Big trees grow in a desert?

Not really a desert, but it sure resembles one in places.


Mescalero Sands seen in the distance. See white line along the horizon.


Mescalero Sands as seen from the air

Extending north-south along the western edge of the Mescalero Escarpment lies a vast sand sheet largely managed by BLM called the Mescalero Sands, reportedly named after the Mescalero Apaches who once hunted there   The Mescalero sands is home to two signature plants, shinnery oak and cottonwood trees.

Shinnery oak is a deciduous, low-growing, thicket-forming shrub that grows to be about 2 to 4 feet tall.  The leaves look like typical oak leaves in size, but on a very short “tree.” It is a bit disorienting.  Due to the normal sized-oak leaves, you almost feel like a giant walking through a stand of it.  Large subsurface structure grows beneath the surface expression of the shrubs (or trees).


Shinnery Oak

Shinnery oak has many benefits from an erosion control and wildlife habitat perspective, including providing habitat for the endangered sand dune lizard.  Unfortunately, its leaves are toxic to livestock for part of the year, and it out competes many species that provide better forage; as a result, ranchers tend to want to reduce shinnery oak coverage.

Another disorienting plant component are the large cottonwood trees spread about the dunes.  It is a strange sensation to see tall cottonwood trees growing amongst really tall sand dunes,  The dunes, some of which are really tall—up to 30 feet high as I recall—are slowly drifting across the landscape.


Cottonwood trees in the dunes.

If you wish to visit this area, it is best to go by the BLM office in Roswell to get directions and specifics.  There is also a BLM-managed ORV area for dirt bike enthusiasts.  Seasonally, the birding is interesting.  Lesser prairie chickens boom nearby in the spring.

Where is this magical place?  Sixty miles east of Roswell.


Note the two sandy patches east of Roswell.


How Time Can Change a Place…

Taiban is a small town about 100 miles north of Roswell and along the ATSF main line from Clovis to Albuquerque.  On the edge of town sits a lonely, forgotten church.

Checkout the City of Dust post for January 12, 2014–

Scroll down until you see the picture of the band in an old church.

I visited the First Presbyterian Church of Taiban in August of 1996 and took these pictures. It has changed–the mullions are gone as is a lot of paint. The climate of New Mexico is a bit hard on wooden structures, but they last a long time in that wet rot is rare.  Sorry for the quality of my pictures.  This is what happens when you attempt to take photos off a contact sheet.


Front window of the church. Note mullions were relatively intact. One too many storms have blown through!


Note degree of paint coverage in 1996. 

When you see something you would like to photograph, don’t wait too long.  The landscape is constantly evolving.

Modelling aided by aerial photography (Part II)

Let’s look how aerial images aided the track plan design “down at the station.” Here is the track plan segment (See February 16 post)–

Station track plan

Here is the aerial image of the same area–Aerial station and team

As you can see there is a little deviation from the actual configuration, but it is close.  The one green dot is the site where the flour tanks sat, and the flour was unloaded.  The twin green dots indicate the station.  (See February 15 post).  The three green dots mark E. 5th St.

Here is the view from E. 5th St–

station and team from 5th street

The green dot shows where the plastic pellets are unloaded on the team track.  Even though this photo is from 2013, covered hoppers filled with plastic were unloaded there in the 1990s as well.

Here is a view from the front of the station and closer to the team track–

Station and team from front

Note how the track plan roughly comports with the actual area.  (Also note the three covered hoppers on the team track.)

Again, it is not an exact replica, but it is close enough to be evocative of the Roswell I knew in the early 1990s (and largely modern-day Roswell for that matter).

Cool photo of the week

A load of flour (probably) possibly headed to Roswell in Skidmore, TX on September 22, 1979. Actually, I don’t know if the photo has any connection to Roswell or not. Probably not–the oddly named town of Skidmore is fifty miles … Continue reading