When I was first planning my move to the southwest, I expected desert. Desert dryness, desert hotness, desert cacti. I expected no relief from heat and sun.
Now, after more than two months in my new home, I am thoroughly impressed with the diversity of habitats and plant communities in this corner of the southwest.
Of course there are dry areas, like where the cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) live…
… and expanses of sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).
But with an increase in elevation, real trees grow, like pinon (Pinus edulis) and juniper (Juniperus spp.), along with a diversity of grasses.
With even higher elevation, Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) takes over. Some places they are small and crowded from fire suppression, with a dense, soft layer of needles dropped at their feet.
In other places they grow in picturesque, park-like and open woodlands, full of grasses and flowers.
Then there are the aspen (Populus tremuloides), growing high in the mountains, and reminding me that the Sangre de Cristo Mts. near Santa Fe are the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains.
Along with habitat diversity, the weather has also surprised me. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, where summer begins with absolutely soggy soil soaked from months of winter rain that slowly, slowly dries out to a crispy fall, experiencing the monsoon rains and afternoon thunderstorms has been exciting. Here, clouds build so fast that it’s important to keep one eye on the sky when out scouting or collecting seed a few miles up a dry dirt road that could quickly turn nasty after a downpour.
Becoming familiar with the diversity of small herbaceous plants living among the larger and more distinctive species in all the diversity of habitats has been a fun and engaging challenge. As the monsoon rains continue to pour down on us, I’m looking forward to the new growth and seed the moisture will bring!
Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM