...Continued from Saturday's post, The Trail to La Cueva...
As we hiked along the trail to La Cueva, we could look out across the Mesilla Valley and the city of Las Cruces.
Then we turned a corner, and could smell and hear water right away. This is a talent that quickly develops when you live in an arid environment like our Chihuahuan Desert.
Looking down the trail, we could see that we were going to be walking down into an arroyo, or small canyon. This one, according to our trail map, was called Ice Canyon.
Even on a winter afternoon, the thin air at this altitude can be quite hot, so we were happy to sit for a moment in the cool, damp shade on this stone bench.
Heading down the trail, we began to see what the trail guide meant by two distinct habitats on the sides of the arroyo.
As you can see in the above photo, trees and shrubs were growing on the left, or north-facing side of the arroyo. The right, or south-facing slope featured the familiar cacti and desert shrubs we are more used to seeing in the desert.
Water and rainfall from flash floods is channeled in this arroyo from the Organ Mountains to the Rio Grande. Because the soil remains moist longer in the arroyo than in the desert (and the water table is higher), the arroyo supports diverse plant, animal, and bird life. In this arroyo, you will see different trees (oaks, netleaf hackberries, and hop trees) and shrubs (seepwillows, sumacs, and grape vines) than in the desert. The hackberry and seepwillows require a permanent water source and are common indicators of desert riparian areas. What a contrast between the ocotillos and desert shrubs on the opposite slope! It is easy to see that arroyos provide a cool protected corridor for wildlife to traverse from the mountains into the desert. (from La Cueva Trail Guide, Bureau of Land Management BLM-NM-GI-98-008-1230. Available at the Dripping Springs Visitor Center).
As we continued down the trail through the arroyo (missing the sign for our intended trail to the cave itself) I was thinking about 1) those water bottles that I had improvidently left behind in the car and 2) the wildlife whose transportation corridor we were trespassing in and 3) whether there were any hungry mountain lions around...
Tomorrow: Back on the right trail, and a visit to the cave