on the edge of town. This first image shows a typical landscape mere miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city, with a population of almost half of the entire state. While Albuquerque is not really a large city, and it did sprawl like most Western cities, it was still surprising to find almost no human presence so quickly out of town. Since it rains only two months out of the year, vegetation, especially like Oregonians are used to, is not a real feature of the landscape until you climb high into the mountains.
COTTONWOODS JUST STARTING TO STIR
Another feature of the climate that through me was the strange nature of Winter. There was none of the nastiness of Oregon's wet environment, but there wasn't any snow either. The landscape just seemed to be in a state of hibernation, waiting for Spring with no clear rush to get to it. I slowly realized that the prevalent trees at 5,000 or so feet were Cottonwoods, which were just beginning to hint that they were still alive. They were the basic street trees in the city, and also constituted most of the vegetation in their natural environment in the Bosques at the river's edge. While the postcards assured us that these forests were actually going to get green and full, the woodland in March was pretty thin.
MT.SANSIA, LITERALLY ON THE EDGE OF THE CITY
Another feature of the urban environment was the very small impact it had on the overall natural environment. While my telephoto lens can make Mt. Hood seem right next to Portland, it is really sixty miles away. Sandia Peak, shown here, is a block fault similar to Steens Mountain, but it 's so close to Albuquerque that in the Portland context it's closer than Gresham. It took us only about 45 minutes or so, up a switchback mountain road, to get to the totally snowed-in summit from Downtown. It was only above 10,000 feet that we saw Douglas Firs, a tree that grows naturally in every Portland park worthy of a visit.
RIO GRANDE NATURE PRESERVE
But the real key to the desert environment was the presence of water in any form possible. Most of the entire population of New Mexico, from the ancient Pueblos to the modern cities, relies on the rare appearance of a body of water. The pond shown above was part of a small nature preserve near the Rio Grande on the East side of Albuquerque. The viewing deck at the modern nature center is the only access allowed. To the West of the preserve are an independent collection of parks that extend to the Rio Grande.
TURTLE TRAFFIC JAM
This collection of turtles occupied a snag of logs about thirty feet from the viewing deck. The pond and the nearby river make up one of the only flyways for birds as they migrate through New Mexico.
WATER IS LIFE : FINAL VERSION
WATER IS LIFE : FINAL B&W VERSION
A closer view of the Pond. Try to understand that almost all of Albuquerque is between this pond and Sandia Peak to the East. While the are some rich neighborhoods to the West of the Rio Grande, it thins out fairly quickly. As usual, the black and white version allows for much more contrast while keeping to a general feeling of reality.
THE RIO GRANDE
The Rio Grande is a very long, and very slow river. It starts in Colorado, and flows through the center of New Mexico before constituting hundreds of miles of border between Texas and Mexico. It's the only reason, along with the railroad and later Route 66, that Albuquerque exists at all. In many ways the difference between New Mexico and Arizona, with over three times the population, is due to the fact that the Colorado River has ten times the water as the Rio Grande. It is a pretty natural environment as it flows past Albuquerque, as shown in the image above. The park we walked through was refreshingly undeveloped, with no indication that there would be much traffic on the river as the weather improved. I believe there is only three bridges across the Rio Grande in Albuquerque, one carrying the main highway West to Arizona.
A VERY QUIET RIVER
.This is a view of the West bank of the river. While I did crop out the row of mansions on the bluff above, it was interesting to see that they had no real access down the cliff to the river, and there didn't seem to be any trails on the other side. In general, Albuquerque seems to have a very small impact on its natural environs despite its sprawl. At about one third the size of Portland, it somehow coexists with the desert. In the next few weeks we'll visit some parks further away from any semblance of urbanity.