Thursday, July 29, 2010

Coming Back

Some scenes from this morning's hike above the Supper Rock area of the Sandia foothills. Where every day is a Doug West serigraph:
You can note the amount of cloud build-up within 1 hour's time. Our dewpoint is about 60F, and it is headed towards 90F, quite typical for the monsoon season in Abq once more, with storms firing up rapidly in this warm, moist airmass. And I am happy to have refrigerated AC inside...

Some of the Grama grasses are JUST greening up (Blue, Sideoats Grama), while others need more time to recover from some past dry weather (Black Grama), drier than even is normal here. Some Desert Marigold / Baileya multiradiata are also coming back, with fresh foliage "fuzzies", with surely more to come.

Just look at all that moisture moving through our area, now. Greening up is not far behind.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monsoon - the Real Deal!

Our over 2 week-long pattern of heat finally changed to that of a deep, southerly moisture flow; an upper low and stalling cold front helped, too. Enjoy the weather pattern change from our house.


Saturday morning:

Saturday afternoon:

Passive water harvesting working again! 

The arroyo bordering our property, looking S: 

And looking NW:
This change was most welcome, as it appeared to have started to our south and west a couple weeks ago, though it was not consistent there, so far. The Sunday and Monday rains were gentle and soaking, but even the heavier Saturday afternoon deluge soaked in where swales and basins were created to capture it. The high humidity, with dewpoints rising over 60F for 3 days, helped as well.

During this monsoonal moisture surge, we received 1.60" of rain, bringing our July total to 2.05". With the monsoon pattern continuing this week, we may hit our monthly average of about 2.5"!

Friday, July 23, 2010


My house was 102F yesterday, and so was the Abq Sunport, barely setting a record high for the day. But do you see this satellite map from today?

Today, it became noticeably more humid and cooler, down to 96F for a high so far. To me, it looks like the monsoonal pattern is setting up right over us, after teasing southern AZ for the last week, but mocking NM.

Note "pattern", not isolated event of a few hours or 2 days. The monsoon brings Abq about half of our yearly precipitation, from July to mid-Sept.

Stay tuned to see if this is for real!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Al Fresco

Last week, the cool of the evening was enjoyed on the patio of an Old Town client who I consult for. Down to a relatively cool 92F from 100F, we enjoyed fresh foccacia bread, wine, cheeses, and his gracious hospitality:

Clouds, adobe architecture, and a shade ramada conspired to provide a great dining space for the owner (in the raspberry shirt), my wife, and her brother visiting from Seattle.

And today, I needed to take advantage of a rare time when the sun is not casting blinding light and dark shadows to get some pics. So, my foccacia, olive oil; freshly picked rosemary (from our crib earlier), and menchego cheese have to wait.

The gate into his kitchen patio where we sat:
Just some of his many different plants in his collection...Crepe Myrtle, Desert Willow, Oneseed Juniper, and Lavender Spice included.

Since April 2009, I have been assisting him to slowly unify his eclectic landscape that includes so many good plants used ineffectively, especially where their design does not convey relaxation, but rather, chaos and disarray.

My client did a great job with laying out his hardscape, accessories to bring life to his outdoor living spaces, and selecting the vast majority of his plants for his sandy loam soils, hot valley location. But again, my job is to help organize it all, including what to delete, add to, or just add new, native and adapted plants he does not have. It is nice NOT to have to draw or design, but rather, guide his design.

Massing plants, by replacing dead plants and adding to existing ones that still work, is starting to fill in this deep shade:

Lookins south towards the client's kitchen:

Looking SW towards the end of his tight property:
Korean Boxwood and Mondo Grass already in place in deep shade, for all-year interest; crusher fines path remaining.

Outside along the street, just 10 feet from where the last photos were taken, you would have to open these great antique shutters to see in...privacy:  

Outside his home's entry, along the crushed gravel driveway, that allows stormwater to soak in, instead of run off...very important in this flat valley location on a tiny lot:
Sideoats Grama in a sweep, echoing the low, curved entry wall, leading to some tough plantings - Rockrose (Mediterranean native) and Ceniza (Chihuahuan Desert and TX Rio Grande plains native). The many trunks of Desert Olive help echo the low wall from behind it.

Entry to a small, sitting area at the south end of his driveway:
Another myriad of plantings, under a rustic wood arbor, protected from the desert sun by a Silk Vine, to draw one inside for a look.

He also has 2 adobe guest casitas that he rents as lodging, but without breakfast or food served, complete with their own courtyards, to the east:

He has cleaned up some of the crossing branches on his shrubby small trees throughout his property, as per my direction, including this Arizona Rosewood. It now nicely juxtaposes with the adobe casita, the blue window frame, and a Beargrass.

Yes - plenty of work to do - paring down the existing design w/ more removals, to help his eclectic garden reveal it's potential far more: 

The home's interior already is reaching that potential; now it is the exterior spaces' turn!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Trail Obstacles

Rarely on my early mountain bike rides, I see a snake. Today, I barely missed running this one over, zipping downhill S of Embudo Canyon:

It looks like a Prairie Rattlesnake Western Diamondback Rattlesnake to me, about 4' long and 3/4" wide, which I have also seen on rides relaxing in the shade right on the trail, as well as near our garage. One REALLY has to watch what they are riding into here:

I was as glad as the snake was that I did not ride too close...rattles:

This rattler was heading to a hole, in the shade of some brush just off the trail. Like me, it was time to go inside with the cool of the morning over. And neither of us wished to bother the other. It worked out great!

But the snake's work is done for the day, while mine was about to begin. Unless a Roadrunner or Bullsnake comes by for lunch...

Escape Artist

Years ago on a winter ride N of Supper Rock, I spotted a small coniferous tree. It was a different color than our native Oneseed Juniper:
It was even smaller then, it had no fruit, and the bark had not developed. I suspected Alligator Juniper at first (which occurs just across the mountains from here, on the east side). But the way the branching and foliage looked, I also thought it might be a variety of Arizona Cypress. The latter is a VERY common, very tough evergreen conifer planted in Abq, especially in older neighborhoods starting a mile west. 
While on a recent sunrise ride with my wife and a neighbor, I had to check it out. From the cool of the morning (meaning under 90F), today. It now stands 8-10 feet tall. With true Cypress-looking foliage and large, cone-like fruit = Arizona Cypress / Cupressus arizonica:
And the splendid exfoliating bark, plus bluish foliage, that the typical Arizona Cypress does not have. That would make it Smooth-Barked Arizona Cypress / C. arizonica var. glabra:
Heading back to the rest of my ride, before the sun comes out and it starts to bake.

Unlike Class C noxious weed favorites Siberian Elm and Russian Olive, this is a regionally native tree from a different part of the same ecoregion I am riding through - the Arizona - New Mexico Mountains. But with only spotty occurences, at least from what I have read and seen, in it's vast range. It is longer-lived than the above, grows rapidly, and requires less moisture than other trees commonly used locally...yes, it is tougher to our conditions than something from frigid and/or boggy places in central to east Asia. 

Too bad Arizona Cypress simply grows too large for most residential properties under irrigation, but it is good for large areas - windbreaks, or edges of parks, ballfields and golf courses. To think this is the only example of this species escaping cultivation to-date, of a widely-planted tree in Abq, is amazing.

Also amazing is how the City of Abq does not allow it to be planted within the city limits, since the male plants produce pollen, like many other native species also do...

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Yesterday, I took a retired colleague from Santa Fe to some places nearby, to show off our diversity of natural environments.

La Cueva - the base of the Sandia Mountains, 9:00 AM:
He had lived in the region many more years than my 18 but had never been here.

In fact, from discussions about places visited, not to mention looking at their landscape "design" choices, most Abq natives - even those living in the Heights - have never been here, thereby exposing them to a more appropriate inspiration for their own properties.

A short "flight" up on the tram, and at about 9:45 AM, voila - the Sandia Crest:
Misty, cool...4 life zones cooler, 4000'+ higher in elevation than the start of the tram ride or nearby La Cueva. That's similar to going deep into the interior of Canada from the land of roadrunners and yuccas, only in minutes and not travelling 2000+ miles. 

Moss covering a Douglas Fir trunk:
Every plant species on the 2+ mile high Sandia Crest is completely irrelevant to outdoor living spaces in Albuquerque. No matter the countless aspens and montane flowers forced into the Duke City each year.

But even up on top, while savoring thinner, refreshingly cool air, one can still learn. Such as how rocks are set in the ground, how they group with plants, or how some colors work. And at least as importantly, getting one's fix of cool-green-damp out of their system, instead of ruining Abq and their water usage by bringing it down to the desert city below, in futility.  Finally, there's silence, instead of the hum of air conditioning.

All this, so the mind is free to concentrate on our rocks, our forms, our plant species, our colors, and our spare, dry and striking compositions we desert dwellers can have.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Room With a View

One of the rock houses built for cool shelter using indigenous materials - granite boulders. A 1930's WPA project in the Sandia Foothills.

But what else lies inside, or outside?

Starting with Beargrass / Nolina texana at front stage. A deceptively grassy succulent, with distant views through, towards arid lowlands beyond.

Not sure if the rock houses and buildings at La Cueva Picnic Area were what gave the place it's name (La Cueva is Spanish for "The Cave"), as the structures do resemble caves, or if there are some unlisted caves nearby?

Inside, the main doorway looking E...note how the view out lines up with some of the granite pinnacles of the Sandias, and the softening green of live oaks in the foreground?
Another view, facing S. It feels so cool inside, contrasting miles of sunny, rugged foothills, and typical Madrean vegetation at it's northernmost expression in central NM.
I am fortunate to live near such jewels that inspire so much!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Study Sketches - Boulder City

For most projects, I first do study sketches of important landscape elevations and sections, before I even start a design in plan - this is the Bureau of Reclamation's "Boulder Canyon Operations Office".  

The south side and main building entry:
Option 'B', with small, spreading trees (think Catclaw Acacia, Mesquite, Desert Willow) is more likely to be sustained than Option 'A', with fewer medium trees (think Arizona Ash, Cottonwood).

The more generous landscape areas lie adjacent to the building:
Irrigation is being planned via passive and active water harvesting; temporary irrigation is only for the 1st year of establishment, to satisfy LEED criteria. The materials palette developed for this project includes locally-native species to this part of the Mojave Desert.

I am known to "take up the gauntlet", and at least it is wetter at this site than Death Valley...

I did more sketches of more areas, but this should give you a rough idea; I did not do any study sketches for the landscape beyond the building, as it is mostly parking. With 5" of average annual precip in Boulder City, there are few options out there!

Now, the west side and patio area:

Again, the 'B' option creates more of a meaningful oasis for the patio space, in the manmade canyon formed by 3 sides of the building.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Apricots & Thermal Belts

Too bad I don't like the taste of apricots! This is one apricot tree of many in the neighborhood, growing over a wall along Copper Av, E of Tramway, taken earlier this morning:

They fruit reliably in many foothills areas of Albuquerque.

This is a decent crop, though perhaps a week or two late. In more favorable years, I have seen trees in this area produce even more fruit, the ripe apricots really weighing down a tree's branches. 

Why are the higher thermal belt areas good for fruit trees prone to late freezing, compared to what are perceived as warmer valley locations?

Thermal belts are better places to grow a larger variety of fruit trees, plus many ornamental plants, than most lower or valley locales. At least in the west. While lower areas are warmer in the winter and warm up faster in the spring (causing plants to flower and fruit early), they are also more susceptible to cold air drainage on still nights, while thermal belts stay warmer during those late cold spells.