We spent last Saturday in Hembrillo Canyon, which really should be Hembrilla Canyon.
Mostly you can't get there, because it's within White Sands Missile Range. We learned, among other things, that 59% of the gypsum that gives White Sands National Monument its name is actually within WSMR, and just 37% in the Monument. We were duly instructed not to photograph any structures and also not to step on, kick, or pick up unexploded ordinance.
We went with the Native Plant Society, on an outing led by a fellow with one of the world's great jobs: Dave Anderson, WSMR's gardener. As WSMR's Land Manager, he gets to wander at will some very fine country that is exceptionally uncrowded. He was a fun and knowledgeable guide.
We visited the Range's northernmost population of Night-Blooming Cereus. Easily overlooked, this cactus has a very nice flower it deigns to show off only at night – and only on one night each year. Fellow Doña Ana Photography Club member Lisa Mandelkorn – who not only photographs flowers beautifully but takes the time to know what they are – has witnessed cereus flowering.
They're rare. There were only two previously tagged cereus in this “population.” Dave gave us a few minutes to wander around, and before we left there were three. They look about like an old stick someone discarded in the middle of a creosote bush.
Creosote is said to kill other plants; but some cacti like to grow beneath creosote. I'm not entirely sure whether the creosote as plant-murderer story is a myth or a truth with exceptions.
We wound our way up into the Canyon, seeing little evidence that it had shared much in the recent rains.
We ate lunch in a cottonwood grove that had been used for centuries. And decorated by centuries of visitors: it boasted both pictographs and petroglyphs. Mescalero Apache elders had identified the pictographs, but weren't too sure what earlier folks had left the petroglyphs.
We saw no great quantity of either; but what we saw were different from what I'd seen elsewhere; and the site's silence and solitude enhanced its appeal.
Other wonders we ran across included ancient agave roasting pits, some neat cactus, mystery agaves, and a sotol with a wren's golden nest protruding from its golden stalk. In addition, some of our stops to gawk at plants also yielded views of Lake Lucero and the white sands far below us, with black mountains looming in the background.
Our travels also took us to the battlefield where Victorio, determined not to be moved, held off the buffalo riders with a much smaller force.
It wasn't a long walk, but I turned back, guessing my week-old new hip might object to the climb. While Dave regaled the others with tales of tricks, triumph, and treasure, I sat in my truck doing the sudoku and enjoying a light rain.
Soon we reached the fabled Victorio's Peak and turned back, without getting out our shovels.
Within minutes thunderclaps were following the lightning strikes as closely as an NFL defensive back covering a wide-receiver. We abandoned photography and just drove. Fast.
The dry dirt road quickly became a raging river, making it a race to get to pavement while we still could. The waters were high enough that we got our feet wet -- in the truck.
A classic end to a New Mexico outing. As we headed for the exit from the Range, an oryx with two young-uns stood by the side of the road watching us curiously, but raced off into the hills after we stopped to return their stares.
[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 24 August in the Las Cruces Sun-News, though without the images.]