Drought Drags In

Ninety-eight days without measurable precipitation, with no rain or snow in the foreseeable future. Drought is creeping back into the High Plains, and everyone is wary, watching the dry grass, watching the sky, waiting for something and praying for rain or wet snow. The grasses are brown, the normal winter color. But the ground is starting to dry, and to blow.

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The Cat Hills

If you drive to Albuquerque, or fly in and look from the airport to the west, you will see a trip of low lumps on the horizon, and more low lumps to the south and west. Compared to the enormous wall of Sandia Peak and the Manzano Mountains to the east, they are pretty blah, and your eye may well travel past them to the distant masses of Mt. Taylor farther west, or the Jemez Plateau/caldera to the north.

Even I can hike these mountains.

To me, the Albuquerque Volcanoes and Cat Hills to the south are some of my favorite fire mountains. They are the city’s “domestic” volcanoes, and you can climb one of the three, for certain “scramble over lump of rock at your own risk” values of climb. They certainly are not spectacular like Mt. Taylor, or Mt. Ranier, or the Jemez. You go into Valle Grande, the central caldera northwest of Santa Fe, look around, think about the hundreds of feet of welded tuff that you passed on the way in, and gulp in awe. Especially when you realize that it’s not exactly extinct. The Albuquerque Volcanoes are rather more extinct. They are “fun size,” so to speak. Continue reading

When the Frost is on the Plains

An arctic cold front swept down on the High Plains last week, dropping us from the 50s to the teens. Yes, the high at Redquarters was 18 F with a wind chill of -2 F. We had very light snow flurries all day as the cold wrung what little moisture had managed to hang on out of the air. That night, the wind went calm, and an ice-fog settled over the world. It did not glaze the roads, thanks be, but everything else was fair game.

“Hoar” comes from an Old English and Old German word meaning noble. In German, the sense remains in the term Herr, which means sir, lord, or Lord (deity, as in Herr Gott). Hoary, in the sense of hallowed tradition, lingers in English and hoarfrost comes from the fact that the furry white ice looks like an old man’s beard. Continue reading

No Smoking, Or Else!

This spot was not beside the road when I went to work. It was most certainly there as I left.


Thanks be that the winds were calm. Two days before, a grass fire south of a public high school almost got really, really interesting thanks to 25 MPH winds gusting to 35. We could see the smoke from Barnes and Noble, and even from Redquarters. Continue reading

Put Castle Here

When you do something regularly for a while, or when your final exam grade depends on learning how to see and evaluate certain terrain and aquatic features, you develop a bit of skill. If your survival depends on reading the landscape properly, the learning curve is a lot steeper. And if you are exposed to something, even though you are not trying to learn how to read the land, after a while you start doing it. I can’t not evaluate a stream as I walk past it. And I can’t go through rolling or mountainous countryside without mentally adding strong points, choke-points, and castles. Continue reading

Winter’s Tawny Pelt

Brown shades are the Christmas colors of the High Plains. Each grass, reed, sedge, brush, and other plant sports its own sort of brown, from the soft, gold-touched gramas and spartinas to darker brown, almost black heads of wind-dried sunflowers. Grey-brown mice hide in the brown grasses, hiding from striped and spotted brown hawks and coyotes. The cold leaches other shades out of the plants, and the only evergreens shelter in the washes and canyons.

Any bright green tells you that someone is growing winter wheat. The other crops have been harvested, ground turned under or stalks left as trashy fallow. Cotton stalks sport a few white tufts, open bolls that refused to go quietly. The hard freezes reduce the chances that boll-weavels will survive, and so fallow is left to reduce wind erosion. Continue reading

The Drachental

Where is the Drachental? Does it really exist, or is it merely a figment of the author’s imagination? What about Schloß Hohen-Drachenburg?

The answer is “yes.” Joschka von Hohen-Drachenburg’s territory is based on several real places, but if you were to get a map of the Tyrol and Salzkammergut, you would not find it. There are fortress-houses in the region, and elsewhere in the Alps, that look like Schloß Hohen-Drachenburg, but none are “the” place. Continue reading