Ute Mountain

My Bosque bird routes have finally started to dry up a little. I am no longer wading through waist deep water, which is a blessing. But the mud and bugs have become intense! The mosquitoes were so bad that even with a ton of DEET they were still flying into my nose and mouth (if I was stupid enough to leave it open as I searched for birds). My week in the Rio Grande Bosque was capped by a coyote crossing my path, than BARKING at me from the brush. I’d never heard a coyote bark before! It was somewhat disconcerting, even though I know they are cowards. His (or her) family replied from the other side of the path in that yippey, pack-cry thing they do. I couldn’t have heard a bird at that point, so as I moved up the path the barker stuck his head out from behind a tree…no picture, unfortunately, because he bolted when he realized I saw him!               bosque beaver

There are beavers in the Bosque, and one of the joggers I encountered said you have to get up early in the morning to see them. As if being there at 5:30 wasn’t early enough! But I got a picture. I also got a picture of a defensive Cooper’s Hawk dad. I might not have seen the nest and young if he hadn’t been hollering at me! COHA dad

The next round of bug attacks occurred at Ute Mountain, a BLM area a little over an hour north of Taos. Keith and I, armed with little more than crappy maps and GPS coordinates, set out to perform bird surveys on this remote extinct volcano. Up at 2am for a 4 1/2 hour drive, we hiked in high desert all morning, finding lots of Horned Larks and Sage Sparrows on the plains.

The next day we headed off for new transects up the mountain. Keith was to go to the top, and I was going to skirt the middle of the mountain. I felt guilty for him having the “hard” route, but only for a short while! My route took me up and down arroyos and dry slopes, through Pinyon and sage brush so thick I had to detour several times. When I finally finished over 4 hours later, I had a 2 1/2 mile hike back to the road where Keith was going to pick me up. It was a relief to trudge downhill, but Keith wasn’t at the road. So I started walking back to where we left the car. And kept walking..

After about 2 miles I could see the car with my binoculars, and it was still parked where we left it. If I cut across the fields, I could shave at least 2 miles off my hike, but by road (where Keith would find me when he drove to pick me up), it was at least a 6 mile hike. As I pondered my dilemma, a weathered rancher in a pickup truck pulled up next to me, and said, “Hey, toughie!”

Keep in mind this is the middle of nowhere. I had absolutely no idea anyone was around. The rancher (Stephen Johnson), asked if there was a problem. I explained my situation, and that I was waiting for Keith to pick me up. He was impressed that not only had we hiked the mountain, but I had walked so far on the road! He offered to drive me to the car, and I gladly accepted, hoping that he wasn’t a wandering serial killer. On the way he told me quite a bit about the ranching history of the area and how much the government (BLM) was screwing up, according to him.

Keith was barreling down the road before we got to the parking spot. He had visions of me roasting in the hot sun, waiting forlornly on the dirt road (no shade whatsoever). I had visions of him with a shattered ankle on the treacherous slopes of the mountain. So we were both very happy to see each other.

We thanked Steve Johnson effusively. ute mtn miles 2 go

And we get to do it all again this week. Keith found a little inn a few miles up the road from our study site, and since I’m still having problems with painful, itchy, swollen bug bites, it gets my vote! We didn’t even ask the cost. Of course, the outdoorsman in Keith has also made him investigate other campsites. Near water. Bugs guaranteed.


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