Here’s what we’re planning for Flocks and Rocks 2020!
This adventure will begin at the Albuquerque NM Airport and venture southwest into the White Mountains of Arizona, Aldo Leopold’s first duty station with the U.S. Forest Service, and the inspiration for some of the most poignant images in his classic A Sand County Almanac. The White Mountains are volcanic in origin, as befits their locations along the Jemez lineament, but to get to them we must journey down the Rio Grande rift for 70 miles on Day 1. Both the rift and the lineament are familiar to some of us from our 2017 trek.
These very disparate geologic features produce plenty of habitat diversity, which gives us an immense variety of plants and animals to meet. We spend our first two nights in Water Canyon, a well-watered gash in the back side of a fault block mountain range (the Magdalenas) created when the Rio Grande rift subsided 22,000 feet in the Tertiary. We’ll spend the cool morning hours of Day 2 exploring wetlands and desert at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and then we’ll find more cool air by driving to the top of the Magdalenas in the afternoon.
Day 3 takes us 150 miles west along US 60 (an “ocean to ocean” highway) to Arizona. We’ll stop in the Plains of San Agustin at the VLA visitor center to learn about the otherworldly Very Large Array, the world’s largest radio-telescope, which stretches for miles around us. Then we drive past the aptly named Sawtooth Mountains as well as through aptly named Pie Town (dessert anyone?) to the center of Leopold’s Arizona world, Escudilla Mountain. We’ll note the remains of the fire-ravaged spruce-fir forest on the mountain slopes and camp in the luxurious grassland on the “loop” road 56, about 1000 ft below and three miles south of the summit of Escudilla Mountain. The springs there will fuel a chorus of frogs, and perhaps rails, as we get used to the brightest starscape we have ever seen. We’ll read about the grizzly who once roamed this mountain and how it inspired Leopold’s classic essay “Thinking Like a Mountain,” a paean to his Land Ethic. The next day those unbothered by the thin air at 9,000 feet can ascend the three miles to the fire look-out and share the panoramic views. Excellent views can be had only one mile up this trail.
Day 5 will take us to nearby Springerville for provisions and up into the White Mountains for a look at the vast subalpine grasslands that inspired Leopold’s essay “On Top.” Perhaps we’ll find Frijole Cienega or “the boneyard.” Then we’ll return to “civilization” at Alpine and drive a few miles south to Hannagan Meadow, another spruce-fir site. From the campground one can look west onto the fire-ravaged slopes of the Black River drainage. Not far to the east is the Blue River drainage, into which we descend on Day 6.
The contrast is dramatic. Hannagan could be in Colorado. Down below, Blue River Crossing is a northern extension of the canyon ecosystem of southeastern Arizona. The whole area is an Arizona Important Bird Area. We’ll look for Common Black Hawks there, and drive down the canyon as far as we can get, looking for coatis and imagining the wolf restoration that would have made Leopold glad, but was vigorously resisted by local ranchers. On Day 8 we head homeward, stopping by Luna Lake to see the nesting waterfowl and provisioning again in Springerville. Then it’s north to the Zuni Mountains, where we will encounter the massive sedimentary landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. Nightfall will find us at Cottonwood Gulch, with its hot showers and cabins with bunks. We’ll leave as early the next morning as we need to for the two-hour drive to the airport, noting the intersection of geological provinces as we head toward the city where Leopold proposed the Gila Wilderness 99 years ago.
Expect lots of good stories, laughter around the evening campfire and great food, too!
Is this trek right for me?
- Great for the science and adventure-minded
- Perfect for birders, hikers, and outdoor-lovers
- No previous outdoor experience required
- A overall adventurous spirit & serendipitous mindset will serve you well
What is included in the cost?
Tuition includes everything once you arrive in Albuquerque:
- All meals
- All transportation
- Staff, educators, field specialists
- All gear necessary for group expedition
- Special activities (rafting, mountain biking, art classes + more) and backcountry permits
Trekkers are responsible for covering travel costs to and from Albuquerque the first day and last day of the trek. Gulch staff will be at the Albuquerque Sunport to greet incoming trekkers.
For more logistical questions, visit our FAQ page, or give us a call: 505-248-0563.
- A habitat gradient from hot desert in the Rio Grande valley (roadrunner, thrashers, verdin) to subalpine forest and grassland on Escudilla Mountains (Canada Jay, Pine Grosbeak), with an arresting look at how wildfire is changing the gradient
- The southern part of the Rio Grande rift with fault-block mountain ranges on both sides, the Plain of San Agustin (an enclosed basin at 7000 feet [the center of the radiating railroad tracks is about 7000 feet]), volcanic mountains at the southwest end of the Jemez lineament
- A morning at Bosque del Apache with lingering waterfowl, stilts, avocets, cormorants, and desert birds
- Southern birds (Bridled Titmouse, Common Black Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk) north in Water Canyon and the Blue River valley
- Northern birds (Red-breasted Nuthatch, Vesper Sparrow, Canada Jay) south at Escudilla Mountain and Hannagan Meadow
- Sedimentary sandstone interbedded with volcanic lava flows, pumice, and debris-flow deposits
- Cold nights, cool morning, and warm afternoons with almost no chance of rain
- Great food, great fellowship, and comfortable cots