Reflections on a Weeklong Trip With Nature and Wildlife

The sky seems a little smaller today and the wildlife a little tamer.

We have just returned from a week long trip around New Mexico where we traveled through desert landscapes, hiked up mountains and hiked through dry riverbeds. We experienced nature and wildlife very different from what I had seen before.

We’ve lived in Atlanta for 25 years, so it was quite a change from our “city in the woods” where almost 50% of the city’s area is covered in trees. My husband and I were accompanied by our adult son who now lives in San Diego and is a little more familiar with the west. We like to go on family vacations where we can visit national parks and explore interesting ecosystems.

In New Mexico, everything was so huge and impressive. From Albuquerque we took the tram up Sandia Peak in the Sandia Mountains where we had spectacular views while watching parasailers soar into the endless sky. We then drove to Abiquiu, the city where artist Georgia O’Keeffe was so inspired.

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We stayed in a beautiful home in the middle of nowhere. The first thing that struck us was the beautiful scenery. Then we noticed the ants. Billions (I guess) tiny ants were marching all over the outside of the property. They carried away some of the native bees that had fallen on the ground near the house.

Immediately in front of the house, paths led to an arroyo, or dry creek bed. The owners warned us to avoid the area if storms were imminent due to the clear possibility of flash flooding. On the first day we saw a few rustles in the dried bushes, soaring birds of all shapes and sizes and many footprints in the sandy soil.

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We were following tracks trying to decide who had the gap tracks and whether we were walking behind roadrunners and following the trail of rabbits. Occasionally tracks met and we assume a snap or notch happened.

Once we were awakened in the middle of the night by an eerie and musical howl. We were told about the coyotes sharing the area so weren’t surprised to wake up the next morning to some pretty impressive paw prints just outside the back door.

My husband buried our compost as needed and found every morning that an animal had destroyed his work and was helping himself for breakfast.

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On our last morning hike before heading south into the state, we spotted a large snake curled up on the trail enjoying the warm morning sun. We kept well out of the way, but watched our steps a little more closely. After sending a photo to a snake identification app, my son confirmed it was a prairie rattlesnake.

Of course we have snakes and coyotes in Metro Atlanta, but we haven’t had such close encounters. At our home in the wooded suburbs we generally see squirrels and chipmunks and the occasional small snake and deer. It was a big day when we spotted a tiny shrew in the backyard.

beauty and sustainability

White Sands National Park.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

We were stunned by the beauty of Bandelier National Monument, where we hiked to a mostly dry waterfall and admired petroglyphs and cliff dwellings perched high in the rocks. The 1.5 mile hike to the falls and back changed 400 feet in elevation with steep drops and narrow trails. We only saw four other hikers. It’s so moving to be in the middle of such a beautiful amazing landscape and not surrounded by people, cars or noise.

Back home, our regular walks take us past houses and shops, along busy roads and many construction sites. There are roaring leaf blowers, barking dogs and blaring radios.

But for most of our adventure all was quiet. We trudged through mountains of gypsum crystals in White Sands National Park. We baked while pacing up and down the glowing hills, spotting beetles scurrying about in the dunes and dragonflies scurrying through the scrub.

In several places, people slid down the dunes on plastic coasters. My son pointed out what a wasteful use of plastic it was and hoped the sleds wouldn’t be thrown in the bin after the visit.

We talked about sustainability throughout the trip. So much has changed noticeably in our travel adventures in the last few decades. Every park had hydration stations and recycling bins, hotels encouraged guests to reuse towels, and tiny toiletries bottles are gone. We have refilled, recycled and composted as much as possible.

A big failing of our great adventure, as our son pointed out, was the more than a thousand miles we drove in our rental car. And there were so many huge trucks on the roads and highways.

Such a waste, says the young man, who rarely drives and hopes to return to city life, where he can get almost anywhere using his feet and public transport.

This will be great for keeping the sky cleaner and saving energy. And the coyotes and rattlesnakes can dance and bask in peace.

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