Honey Bees

It has been an interesting spring at the Painted Pony Resort, a number of groups have visited and another wedding was held on the estate.  This in combination with over 3" of rain this spring kept me very busy.  One result of the good rains, and in combination with the ongoing grassland restoration efforts, was the appearance of many wildflowers on the estate (see previous post).  With lots of wildflowers came the pollinators, honey bees.  Seven locations on the estate have experienced honey bee swarms trying to build new hives, 2 groups at the cabin, 3 groups at the bungalow, and 2 groups in the courtyard of the main house.  Of course bees and guests do not mix well, so efforts to persuade the bees to find other suitable hive locations was at the forefront of efforts over many days.
Most of the new colonies were fairly docile and I could approach with only a hat, getting right up the ladder to their entrances without disturbing them. One new colony though was not as polite and no longer having a resident Beekeeper in Rodeo, I was on my own in dealing with this hive. Realizing that some form of protection was required I began mentally inventorying supplies that were available on the estate to create some form of protection so I could approach the hive.  I realized I had an old flight suit that closed at the wrists and ankles, gloves were no problem, but the head covering stumped me until I realized there was some old screen used to cover the solar collectors to prevent overheating during the summer.  Cutting a large piece and folding it in half the edges were secured with PVC tape (as useful as duct tape on the estate).  Pulling this on over the wide brim of my hat would keep the bees at bay while I worked.  I chose to seal up the new hive entrances during the heat of the day since most bees would be out collecting nectar and pollen so the number of bees inside the new hive would be minimal and provide the best chance for the colonies survival once they moved on.  Initially using caulk to seal the entrances it became clear that the bees would chew through this obstruction so stucco was used to cover the caulk and seal the entrances.  This proved a successful approach and the bees could initially be seen clustering around the sealed entrance.  The next morning only a couple of bees were found around the old entrances, they had moved on to greener pastures or a location on another building I had yet to find.

I would also suggest that there is a chain of evidence in the number of bee colonies this year.  That by starting with the fencing to keep cattle off the estate and by building topsoil restoration barriers to restore and improve the grasslands, this has also allowed the wildflowers to re-emerge protected from grazing.  The expanded wildflower population in turn provides forage for the bees which now find the area attractive resulting in more swarms trying to settle on the estate.

In an effort to support the bees' and their important role in the ecology of the high desert landscape, the Painted Pony Resort is installing a bee box down in the riverbed.  This will provide a permanent location and space for a hive where the colony will have easy access to the wildflowers and other blooming plants, encouraging the continued restoration of the landscape.  It will also be a yummy source of honey for guests visiting the estate.

Home made Rodeo bee bonnet


Always Something New

It was early Saturday morning, as usual I was up and out before sunrise with a cup of coffee wandering around trying to mentally organize my day when I heard cattle bellowing in the distance to the south east.  I grabbed the binoculars from the trailer and started looking for the cattle to see if they were on the estate.  I found several head in the distance and it appeared that they were on the property.  Cattle on the property is counter to the grassland restoration underway so I loaded the Kubota with fencing supplies and headed out to find the the problem and fix any downed fence.  I checked the south fence line, all intact, then the east easement fence along the old railroad bed, all intact, and no sign of cattle.  I must have misjudged their location so I headed back to the main estate.  While on the east side of the San Simon riverbed where the ranch road passes the old Mimbres hamlet something caught my eye.  Sticking up from the ruin were 12-18" stems of a wildflower I had not seen on the estate before.  Stopping and wandering over I found a number of unknown plants in bloom scattered about the ruin so I got busy with the camera to document the wildflower and for use in identification.  I posted some images and asked if anyone recognized the species as the first step then got back to work on this years crop of tumbleweed.  That evening I was rewarded with an identification from the curator of the Louisiana State Arthropod museum identifying the wild flower as Delphinium wootonii, commonly known as Organ Mountain Larkspur or Wooton's Larkspur, a member of the buttercup family.  Found in both New Mexico and Arizona the flowers clearly are "buttercup like" and easy to spot on the landscape.  I'm constantly finding something new and amazing each time I'm out on the landscape and a big thank you to Victoria, the curator at LSAM for the identification.

Delphinium wootonii, a member of the buttercup family

Organ mountain larkspur (Wooton's larkspur)


An Evening in the Garden

After a day of "Life Maintenance" chores, it was April 14th and I was behind schedule, some time was spent in the front garden as the long light of late afternoon/early evening illuminated the yucca with the yellow rays of the setting sun.  The warm glow of the low angle evening sunlight creates a very different feel in front garden on a warm New Mexican evening.  For comparison, a image taken in the early morning is included to show the difference in light.  While mid day light is generally flat with few shadows to make interesting landscape photographs, the difference between morning and evening light seems to be one of color temperature, with warmer light in the evening and cooler light in the mornings.

Other plants including the Ocotillo are starting to leaf out and many of the smaller plants are also now in bloom.  After a full day of unaccustomed paperwork and check writing, some down time in the garden at the Painted Pony Resort with the camera was a welcomed change of pace and made the end of a long frustrating day that much more special.

The front garden yucca in the long light of evening, 3 species of yucca and Ocotilllo.

The floating yucca, a Spanish Dagger.

A comparison image taken with the morning light.


More Adventures in Welding

I bent the Kubota tractor, well not the whole thing, but I did bend the lip of the bucket while grubbing mesquite on the estate.  After discussing the situation with the owner, he suggested reinforcing the tractor bucket lip with some angle iron.  So I cut down a fencepost corner to fit and started hammering to straighten the bent lip.  With little success trying to bend cold steel it instead took some heat from the torch to soften the bucket lip so it could be bent back straight.  Then it was on to another welding project, this time attaching the angle iron to the bucket as well as adding a hook.  My welding skills are slowly improving and I got the angle iron tacked in place and then began filling the edges between the angle iron and bucket.  The owner, who welds, also pitched in and soon the angle iron was firmly attached.  To finish off the edges I used a little liquid metal since the final bead was pretty shabby (still on the learning curve) and then added paint.  The final finish is pretty good and the addition of a hook will make hauling equipment around in the bucket much easier since there is a permanent point to attach ratchet straps.

Hook and reinforcement welded in place, back view.

Hook and reinforcement welded in place, front view.

Painted finished bucket, back view.

Painted finished product, front view.


Poppies in New Mexico

With over 3" of rain recorded for the first quarter of 2015 the wild flowers in the high desert have come into bloom.  The poppies are always a favorite but so far this year they have been confined to swaths of the San Simon river bed.  One interesting observation is that this year the large swaths of poppies are confined to the east side of the riverbed paralleling the route of the "old road".  Whether this localization represents crop marks defining the route of the old road or just a fortuitous happenstance is unknown but the yellow, orange, and white poppies are certainly spectacular this year.

Looking west across the poppies in the San Simon riverbed

South along the route of the "old road" covered in poppies

Yellow, orange, and white poppies

Poppies, up close and personal
Finally, this image was made several years ago when there was another wet spring with poppies and is a favorite.

A double gradient of poppies.


Keep Looking Up

It has been busy around the Painted Pony Resort with 5 groups, including a wedding and the owners quarterly week long visit, along with rain this spring.  Two sets of guests were here when it rained and the roads and parking areas required a great deal of work to get the vehicle packed gravel restored so everything looks nice.  As a consequence I have had little free time to pursue the blog and for this I apologize.  As a reminder of the beauty of the southwest and an invitation to come visit, here is a sunrise view of contrails over Antelope pass in the Peloncillo mountains at sunrise taken yesterday morning as I started work in the high desert of New Mexico.

contrails at sunrise over the Peloncillo mountains
Keep Looking Up.  Contrails over Antelope pass in the Peloncillo mountains at sunrise.  Click to enlarge and see the face in the lower right corner looking up.


Yuccas in Bloom

The front garden at the Painted Pony Resort is always the first thing guests see upon arriving on the estate for a visit and a lot of work goes into making it an inviting area for guests to explore.  There are several large Spanish Dagger plants (Yucca schidigera) in the garden and these are generally the first of the yuccas to bloom.  This year one of them has produced a number of flowering stems which were photographed over a 24 hour period as they began to bloom.  The large thick red flowering stems grew quickly and began to open producing light yellow/creamy white flowers.  Yuccas are pollinated by moths (Tegeticula sp.), with different species specializing in different yucca and with the large blooms it should be a feeding/pollinating frenzy for the moths this year.

Yucca stem starting to open

Yucca stem soon to produce an explosion of flowers

Yucca in bloom (the best image)

Two more flowering stems

Flowers at the top of the 8' yucca


An Image From a Guest

The recent 2015 All-Star Telescope star party at the Painted Pony Resort always brings a host of talented astrophotographers out to image the sky, but the landscape also draws attention.  Recent experiments with black and white photography motivated some others to experiment in capturing the Chiricahua mountains in black and white.  The image below is a view of the Chiricahua mountains in black and white taken by the talented Canadian astrophotograher, John McDonald.  While I get images when and where I can, this is an example of what someone who knows what they are doing and captures the Chiricahuas in a completely different light.  The small puffy white clouds contrast nicely with angular mesquite in the foreground with the 8000' Portal Peak and eastern flank of the Chiricahua mountains in between.  Truly a spectacular image and thanks to John for allowing the reuse of his image.

Other images by John McDonald may be found on his RSAC Victoria Centre Zenfolio astrophotography page

Portal Peak and the Chiricahua mountains in black and white.  Image and copyright by John McDonald.


Moving Clocks

The shift to/from daylight savings time change effects the valley twice a year and it is always a time of confusion when trying to make an event on the other side of the state line.  The New Mexico side of the valley changes time but the Arizona side always stays the same and events across the state line always leads to an arrival either an hour early or an hour late, especially for me.  Though the change to/from daylight savings time has no affect on the views on either side of the state line as evidenced by these 2 views, one east and one west taken at sunrise from the Painted Pony Resort.  The sun still rises over the Peloncillo mountains and the first rays of sunlight illuminate Portal Peak in the Chiricahua mountains.  With views like this it is all right to be late to an event.

New Mexico sunrise
Sunrise over the Peloncillo mountains on the New Mexican side of the valley

setting moon over portal peak
Sunrise on Portal Peak on the Arizona side of the valley with the setting moon


Topsoil Restoration Barriers, an Aerial View

Range land restoration at the Painted Pony Resort uses natural materials from the landscape and redistributes this material to barren areas with little or no top soil to encourage the development of new topsoil and native grasses by slowing water flow and providing microhabitat to catch wind blown seeds.  Using Amaranth, mesquite, or tumbleweed cannoli the before and after aerial views shown below demonstrate how the barriers encourage new grass growth and topsoil creation in overgrazed areas of the high desert of New Mexico.

Google Earth view of the north end of the estate before topsoil barrier construction.  The red line indicates the estate's northern boundary.

A recent still from an aerial video showing the locations of topsoil barriers at the north end of the estate highlighted with black arrows.  Aerial image courtesy of Dalton Wilson.
Another image from Wilson's drone showing state land and the west side of the estate.  Note the large areas where the topsoil is completely lost and large reflective areas of hard desert pan are visible.  These barren areas are restoration goals for the estate, as well as increasing productivity, restoration efforts will slow the water moving across the landscape allowing more to reach the aquifer.

State land versus the Painted Pony Resort an aerial view.