One of the big reasons driving my decision NOT to travel out of the country in 2015 was so that I would have more time exploring and re-exploring the region where I live. I’ve been fortunate to have spent much of my life out and about in the wildlands of the Southwestern USA thanks to my previous incarnation as an archaeologist and my love of backpacking. But I just wanted more time out there this year after spending so much time out of the country the past five years.

into the wilderness

A very large….very….Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

On Friday I was out on the western edge of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument here in northern New Mexico. You already know I love this region. I was with Roberta Salazar of the local conservation organization Rivers and Birds. Roberta and I both are members of the Friends of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument along with several other fabulous Taoseños. Our job was to survey possible Wilderness quality lands, map them, photograph them and eventually submit those findings to the Bureau of Land Management to help them better manage the lands in the national monument.

National Monument map available here

into the wilderness

A mass of moisture-laden air streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico kept us on our toes all day with building thunderstorms building here and there over the landscape that either collapsed or moved to the north of us into Colorado. It was much more reminiscent of our monsoon season – except that the monsoons don’t usually hit until mid-July.

into the wilderness

Heading into the wilderness we saw an impressive amount of wildlife. While bears and mountain lions do roam the area, we didn’t see any unfortunately. But we did see many pronghorn including the baby in the shot above. We also saw a Ferruginous hawk, the Red-tailed hawk above, a Golden eagle, a Prairie rattler (below), a million Horned larks (which are very hard to photograph) and a number of other birds we couldn’t identify.


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We also saw a number of petroglyphs and other signs of ancient inhabitants of this area. The panorama above shows a large circle made of lava rocks typical on the western side of the national monument. It was one of several. I do not know if they are tipi rings or if they were livestock pens from the Hispanic shepherds that used to run sheep in the area. San Antonio Mountain is in the center of the photograph and Ute Mountain is on the right.  Below is a section of an ancient hunting blind above what was once, in much wetter times, a small lake.

into the wilderness

And, speaking of wetter….we’ve had a very wet spring here in northern New Mexico.  And I’ve never seen the landscape this green.  Not that I can recall anyway.  The grasses were bright and every little divit was filled with one flower or another.

I’ll stop blabbing now and let the land speak for itself………..


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into the wilderness

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  1. Comment by Tony Walker

    Tony Walker Reply June 8, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Wow! I enjoyed the hike right along with you. Thanks so much, Jim. Such great shots as always.

  2. Comment by Jess Van Wickel

    Jess Van Wickel Reply June 8, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Outstanding Jim O! Terrific photo essay.

  3. Comment by Rosa Fernández Coto

    Rosa Fernández Coto Reply June 8, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    I like so much, it’s interesting

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply June 9, 2015 at 11:25 am

      Thank you Rosita! Creo que le gustaria aqui mucho!

  4. Comment by ron hagg

    ron hagg Reply June 9, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Once again, Jim just fabulous fotos. ron hagg

  5. Comment by Meg Peterson

    Meg Peterson Reply June 9, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Beautiful shots! I was out in the north west sector in late April and late May to document occurrence of Mountain Plover. They are there!

  6. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply June 9, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Meg I thought I saw plover. They were hard to photograph too! I need just a bit more patience….and a 600mm lens….. 🙂

  7. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply June 9, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you Jess! I hope things have calmed down for you guys out there!

  8. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply June 9, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks Kiva! We are so lucky to live here, no?

  9. Comment by Meg Peterson

    Meg Peterson Reply June 9, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    I have a new-to-me camera, tried it out, had perfect views for 10 minutes of a MtPL, clicked away, got home…nada! I know you're also a writer, but should I land a feature with BirdWatching Magazine on the MTPL, would you be interested in providing photos? $ is not great, however. See my website for my last article in BirdWatching,

  10. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply June 10, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Meg Peterson Yes. I would be VERY interested. I'll drop you an email through your site. Thanks Meg!

  11. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply June 10, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Meg Peterson I will drop you a FB message. Check both folders since we arent "friends". I didnt see an email on your website.

  12. Comment by Katie Featherstone

    Katie Featherstone Reply November 1, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Beautifully atmospheric photos Jim, thank-you.

  13. Pingback: The Economics of Conservation – Land Trusts Are Economic Drivers – Taos Land Trust

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