Big trees grow in a desert?

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

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Note the two sandy patches east of Roswell.

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