Jodi Hedderig, manager of the Open Space Visitor Center, describes the area’s bosque as “a forest supported by a riparian environment — in the desert.” While I was in Albuquerque, I rented bicycle and drove through the Bosque stopping wherever I could to see the river. The riparian landscape was very wild here and there are actually few places where you can get an unobscured view of the Rio Grande. Every now and again, I would find an area where you could pear through the trees and underbrush to catch a glimpse of the water beyond. Not only do these wild banks provide habitat for the many creatures that live here, they are an oasis from the strong sunlight of the desert southwest. I would come across a section like this and feel like I was in some secret little haven, as I watched the beams of light dance on the water.
At one terminus of the Paseo del Bosque bike trail was the Alameda Open Space. I stopped my bicycle there and sat on a bench looking at the river and also the trees that provided welcome shade. The pattern of light through the foliage and the way the shadows intersected on the forest floor were beautiful. I met a young man who'd been bicycling the trail for the past six years and took photos here of the forest and river in every season. To get to know a forest so intimately sounded very special.
This tree was in the Rio Grande Nature Preserve. Many in the forest have thinner trunks, but the old ones grow up to 90 feet in height with trunks that measure five feet across. This tree is also known as the water tree, since it signals the presence of water. The one in the image above was truly magnificent. Sadly, these trees are under assault in the desert southwest. According to an article my Jay Sharp in Desert USA, "Along rivers and streams throughout the Southwest, man has dammed, re-channeled and regulated stream flow, often holding back the spring floods which would otherwise disperse Rio Grande cottonwood seeds and water the river bottoms. He has drawn down water tables, putting them beyond the reach of Rio Grand cottonwood roots. He has cleared watersheds, allowed detrimental salt and mineral buildups, developed roads, opened mines, effected intense overgrazing, polluted the water, trampled and overrun new forest growth, introduced aggressive alien species, and eliminated or severely reduced beavers and other wildlife. The Southwest’s riparian forests are now among the most threatened woodlands of North America." He regards this tree's disappearance as a metaphor for man's abuse of the desert. Fortunately, riparian wildness was still evident in this stretch of the Bosque in Albuquerque. See these banks and some of the many creatures that exist here made me realize how important it is to preserve open spaces here and all across the country.
Trees provide habitat for the many creatures that live in the Bosque. When I was in the Rio Grande Nature Preserve, I came across this roadrunner who kept me company for about twenty minutes. He would venture out holding this lizard and then dart back to the roots of the tree to camouflage himself.
In an article in American Forests magazine, the cottonwood was referred to as the heart of the Bosque. "The cottonwood trees, with heart- or triangular-shaped leaves, are sometimes referred to as the heart of the bosque, as they provide critical habitat for many of the birds, mammals, insects, spiders and crustaceans of the riparian ecosystem. Resident birds of the bosque include Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, roadrunner and a variety of hummingbirds, woodpeckers and owls. Porcupines rest high in the branches of cottonwood trees, and toads seek shelter in the leaf litter on the forest floor." (http://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/beauty-of-the-bosque/)
In 1970, a parishioner carved this statue of the Virgin in a cottonwood tree, no doubt indicating the importance of this tree to the region. It is on the grounds of the 300-year-old San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town, the oldest church in Albuquerque.