28 • MAY 2018
WINGING IT • YVONNE LANELLI
A rockin’ good birding trip in Quebradas! Can a bird club enjoy a field trip without birds?
Anita Powell of Lincoln County Bird Club, is nearly dwarfed by the impressive “tombstone topography” at Stop #4, Meseta Blanca Member of the Yeso Formation.
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ure, say the up-for-anything members of Lincoln County Bird Club. We recently trekked Quebradas Backcountry Scenic Byway near Socorro intending to observe raptors and other high-desert avians about two hours north of Las Cruces. Turns out the only birds we saw were either perching on power poles on the highways or swimming in the Escondida Lake and Park. But that’s OK with the members. “We learned so much anyway,” said club member Anita Powell. The “so much” to which Powell alludes is the fascinating geology that forms the major feature of the Byway’s 24 miles. “Quebradas” means “breaks” and refers to the many arroyos that have sliced the area’s layers of ancient sedimentary rock, says the official website, www.newmexico.org/things-to-do/ scenic-byways/quebradas-backcountry. At each of the byway’s 10 designated stops, members scanned the skies but found themselves focused on exposed rainbow-like layers of rock. At each stop we consulted the “Geologic Guide to the Quebradas Back Country Byway” published by New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, available at the Socorro Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management or online (www.blm.gov./ nmst/en/fo/ Socorro_Field_Office). This full-color pamphlet contains not only a map of the byway, but also pertinent geologic info about eras such as Cambrian, periods such as Triassic and Cretaceous, formations such as Yeso and Abo as well as fossils such as crinoids. One can traverse the byway from Stop #1 in the north to Stop #10 in the south or reverse. We started at the south end which begins at County Road A 129 going north from U.S. Highway 380 at Stop #10 and ends at Stop #1 at Escondida, just north of Socorro.
Red sandstone hills, white clouds and blue sky are a typical Quebradas panorama. (Photos by Yvonne Lanelli)
Even though we’re not geologists, the guide’s easy-to-understand text and photographs enable readers to better appreciate the area’s topography. Geologic periods represented at Quebradas include Pennsylvanian, Permian, Triassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary and Quaternary. Prominent stratigraphic units include Bursum Formation, Abo Formation, Yeso Formation, Glorieta Sandstone, San Andres Formation, Artesia Group and Chinle Group. If this is too much geology jargon, no worries. Just admire the pretty rocks. We did. Since we couldn’t photograph birds or other wildlife, our cameras captured the fascinating layering of yellow, gray, pink and red sandstones, limestones and siltstones and faults. My favorite images are of “tombstone topography” of the Meseta Blanca Member of the Yeso Formation at Stop #4. Fossils appeared at several stops including oncolites in the Torres Member of the Yeso formation of the Permian Period at Stop #7 and Crinoid fragments in limestone of the Madera Group of the Pennsylvanian Period at Stop #3. In addition to exposed strata, we took in panoramic views of surrounding mountains and peaks: the Chupaderas, Socorro Peak, Strawberry Peak, San Mateo Mountains. Magdalena Mountains, Polvadera Peak, Sierra Ladrones and Cerro
de la Campana. As for birds, only American kestrels perching on power poles, common ravens swooping overhead and the occasional junco flitting past made the list. We agreed that to better see birds and other wildlife, we needed to arrive at dusk instead of 10 a.m. However, at the end of the trek, at Escondida Lake and Park, we observed waterfowl: ruddy duck, mallard, redhead, American wigeon and hybrids of mallard and domestic duck. If you or your club wishes to bird at Quebradas, come at dawn or dusk. Figure a minimum of four hours if you stop at all 10 stops. The road is unpaved, maintained gravel. High-clearance vehicles are not required but suggested. Our two vehicles were Subaru Outbacks and handled the road just fine because the road was dry and there had been no recent rains to create ruts. Traveling after recent rains is not advised since water can collect in low spots. The closest fuel and food is in San Antonio and Socorro. Assure you start the drive with a full tank. Bring plenty of drinking water and snacks as well as sunscreen, hat and sunglasses, field guides or birding apps and camera. Novice birder Yvonne Lanelli (firstname.lastname@example.org) prefers to image rocks on birding trips. “Rocks don’t fly away!”
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