Showing posts from February, 2011

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Date: February 26, 2011
Location: northern Arizona

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument was established in 2000 on BLM land to protect the Paria Plateau, Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon, and Vermilion Cliffs.  The monument is a part of the Grand Circle and located between the Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Zion National Park.  The Vermilion Cliffs are seen from U.S. highway 89A, and the road travels along the base of the cliffs for several miles after crossing the Colorado River at the Navajo Bridge.

I did not get a chance to visit the monument other than driving by it on a rainy/snowy February day.  The most popular part of the monument is the formation known as the Wave in the Coyote Buttes section.  A permit is required to visit the Wave, and only a select number are available.

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.

Petrified Forest National Park

Location: east of Holbrook, Arizona
Date: February 25, 2011

Petrified Forest National Park in eastern Arizona is easily accessed from Interstate 40.  The park road can be driven only while the park is open.  The park's petrified trees date from the Late Triassic about 225 million years ago.

From exit 311 on Interstate 40, the park road goes past the visitor center, Painted Desert Inn, and several overlooks of the Painted Desert, which is quite colorful.  From here the road goes south and passes several pullouts, many with overlooks and short trails.  These include Puerco Pueblo, Newspaper Rock, The Tepees, Blue Mesa, Agate Bridge, Jasper Forest, and Crystal Forest.  My favorite of these places was Blue Mesa where the road and short trails went along the top of the mesa, providing views of the badlands and grasslands below, as well as petrified trees.  At the southern end of the park are Long Logs, Agate House, and Giant Logs, where you can see some enormous petrified trees.


El Morro National Monument

Location: western New Mexico
Date: February 25, 2011

The most prominent feature at El Morro National Monument is a sandstone cliff that looks out of place in the surrounding environment.  At the base of this cliff is a small pool of water.  This pool turned El Morro into a stop along an ancient trail that was used for centuries by Native Americans, Spanish explorers, and early Americans.

Many of the people who passed by here left their own mark near the pool on the cliff walls on what is now called Inscription Rock.  The U.S. Army frequented El Morro in the mid-1800s during and after the Mexican-American War.  In the dry Southwest the Army actually experimented using camels instead of horses and brought them to El Morro, but during the Civil War the camels fell into Confederate hands and the experiment was ended.

On top of the cliff are the ruins of an ancient 80 room pueblo that dates from around AD 1275 and probably housed as many as 1500 people.  A two mile paved loop trail takes …

El Malpais National Monument

Location: western New Mexico
Date: February 25, 2011

El Malpais National Monument is a landscape including many volcanic features including cinder cones, craters, lava flows, caves, and other formations.  Much of the area is a landscape similar to Craters of the Moon National Monument, but perhaps with more diverse features and fewer people.

I only stopped at the Junction Cave area, where the caves have been closed recreational use.  Just west of here is the Bandera Crater ice caves, which are privately owned and open to the public.  There are few trails in the monument, and on the eastern side of the monument are the most scenic areas: the Sandstone Bluffs and La Ventana Natural Arch.

While the national monument is managed by the National Park Service, much of the surrounding land is managed as the El Malpais National Conservation Area by the Bureau of Land Management.  A short distance west of the monument is El Morro National Monument.

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights …

Petroglyph National Monument

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Date: February 25, 2011

On the border of Albuquerque is a basalt escarpment formed from past eruptions of volcanoes, a few of which are located within Petroglyph National Monument.  On these rocks are over 20,000 images of a wide variety of subjects, including people, animals, and mysterious figures that were made as long as 3,000 years ago.

Petroglyph National Monument has four sections with trails where you can see the petroglyphs.  These sections are: Volcanoes, Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon, and Piedras Marcadas Canyon.  I only had time to visit Boca Negra Canyon, which has petroglyphs around the parking area and a short trail to the top of the bluff overlooking Albuquerque.

The monument was created in 1990 at possibly the latest time to protect the petroglyphs.  The development of Albuquerque today comes directly up to the monument's border, and a four lane highway was built by the city across a section near Boca Negra Canyon.

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Organ Mountains, NM

Location: east of Las Cruces, New Mexico
Date: February 22, 2011

The Organ Mountains located in south central New Mexico are a popular hiking and climbing destination for local residents.  The mountains are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and southeast of White Sand National Monument.

I arrived just before sunset on a February evening and left early the next morning on my way to White Sands, so I did not get to do any hiking.  I stayed at the Aguierre Springs Campground on the east side of the mountains overlooking White Sands Missile Range.  Entry to the Organ Mountains is prohibited after dark, although campers can leave but not return.  The mountains have 860 plant species, making them the most biologically diverse mountain range in New Mexico.

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.

White Sands National Monument

Location: 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico
Date: February 22, 2011

In southern New Mexico at the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert between the cities of Alamogordo and Las Cruces is a vast, largely empty area that is the White Sand Missile Range.  Within the missile range is a field of pure white sand dunes - White Sands National Monument.

The dunes here are made of gypsum, a mineral that is soluble in water.  They were formed when water dissolved gypsum in the surrounding mountains, flowed to the valley, and evaporated, leaving the gypsum behind.

An eight mile long park road heads into the dune fields and has three short trails along it.  One of the trails is a flat, accessible boardwalk while the other two traverse the parabolic dunes, one of four dune types in the park. At the end of the road is a picnic area among the transverse dunes.  The parabolic dunes can have quite a bit of vegetation on them, but there is rarely any on the transverse dunes because plants cannot kee…

Patagonia Lake State Park

Location southeast Arizona
Dates: February 20-21, 2011

Patagonia Lake State Park is in southeastern Arizona about 50 south of Tucson and 10 miles north of Mexico. The park is just south of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon.

What Patagonia Lake is known for, and the reason of my visit, is that in recent years it has been the winter home of a single male elegant trogon.  The elegant trogon is a beautiful bird native to this corner of Arizona and sections of northern Mexico.  Like much of this part of Arizona, the park also regularly has other birds that are a rare sight in the United States.

I arrived late on an unusually cold and windy February afternoon, set up camp, and walked around the lake to see what birds I could find.  But because of the weather I was only able to see some waterfowl and grackles.

The next morning I went on a guided walk around the upstream end of the lake.  These walks are free and offered weekly for part of the year.  The guide pointed out all of th…

Tumacácori National Historical Park

Location: Tumacácori, Arizona
Date: February 20, 2011

Just off Interstate 19 south of Tucson, Tumacácori National Historical Park protects three Spanish mission communities.  The only section I visited was the Mission San Jose de Tumacácori, which dates to the 18th century.

The mission here was established in 1691 as a Jesuit mission.  At the site you are able to explore the ground and the mission and its buildings as well as the museum.

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.

Madera Canyon

Location: southeast of Green Valley, Arizona
Date: February 20, 2011

Madera Canyon is on the northwest side of the Santa Rita Mountains in Coronado National Forest south of Tucson, Arizona.  Rising above the canyon are Mount Wrightson at 9,453 feet high and Mount Hopkins, which has the Smithsonian's Wipple Observatory on its summit.  The mountains in this area are known as sky islands because they support unique biomes that are stepping stones between the Rocky Mountains in the United States and the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.

While Madera Canyon is a destination for various forms of recreation, their main draw is its unique assemblage of birds, including many species unique to only Mexico and this corner of Arizona.  But perhaps the highest profile species found in southeastern Arizona (not necessarily Madera Canyon) are the jaguar and ocelot, which garner rare sightings.

Being February, I did not expect to see a plethora of bird life, so I planned to do some hiking and oc…

Saguaro National Park

Location: Tucson, Arizona
Date: February 20, 2011

Saguaro National Park is divided among two units, one east and one west of Tucson.  The park is named for the saguaro, the large cactus characteristic of the Sonoran desert.

I only visited the eastern section of the park where there is a one-way loop road through some of the lower elevations of the park.  There are few maintained trails close to this road, although washes also act as trails, and I only walked around the short paved loop Desert Ecology trail.  On this trail I saw several plants and animals I had not seen before, including the pyrrhuloxia and curve-billed thrasher.  After this trail the road does gain some elevation where you can get decent views of the Tucson valley.

A more extensive network of trails exists in the higher elevation areas that are managed as wilderness well to the east of the Cactus Forest Drive.

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.

Joshua Tree National Park

Location: southeast California
Date: February 18-19, 2011

Joshua Tree National Park in southern California sits at the border of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.  The Mojave desert is in the park's northern, western, and higher elevation parts while the Colorado desert (a sub-region of the Sonoran Desert) is in the southern, eastern, and lower elevations.  The change between the two deserts is dramatic and very noticeable as you drive the Pinto Basin road through Wilson Canyon.

The Mojave desert primarily encompasses a portion of California and southern Nevada and is characterized by the park's namesake Joshua tree.  The odd shape of these plants led Mormon settlers to name the tree after a biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands to the sky in prayer.  Joshua trees can be confused as a type of palm, but they are not even true trees.  Rather, they are a giant tree-sized yucca.

The trees are found exclusively in the Mojave desert in small areas of California, Nevada, …