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Wildlife in the Pecos

September 16, 2011

Day dawns over Middle Truchas Peak and Rio Quemado Basin, Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

My time and energy for photography and photoblogging has been limited of late, but I did get out a couple weeks back for a quick overnight into the Trampas Lakes in the Pecos Wilderness. I’d been there before, and I was coming not for the lakes, which are nice but not amazing, but because the ridges above Las Trampas provide the easiest access to views of the Truchas Peaks. The Truchas are New Mexico’s second highest and (I would say) most spectacular group of mountains, and their substantial distance from trailheads leaves them seldom visited or photographed. The only photo I have ever been paid for came from this area, and the sale was certainly due to the scarcity of Truchas images, not to the quality of my old scan from color film. I’ve been wanting to get back in there for quite a while to have a better go at the place.

A pre-dawn slog up to the ridge left me looking down on the lights of the Espanola Valley, almost 7,000 feet below, waiting for dawn to break.

Sunrise on Sheepshead and Jicarilla Peaks, Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

I wanted to get out fairly early on this trip, so after the morning light had settled I dropped down a steep gully heading towards the lake. Halfway down, I became aware that I was not alone. A bighorn ewe and a young male were watching me from the cliffs:

Bighorn sheep in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness

A little further down, some big rams were enjoying the morning:

Bighorn rams in Las Trampas canyon, Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

After I had been still for five minutes or so while photographing the rams, the slopes around me began to come alive with chirps and movement. Dozens of pikas were running about, gathering their winter stores. Once I figured out where a couple of caches were, I was able to stake them out.

A pika gathering winter stores, Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico

Pika in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness

Another fine fellow happened by:

The bighorns and pikas were already making me feel like a Disney character, but I really began rolling my eyes when a large, round black shape emerged from the gully I had descended and lumbered across the slopes above me:

A black bear in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness

The morning’s bucolic atmosphere was somewhat shattered when I returned to my camp site. Many New Mexicans, alas, are not good stewards of their land, and the campable areas around the lakes were pretty trashed with fire rings and garbage. I seldom build fires in the wilderness myself, but I had camped among the rings rather than setting up in a more pristine area, and I had planned to pack out what trash I could manage. But when I returned to camp, not ten feet from my tent a trio of bighorns were rooting through old ashes, chewing obsessively on blackened cans like addicts desperate for a fix. They were not a bit willing to move, but by moving slowly, watching them and speaking calmly I was able to pack up my gear without conflict. It was a shame to see such impacts and animal behavior in such a beautiful corner of wilderness. Items I carried out included numerous blackened cans, a broken umbrella, the plastic thing from a six-pack, a glow stick and most of a can of Pringles, damp and leathery from the previous night’s rain. Las Trampas could really use a good crew of volunteers for a clean-up project; but even more it could use a little respect from visitors.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2011 8:32 am

    Wow…this is an impressive set of images Jackson! Very cool. The only place I’ve been with a density of mammals like this is the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, where I once counted 13 species in one morning.

    A shame about all the trash in your campsite. I helped clean up campsites in the Weminuche Wilderness of southern Colorado many years ago; we worked to get rid of excess fire rings, etc. About a month after the trip, I backpacked into the area again, only to find it nearly as trashed as it was before the project began. Alas.

    New Mexico has an amazing diversity and density of wildlife!

    -Greg

  2. kavumatt permalink
    October 15, 2011 9:01 pm

    What a great picture! I also agree with your comments about irresponsible campers. It’s unfortunate to go to a place that should look “untouched” and find trash everywhere. Regardless, a beautiful photo of the lamb!

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