June 30, 2016

Peregrinating the Albuquerque Bosque

The Map.
Starting in the San Juans in Colorado, the Rio Grande "is the twenty-second longest river in the world and the fourth or fifth longest in North America" (Texas State Historical Society).  While the river is characterized by the area it flows through, the river from Elephant Butte Dam to the south to Cochiti Dam in the north is called the Middle Rio Grande.  And in the middle of the middle Rio Grande is the roughly 20 plus miles that flows through Albuquerque.  From an airplane, the Rio Grande is a brown ribbon bordered a green ribbon.  That green ribbon is the Bosque

I've always been fascinated really exploring an area, getting a sort of overview of an area then drilling down to really get it.  It's led to me hiking the Sandias from end to end and then hiking outlying trails multiple times, biking all the trails in the Cedro Peak area because someone put them on a map, trying different routes to get to my job, taking different routes to Denver to visit my family, etc..  So after largely ignoring the area for the better part of twenty years, I recently started becoming more aware of the bosque (the reason why will be revealed later).   

Bosque is a Spanish term for woodlands.  My bosque, the Albuquerque Bosque, stretches from the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge to the south and the Alameda Bridge to the north.  After walking many of the areas as discrete sections, we decided it would be nice to experience the bosque from "end to end," Our goal was to walk this bosque over the course of two days.  And with solstice approaching we decided we'd walk it as a sort of solstice ritual.

Don, Mindy, and Zoe getting ready to head out from Valle de Oro-Photo Credit:  Damien Flores

Upon planning our trip, we didn’t know two sections of the bosque because we hadn’t already hiked them in the last year:  Valle de Oro to the Tijeras Arroyo and the Open Space Visitor Center up to the Alameda Bridge.  

Our route was pretty straight forward:  we would walk up the east side of the river until Bridge Boulevard, cross the bridge to the other side then go up the west side until Central, cross the Central Bridge and go up the east side again until Montaño, cross the Montaño Bridge and go up the west side until Alameda Boulevard.  No particular reason for this route other than, in many cases, the map at the Rio Grande Valley State Park website suggested certain areas didn’t have a formal path.  Likewise, certain areas (especially Bridge to I-40 on the east side) receive a lot of traffic and one of the major goals was to not see a lot of people.  Of course, the weather sort of kept the traffic down a bit, but more on that later.  The far south and the far north required, at times, a bit of route finding.  In the case of the Valle de Oro section, we ended up walking along the wrong side of the Albuquerque drain and next to acequia and had to find our way through the Mountain View neighborhood back to the Tijeras Arroyo and into the bosque proper there.

Valle de Oro:

Valle de Oro

Almost to the bosque in Valle de Oro
According to their website, the Valle de Oro's purpose is to “[offer] a unique environmental education and recreation opportunity in a highly populated area while promoting a wildlife conservation message” (About the Refuge).  The map on the sign in the refuge said to walk to the southwest corner and we’d be able to access the bosque.  Being a former dairy farm the area is a big flat expanse of square lots almost devoid of trees with the bosque proper due west.  We started walking across the refuge startling Killdeer that nested along the ditches on either side of the dirt road.  We didn’t actually go to the southwest corner but did access the acequia road and started our journey north (on the west side of the acequia but east of the Albuquerque Drain, which would present a problem later on).  To our right was the acequia and then a river drain to the left, then the bosque proper, so we walked between the acequia and the drain.  On the other side of the acequia, we noticed a series of houses.  Some were empty while others had flooded fields from the channels into their properties.  Some of the structures looked like they had been abandoned years ago, and at others we were greeted by barking dogs, but no one was outside.
Looking south-but no channels

Dilipadated House

(Unless explicitly stated, all the photos were taken by me during our hike.  Originally, I wanted to use just the pictures from the hike, but as this piece progressed realized I didn't have the right photo to match what I was wanting to write, so I delved into my archives and included some of those as well)
Nice house with a flooded yard

Looking south-channels going into private property

Though the owners can access the property, the general public cannot access it from the east side of the acequia

Just past this farm the acequia turns east
After a couple of miles, we had no choice but to follow the acequia as it meandered east way from the bosque.  The houses that we passed at this point looked recent; some even looking like they’d been transplanted from the midwest.  And one, looked like a Jewish Temple with a six pointed start jutting out from the roof.  It also had a large performance space too.  Even after veering away from the acequia to check it out we couldn’t really figure out what it was. 

The acequia was actually getting its water from the Barr Drain, and we followed the drain as it veered to a north/south direction after previously traveling east/west.  Crossing one road the drain began to circle back to the river and we entered the bosque proper at the Tijeras Arroyo (where the Bosque Bike Path terminates at the south end).

Not sure if this is a temple or a performance venue

Rio Bravo:

Tijeras Arroyo
If you paid attention to the map, you'd be fooled into thinking that there really isn't any trails to walk from the Tijeras Arroyo to Rio Bravo.  While it is lightly traveled, there are interesting areas to explore.  People have driven in almost to the river; there are a couple of foot bridges that seem to go nowhere and even when we get to the river, it is merely a channel with an overgrown island blocking the view of the main river channel and the other side.  
At the Rio-the main channel is to the west of this island

A bridge to nowhere (at least today)
About halfway between the Tijeras Arroyo and Rio Bravo Boulevard, we come across a fenced in area where, the sign says that the City of Albuquerque’s treated sewage dumps into the river.  There is evidence of a lot more traffic (as it is a popular fishing spot), and we can see the line in the river where the treated, dark blue to black water merges with the brown, muddy Rio.  Graffiti covered signs boast of the water being cleaner after going through the treatment plant than it was entering the city.  
Where ABQ's treated sewage meets the Rio
Back into the bosque, we hike on a social trail and eat mulberries along the way until we hit the parking area of the Rio Bravo Picnic area.  At the Rio Bravo picnic area, we pass a ghost bike on the bridge and two memorials in the bosque then follow the loop trail over to the river's edge. 

Ghost Bike
Winter 2015-2016
This bosque is lined north-south with jetty jacks  on the rivers edge and, in spots, lines that go east-west.   Clearly the Army Corp of Engineers hasn't begun the process of removing them from this area, and with the ones that are along the river's edge plants have grown up and through them.  

A Poem:
Jetty Jacks

Like crosses in a veteran’s cemetery,
cross purposes mark an historical time,
Jacks swept up the detritus of a river overfull,
barreling down the floodplain and spilling tree trunks,
leg and arm sized branches into fields flooded for irrigation,
houses built too close,
an ecosystem designed around a continuous, yet intermittent flood.

Oh Rio, your jetty jacks speak to a past that is no more,
a river tamed and forced into a sandy channel,
rising and stranding reed filled sandbars,
crucial habitat for red cane,
invasive tamarisk, fledgling cottonwood,
tufts of wild grass,
flocks of geese
and the dinosaurs that fly, the Sandhill Crane.

Oh Rio you are tame yet wild.
A river who’s ecosystem seems wild,
but holds the carnage of a civilization's attempt to hide your effects.
Lines of jetty jacks stand at the ready,
some covered and overgrown,
buried in sand and protruding like an archaeological ruin,
or twisted and misshapen like particularly cruel car wreck.
Nothing remains for you to hold at bay,
Yet you remain, stalwart and always at the ready
for a flood that may never come again
and if it did, the parched desert would welcome it,
embrace the flow of water keeping this parched section of land alive.

Winter 2015
Winter 2015

Spring 2016

Winter 2015

Spring 2016

Spring 2016

Winter 2015

Spring 2016

Winter 2015
Winter 2015

Winter 2015

Occasionally, people have clipped the guide wire so that bikers can pass, or hikers can get to the river.  This is a well traveled path, but no one seems to be out today as we push on determined to get to a specific spot, from having visited the area a lot, with a good view for lunch.  
Downtown Skyline with NHCC
At the river's edge, one can see downtown Albuquerque, and, from this vantage point, the Journal Theater at the National Hispanic Cultural Center looks like it is downtown as well.  It's not, but the view makes it seem like downtown is next to the river and not a couple of miles east of it.  The trail follows a canal, which goes into this fenced area.  A tall fence, the area looks very fortified and inside it one can make out canals, small ponds, power generators, and pumps.  Though not marked on the bosque side, the area is a project trying to preserve the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow.  

-Late Fall 2015-

In 1994, the minnow got listed as Endangered and through the years it has generated a lot of press and consternation in the water starved middle Rio Grande.  At one point a judge forced Albuquerque to release some of its share of San Juan-Chama water into the Rio to keep the river wet for the minnow.   From the layout, water is pulled from the east side drain, diverted to make shallow pools and then released back to the river.  The pools stand empty now and in the 9 months of walking the bosque consistently, I've never seen this facility used.   Even during the summer solstice the river doesn't seem to be in danger of running dry. 

In this stretch of the bosque, we always stop and pop out to take a look at the Glass Gardens (though I knew it as as the Glass Graveyard).  Scattered from the acequia road to just above the actual bosque the area is littered with small pieces of glass and ceramic that sort of glint and sparkle in the day light.  Set up above the bosque proper, there are many ways through this area to the acequia road.

The Glass Gardens
Glass Gardens-Winter 2015

Early July 2016
The area is a registered historic sight, but also points out to the other history of the bosque (especially this far south) as a sort of unofficial dump.  Besides bits of glass there is concrete detritus and rebar scattered about.  One time, I spotted a coyote sort of meandering in and out of the trees, and our dog always seems to stick pretty close to us around here as well.

In addition, this seems to be a pretty popular area for illegal camping.  On more than one occasion I've come up on a tent or seen somebody bike by with empty gallon water jugs.  One time, I actually passed two sheriff cars on the acequia and saw them walk into the bosque at dusk with their flashlights out assuming they were looking for the muttering guy that I passed on the trail.  

Many times I get the sense that this section of bosque is a bit more wild than other areas.  Yet the area also boasts a very vibrant Yerba Mansa patch under the canopy of trees.  Small white flowers, they have some medicinal use but to us, they shimmer in the sun and the patch seems to elude any good photos that I try and take.   
Yerba Mansa

Early July 2016

Early July 2016

Early July 2016

Early July 2016

We pass the Yerba Mansa patch, a nice shaded spot next to the river, pass a bunch of downed trees and then through a burned area and over a canal coming in from the east. 
A dead tree in a burned area -Winter 2016

Down from this canal we pass this really lush area that offers a respite from the sun.  

As this over growth breaks, there's more evidence of regular use:  a couple of benches, some social trails including one that goes up to the acequia road.  I've spotted a porcupine roosting a couple of times (I always assume it’s the same one) here.  But not today, the waterfowl are mainly ducks and geese and at this time of the hike, we seem to be the only people willing to brave the sun.  We're hot and just before the bridge we get into the water and finally coax Zoe into really getting in not just drinking and getting her feet wet.  
Winter 2015

Winter 2015
At Bridge (or Avenida Cesar Chavez) we pop out to use the restroom at the NHCC and get some paleta at Pop Fizz.  We've been walking for four hours and it's hot.

I did say it's hot right?


Bridge Boulevard:
From Bridge to Central on the east side, the bosque is very well traveled.  While it represents the closest bosque to our house, we've grown more fond of the west side at this point.  There's not as much traffic and it doesn't feel like it's been entirely manicured.  So after our paleta break we cross the bridge and duck into the bosque again on the west side.  
View from the bridge
While it does have some easy access, the jetty jacks are still standing and mark the river's edge.  It's a narrow bosque with a few amenities and downed trees making a bit of route finding (if you want to stay in the shade) a challenge. There’s a lot more invasive species:  Salt Cedar, Russian Olive, Mulberry, and Tree of Heaven.
Winter 2015-2016

Salt Cedar & Russian Olive
Spring 2016

Winter 2015
Access to Valle de Bosque Park
Late Winter 2016

But we push on.  At this point, Zoe is staying close to us.  I've got some blisters forming and I'm hot. The distance between Mindy and I has increased and Zoe runs up ahead of me, lays down in the shade and waits then does it again when I catch up.  I'm beginning to think this is a very bad idea, but we make it to Central.

Parking area on the west side of the Central Bridge

We're not going to make it as far as originally planned (Montaño) and we'll be skipping the stretch of the bosque on the west side at Central heading north, which is pretty fantastic.   
Spring 2016

Then there's the Atrisco Drain.
Atrisco Drain
Spring 2016

Spring 2016

So it’s back over the bridge to the very well used bosque at the Botanic Gardens.

Central Bridge
Spring 2016
Rio Grande from the Central Bridge looking north

Sandia from the Central Avenue Bridge

Central Avenue:
The trail from Central Avenue to I-40 was controversial.  Depending on who you ask, the biggest mistake the city made in widening it, making it more accessible, and moving it away from coyote dens, the river’s edge, nesting areas was not entirely vetting the trail through concerned parties.  It's a common theme of this mayor's administration.  While I believe he has good intentions, he just seems a little impatient and at the end of the day just does what he was planning on doing.  From a walker’s perspective, it is a nice trail-clearly marked, with easy access to the river in spots, and well used. 

-Spring 2016-

Sculpted/Manicured Accessible Trail just before I-40
-Winter 2015-2016-
And then we’re at I-40 and making a phone call to get picked up.  We’d been on the trail since 9 AM and it’s now just before 4 PM.  We’re hot, but the river is quickly accessible under the interstate, and the parking area is relatively easy to get to.  I’m out of water; my feet hurt, and I’m hot.  Zoe just jump in the river now and though she doesn’t get in over her head, she does wade in so that the river cools down her chest. 
Under the interstate
Under the interstate with the bike bridge
Spring 2016

Parking area at I-40 Bridge
Spring 2016

Albuquerque Riverside Drain
Spring 2016

Beginnings of the I-40 Bridge
Spring 2016

Parking area in Duranes next to the Interstate
Spring 2016

Spider at the trailhead under the interstate
Spring 2016

Spring 2016
Another Poem:
in the Rio Grande gorge, cottonwoods conspired with Russian Olives
pulled as much water out of the river before it merged with the Red.
Those pesky humans dumped chemicals,
mine tailings,
nitrate laden water,
agricultural runoff and top soil in their river.
They stopped it.
The trees conspired to change the flow of the river,
stored it up in new lakes,
had a highway of deer teamsters
carry the water down to the cottonwoods and Russian Olives
in small quantities and bottles
and not let anyone else have it.

in the depths of Elephant Butte, bass conspired with trout.
They tired of Jet Skis, tow boats,
water skiers and tubers,
top water lures and crank bait,
casual swimmers, three day weekend barbeques, 
and drunks.
The fish nibbled toes,
dragged innocent children down to the depths,
stuffed and mounted
them on water made walls.

in the Rio Grande Bosque, cranes conspired with ducks.
They turned on dogs, 
horseback riders, and joggers.
The cranes ignored the grain that BLM rangers left behind,
posted memos and trail signs,
organized field trips,
and erected educational walks for viewing:
bird watchers,
and the elderly.

 in El Paso, Texas and New Mexico water managers conspired to take more of the Rio water away from human farmers, pueblo communities, and the desert. If the courts can mediate a settlement,
Albuquerque can sprawl even more; El Paso can grow even larger; and the natural communities and habitats that depend on the Rio can fend
for themselves.

Deeds are written; titles notarized for water, a naturally occurring chemical compound.

End of Day 1