Growing the Art

The big spaces in the valley call for big art works, but with no training in the arts it is difficult at times to create artwork that does justice to what I see and experience.  But it is still up to me and the creative juices to see the possibilities then create something.  I have talked about growing artwork in the desert previously and I finally got this years yucca stems that had been trained and shaped, harvested.  This multi-year project, like the landscape restoration, takes time and patience to see any results and it is pleasing when an idea works and adds to the ambiance of this high desert valley in New Mexico.

Spanning a period of 6 months the photographs below are of a single yucca stem that was persuaded to circularize, with bailing wire, while it was growing.  After blooming a cactus wren found the shape attractive and built a nest within the circularized stem.  Now abandoned, the finished stem was harvested and placed with others as another stay in the fence line at the entrance to the Painted Pony Resort.  While other yucca stems did not turn out as well their curving stems will also be added to the fence line with the idea of creating an entrance area that is inviting to guests after their drive to reach the estate, as well as holding the fence wire in place.

Yucca stem in training.

Trained yucca stem in bloom

The same yucca stem after drying and ready for harvest.
Yucca stem fence stay.


70 Years Spans These 2 Images

Serendipity is defined as "the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way" (1).  About a week ago I came across a reference to one of my early photographs while online.  The image was of the old El Paso and Southwestern railroad line I took while flying the abandoned rail line looking for old town sites and sidings.  The reference was on the website "SHORPY "always something interesting"".  The post entitled "South by Southwest" was of an image taken in 1938 by Dorothea Lange a depression era photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the depression documenting the plight of citizens struggling with the depression and dust bowl.  Best known for her image of Florence Owens Thompson (another serendipitous coincidence?) entitled "Migrant Mother", Dorothea visited Rodeo during the summer of 1938 where she captured this image below.

Now fast forward 70 years and I'm flying about 50 feet off the ground along the old abandoned railroad north of Rodeo NM looking for old towns (specifically Apan NM) and sidings to document and I see an image so snap a photograph.  I submit it to Google Earth and it is accepted and published.  Not quite languishing in obscurity, the image has picked up over 11,000 views since being published in 2009, the image was rediscovered by someone investigating Dorothea Lange's 1938 image.  After some back and forth trying to figure out where Lange was positioned to take her image (I thought perhaps she climbed a signal pole) I found another photograph with a hint.  This additional image has a shadow in the lower left foreground indicating the photograph was taken from the old bridge over the rail line on Highway 80 just north of Rodeo NM.  After the railroad ceased, the highway was realigned and the bridge removed.  So 2 photographers, 70 years apart, looked at the same scene while perched above the landscape, saw something interesting, and captured an image.  One more clue in the search to understand "how people see".  Clearly, time is not a component in this equation.

railroad tracks in the desert
1938 looking north along the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad from Rodeo NM towards Antelope Pass in the Peloncillo Mountains.  Note the rail bed is wide along this stretch of tacks with room for 2 sets of rails.  Image by Dorothea Lange.
2009 looking north along the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad from Rodeo NM towards Antelope Pass in the Peloncillo Mountains.  Image by BAlvarius.
1938 looking north along the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad from Rodeo NM towards Antelope Pass in the Peloncillo Mountains.  Note the shadow in the lower left indicating the location.  Image by Dorothea Lange.
1. Google search for "Serendipity".

1.  Dorothea Lange's images are courtesy of the Library of Congress
2.  Just to show that time has slowed in the Bubble here is an image from 2011 of a steam locomotive passing Steins NM along the northern segment of the east/west rail line.

The Union Pacific steam locomotive 844 passing Steins NM in 2011.


Bicycles at the Painted Pony Resort

Bicycling is a popular past time and several posts on bicycling in and around the area were previously posted, see here and here.  In addition, several visiting bike tours have stayed at the estate while passing through the area, for example see here.

Recently a group of guests wanted to ride bicycles during their stay, but the closest bike rentals were in Silver City.  A trip to Silver City by the event coordinator (Michelle) solved the problem but something closer to home was needed.  So in response to this popular recreational activity and to accommodate guests the Painted Pony Resort now has 4 bicycles available that guests may rent during their stay if they wish to enjoy some local bike rides.  These SR SUNTOUR bikes are available in 3 sizes, a 17', 2 - 19", and a 21" bike are now on the estate.  These bicycles are designed for off road usage with 26" x 2.0" tires and front shock absorbers.  With 7 gears any grade or hill should be easily attacked and conquered including ranch roads on the estate as well as trips into the Chiricahua Mountains.  For a nominal fee the whole family can get out for some riding on and off the estate and enjoy "seeing" the area from a different vantage point. 

Bicycles are now available for guests at the Painted Pony Resort.
Ranch roads (in yellow) at the Painted Pony Resort.


Happy Halloween

October 31st, it must be Halloween.  Hope everyone has a good day and gets lots of candy.  I did not have a pumpkin so here is my San Simon Valley DIY pumpkin, the dried interior of a Coyote gourd (Cucurbita sp.) lit from the bottom by balancing it on a flashlight after dark and photographing the result.

The DIY pumpkin


Seeing Things: Cloud Shapes

Living and working or just visiting in the San Simon Valley of southern New Mexico one is confronted with a big landscape that is in constant flux.  It changes with the time of day and the time of year, since the light is always in motion.  With an increase in moisture though clouds begin to form bringing another exciting aspect to the big sky of the valley.  As I watch the cloudscapes form and shift during the day sometimes something unexpected happens.  Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a shape appears.  It registers in the brain a moment later and then the fun begins.  The first question, is the camera handy, did I bring it along while out on the estate?  If not, am I close enough to run and get the camera?  If fortunate enough to have the camera handy it is time for data collection.  Single and multiple images (for stitching) are collected then it's back to work.  Later though and once back inside the data is downloaded and it's time to start the process of making an image.  Fortunately many attempts do work out in the post production process and in the case of these recent images shown below, I was able to get enough data.  I'm fond of saying it is not the camera that makes an image it is a person and with digital cameras this is especially true.  Instead of a darkroom it's a computer where images are made. I hope you can see the same things in these images, but you never know, everyone sees the world differently.

Flying ghost over the Chiricahua Mountains, just in time for Halloween.

Portuguese man o' war jelly fish over the Peloncillo Mountains.

Flying sea turtle over Antelope Pass.


U.S. Bike Route 90, a new Bicycle Route Through Arizona Includes a Highway 80 Segment

Bicycling in southern Arizona and specifically around the San Simon Valley and the Chiricahua mountains is a great way to experience the landscape.  The open air, the 360 degree views, the slower pace all allow one to experience the area that is not possible in a vehicle.  In the past bicycle groups have visited the area staying in Rodeo at both Mountain Valley Lodge and the Painted Pony Resort during their trips.  Lizard Head Cycling Guides and Bubba's Pampered Peddlers have both stayed at the Painted Pony Resort when cycling in the southwest or on a coast to coast tour.  To spread the information about the potential of scenic cycling routes in the area, published routes were collected and posted as reference material to highlight the potential for cycling adventures in and around the Chiricahua Mountains.

Well things have continued to improve with reference to bicycle routes in the area.  The State of Arizona has just designated a new cycling route across the state which includes Rodeo and the surviving segment of Highway 80 that runs through the valley, see here.  This bicycle route is part of a nation wide effort to create bike routes across the United States.  U.S. Bike Route 90, the Arizona segment, will connect with other state routes creating bicycle friendly routes across the nation.  Arizona's newest bicycle route will be a welcomed addition for visitors to the area.

Guests bicycling at the Painted Pony Resort.
U.S. Bike Route 90, Arizona's bicycle route segment from Rodeo to Blythe
The Highway 80 segment of U.S. Bike Route 90 runs from Tombstone to Rodeo


More Honey Bees

I was weeding down by the hanger the past couple of days and while moving waste to create more topsoil restoration barriers I came across another bee hive out in the desert.  Unlike the other hives that tried to establish themselves on the estate this was in an abandoned burrow.  It was well established with 4 large combs visible at the entrance.  Most of the bees were laden with pollen and a constant stream of bees could be seen entering bringing more.  The hive was not aggressive though I did wear the bee suit to get photographs.  The bees seemed more interested in getting their pollen offloaded and stored for winter rather than bother with a silly human trying to take pictures.  I hope this hive survives and is not raided by other wildlife it would be nice to try and transplant the colony to the bee box in the riverbed next spring.

Abandoned burrow with honey bees flying in.

A closer view of combs inside burrow.

Up close and personal with the honey bees.


Tiny Planets of the Chiricahua Mountains

Life in southwestern New Mexico in the San Simon Valley between Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains and New Mexico's Peloncillo Mountains is like living on a tiny planet of your own.  I have written about the Bubble hypothesis, here and here, but to date have not created anything visual to illustrate the idea.  Below are several panoramas of the Chiricahua Mountains that were modified to illustrate the idea of the Bubble.  The original panoramic images were circularized and cleaned up to show the mountain range as a tiny planet in either a simple black background or with some starscapes.  The idea of little or tiny planets is not new, for example see these images, but it was something I had not given much thought to, until now.  The process is rather simple, a panorama is inverted then mapped to polar coordinates which circularizes the image.  The seam is cleaned up and any other modifications of the digital image are performed.  These 5 examples in color and black and white are just one more way of "seeing" the landscape in a different way.


Painting the Woodwork

Living at about 4,000' MSL in the high desert means increased UV exposure.  UV plays havoc with painted surfaces and over time the buildings at the Painted Pony Resort need new paint especially the woodwork.  Several years ago all the woodwork on the buildings required cleaning and re-staining, see this video for a time lapse of cleaning and staining.  Well, that time has arrived again and the courtyard of the main house was in need of some attention so back out with the power washer, ladder, and stain.  After cleaning all the woodwork a thick coat on new stain was applied bringing new life to faded columns.  Of course now that I have done the courtyard woodwork on the rest of the building now needs attention and if one building is done they all need doing.  A never ending job.

Power washing woodwork

Re-staining woodwork

Columns finished

Finishing the vigas


The Experimental Control

Every experiment in science has a control which can be thought of as a test where nothing is done, no treatment, no manipulation, really just a base line for the experiment allowed to run concurrently with experimental treatments.  The grassland restoration project at the Painted Pony Resort has an experimental control.  It is an area marked off by railroad ties at the north end of the property enclosing an area of about 12' x 12'.  This area started as bare earth when the main complex was built and the former estate manager placed the railroad ties to create a planting area but did nothing further.  I have left this area alone to see what would happen if there was no intervention on the landscape (only cutting back tumbleweed occasionally so I don't get any 5' high plants).  While it may appear I have not been diligent in keeping the area free of weeds and other woody shrubs this plot shows what happens if a barren area is left to naturally recover.  The plot is dominated by tumbleweed but also has woody shrubs including mesquite, Indian tea, amaranth, and rubber rabbitbrush and 1 unidentified thick stemmed weed.  Two species of annual grass have grown and one species of a perennial bunch grass has appeared but little else.  This suggests that a passive management strategy of only removing grazers and allowing the land to rest for several seasons is no longer adequate for the landscape recovery when starting from bare ground.  Rather it takes an active management strategy to restore the grassland in this heavily modified desert landscape.  For the estate that means interventions to manage water, soil, vegetation, and animals

The question arises as to why simple rest no longer appears to be adequate to recover the grasslands on the estate.  Several factors may be involved with the appearance of only a single perennial grass within the test plot shown below.  It may require longer periods of rest (a couple of years is not sufficient) to recover grasses within the test plot and is a reflection of my inexperience with restoration in the desert.  Or it may be a result of succession in the grassland, that is with enough time the perennial grasses will out compete the other plants.  Or it may be related to changes in climate.  About 20 years ago The Portal Project (a long term desert ecology project in the area) published a paper on the changes within their test plots, noting a shift from grasses to woody shrubs within their enclosures they suggested changes in rainfall were resulting in a shift away from grasses and to woody shrubs.  The Malpai Borderlands group also noted this shift away from grasses and towards woody shrubs with the exclusion of grazers and the loss of fire as a tool for managing grasslands, see their historical photo archives and click on a tag to view historical and recent repeat images.  Changes in climate, especially short term ones, have a particularly large effect on minimally productive desert landscapes and periods of drought in combination with human activity are known to have altered the landscape particularly the drought of 1891-93 in the area.  But are long term changes also having an effect?  Changes in rainfall patterns, especially increasing winter rains favor woody shrubs over perennial grasses making it more difficult to restore grasslands and is one reason the river bottom grasses are currently isolated so grass seed production will continue unabated.  The yearly mean temperature in New Mexico has increased 2 degrees since 1970 and marginal landscapes like the high desert may be the first to respond this change.  Whatever the source it is clear that active management as opposed to passive management techniques are required to create and sustain a productive landscape.

Control plot of vegetation with out any intervention.  Tumbleweed predominates followed by woody shrubs.