Taking Highway 40 going west, we passed Indian Reservations and arrived at Bluewater State Park. The lava flows along the highway near Grants told us that this land was a badland. But we found out there was a hidden oasis in the canyon of Bluewater State Park. Here we experienced two worlds in the Indian Country: an oasis and badlands.
A creek could be seen in the canyon from the edge of Canyonside Campground. I was curious about the scenery down there. But the sign “beware of rattle snakes” made me think twice about a trip in the canyon. I made an initial hike down the canyon and met a professor from ASU. He told me that the canyon was gorgeous and he didn’t see any rattle snakes along the trail. Early in the morning the next day, I gathered my courage and made my trip to the canyon. After a short descent down the rocky hill and then zigzagged down the cliffs, I was in the canyon. Contrary to the high desert pinyon-juniper woodland, it was an oasis with trees and lush green grasses!
I was immediately drawn to the creek. There flanked by the lush green grass was the clear Bluewater Creek. The gurgling sound of the white water was so soothing. And I couldn’t help to stop and dipped my hands into the creek. The water was cool and pleasant. Green cattails growing in the creek slowed down the current at the boundary of the park. Blue dragonflies and butterflies danced around. Besides the happy song of the creek, the only other sounds were the melodious chirps of birds.
A narrow trail appeared on the lush green grass. Vertical reed-like horsetails marched on from the bank of the creek and spread out. Some red Indian painted brush grew among horsetails and brightened up the shades under the tall trees. Fragrant aroma floated in the air. Besides junipers and pines, there were pale blue green Russian olive trees. Taking a close look at the Russian olive trees, I found tiny yellow blossoms. Butterflies seemed to be attracted to the flowers. Wild rose bushes and other unknown wild flowers adorned the bank. Hummingbirds showed up in the middle of nowhere and disappeared shortly. The creek was placid at some sections as if it slowed down to appreciate the beauty of the canyon. The mirror image of the blue sky, the grass, the cliffs and trees was mesmerizing.
As I approached the turn of the canyon, a flock of swifts suddenly appeared in the air. An elderly man wearing a red T shirt showed up on the other side of the creek walking back. It was nice to see another human in the canyon. Near the big boulders standing in the water was the crossing of the creek. The canyon became wider at the turn. The chirping swifts were still hovering in the canyon. I looked around and was excited to see colonies of bird nests on the cliffs. Wow! The canyon is home for the swifts. Their white underpart told me that they might be white-throated swifts. I kept on walking along the creek. A couple of mallard ducks took off from the creek before I saw them. Swifts skimmed the surface of the water to get a drink.
An hour later, I started to return. When I got close to the home of the swifts, I saw a few swifts flying in and out of the nests on the cliffs. They all took in the air when I got there. The cliffs stood like walls guarding this oasis. I was happy to visit this tranquil canyon.
In contrast to the oasis in the Bluewater Canyon, El Malpais National Monument is the badlands in this area. Lava flows blanket a huge area southwest of Grants. Some areas of lava flows looked like cracked asphalt with dotted plants. This type of smooth ropy lava is pahoehoe. Other type of lava flow is the dark and sharp aa. From the top of the sandstone bluffs, the vista of a sea of lava flows lying in the valley was breathtaking. The volcanic eruptions of Mount Taylor and craters created this charred landscape. It is the sacred land for Zuni and Acoma Indian tribes.
We saw a small depression on the bedrock filled with murky water. Humm… Where did the water come from? Another bigger pool was just several feet away. I saw things moving in the pool and observed them. Oh my! There were tiny little fish or shrimp swimming in the water. They were near transparent and alien looking. The two dark dots on the front might be their eyes. They moved their multiple feet together and swam in the small pocket of water on the bedrock. Could they be brine shrimp? How did they end up here? That question bewildered us. Now that I looked it up on the Internet, I learned that the depression on bedrock is a tinaja which is filled with water from monsoon and melted snow. And those creatures were fairy shrimp. They lay eggs on tinaja and die when the pool dries up. The eggs are drought tolerant and will rehydrate, hatch and start their short life cycle ( nps.gov). Pretty cool!
The towering multi colored Zuni sandstone cliffs looked nice under the blue sky with white clouds. The La Ventana Natural Arch is the second largest arch in New Mexico. But it was not as impressive as those arches in Arches National Park. Some chain chollas were blooming with magenta flowers. The best flowering cholla I found was growing on lava by the gas station at Grants.
My perception of deserts has changed a lot after touring the southwest of the states. Deserts are not barren lands in my eyes any more. There are hidden oasis and colorful cliffs. Even in the extreme environment such as lava beds, wildlife, plants and organisms adapt and grow to their full extent. Nature is amazing and inspiring!