Mountain wildflowers of the Southern Rockies and Central NM
Yarrow—Achillea millefolium L.
—CAROLYN DODSON AND WILLIAM W. DUNMIRE
Flat-topped clusters of white flowers sit on
upright, two-foot-tall stems. Each bundle is composed of numerous
tiny flower heads that have three to six broad rays surrounding
a dozen rays that are usually white but may be pink at higher elevations.
Dense, silky hairs covering the stems and finely divided leaves
cast a gray tone on the plant. The entire plant exudes a pungent
odor. Blooming all season long, colonies of yarrow are found at
every elevation in the Southern Rockies, except on the highest summits.
Because of its clusters of small flower heads and dissected leaves,
yarrow is often confused with carrot family plants. But close observation
reveals that yarrow flowers are arranged in composite heads with
disk and ray flowers characteristic of the aster family. Furthermore,
yarrow leaves are not stem claspers like those of members of the
carrot family. When out of bloom, yarrow, with its dissected leaves,
could be mistaken for a fern were it not for the strong aroma imparted
by volatile foliage oils.
According to tradition, this plant takes its name from
Achilles, who used the plant to staunch the flow of blood from his
wounded soldiers during the Trojan War. Yarrow sap, with its high
tannin content, has been used by armies in such a way since antiquity,
gaining it the name herbal militaris. Millefolium means “thousand
leaves,” referring to the many lobes on each leaf. The local
Spanish name, plumajillo, or little feather, also relates to these
Native Americans and early settlers used yarrow for its
astringent qualities—those that made it effective for Achilles’
men. When England experienced a pharmaceutical drug shortage during
World War II, the Ministry of Health recruited Boy Scouts, Girl
Guides, and schoolchildren to scour the countryside for yarrow to
augment supplies. Because of its healing qualities, herbal teas
made from yarrow are available in health food stores throughout
the United States and Europe.
Even today, yarrow is yielding new medicinal rewards. Swedish scientists
have found that yarrow tissues contain mosquito-repellent compounds.
When volunteers placed their hands into cages containing Aedes egyptii
mosquitoes, which are transmitters of yellow fever and other tropical
diseases, the mosquitoes avoided hands treated with Achillea extract.
Separating and identifying the repellent compounds may lead to an
important tool in controlling mosquito-borne diseases.
Seeing the forest through the trees
Turning bushes into trees
What is this bizarre affectation that Placitans have taken on by
trimming their juniper bushes? When I first moved here nearly twenty
years ago, juniper bushes were, well, bushy. About ten years ago,
I first came across what was then a curiosity. Someone had pruned
all the junipers on his property. I promptly dismissed it as the
work of a Texan immigrant in the possession of a chainsaw. A few
years later, I noticed that another family, this time in our very
own subdivision, had also trimmed its junipers to make them look
like trees. But they are Texans too, so I shrugged my shoulders
and drove on by. Then suddenly, it was as if an epidemic had hit.
Everyone in Placitas was out with knife and blade, hacking away
at the junipers.
In the past, if you were particularly fond of a juniper, the most
action you would take was to yank off a piece of mistletoe to prevent
its early demise. But now, on any given day, you will see the neighbors
in my ‘hood giving the junipers what one female neighbor calls
“a bikini wax.” They all rave about the magnificent
views that have opened up and how it improves the “curbside
appeal.” In fact, they’ve even started dropping hints,
quite broad ones, to the effect that my junipers would benefit from
a little chainsaw magic. I was sitting playing Scrabble with my
up-the-street neighbor Rocky the other weekend when he mentioned
how attractive our other neighbor-up-the-street’s trees looked.
“You know,” he told me, “if you just lopped off
a couple of branches over there, your view would open up tremendously.”
So this week I went out and lopped off a few branches, and you
know what? They look great! And now I’ve got the bug. I’m
turning all my juniper bushes into trees.
Cochiti and Army Corps sign cooperative agreement
Cochiti Pueblo and the Army Corps of Engineers signed a cooperative
agreement related to conducting a baseline study at Cochiti reservoir
in anticipation of potentially changing storage options.
The agreement, signed at a ceremony at the Cochiti Pueblo in June,
is related to a federal provision in the Water Resources Development
Act (WRDA) authored by Senator Pete Domenici and Senator Jeff Bingaman
that directs the Army Corps to engage pueblos in the operation and
maintenance of flood control projects in the middle Rio Grande region.
Congress late last year overrode a presidential veto to reauthorize
a new WRDA law. Within this new law, Domenici and Bingaman included
a provision to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to enter into
cooperative agreements with New Mexico pueblos and give them greater
opportunities to assist the Corps with operation and maintenance
activities on flood control projects.
The new WRDA law also reauthorized the Corps’ Tribal Partnership
program, which expired in 2006. The Tribal Partnership program allows
the Corps to perform watershed assessments and study flood damage
reduction and environmental restoration projects on tribal lands
that will substantially benefit New Mexico’s tribes and pueblos.
BLM initiates environmental analysis of solar
As part of its ongoing efforts to increase domestic energy production
and ensure greater energy security, the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) has initiated a joint programmatic Environmental Impact Statement
(PEIS) with the Department of Energy (DOE) to assess the environmental,
social, and economic impacts associated with solar energy development
on BLM-managed public land in six western states: Arizona, California,
Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.
“Renewable energy resources, such as solar, wind, hydroelectric,
and geothermal, will continue to play a larger role in meeting the
nation’s future energy needs,” said Secretary of the
Interior Dirk Kempthorne. “We must use our own domestic energy
resources as part of a balanced, rational, and realistic national
policy to secure a reliable supply of affordable energy for America’s
families and businesses. Expanded solar energy development is part
of the solution, placing more control over energy supply in the
hands of America.”
The joint PEIS will also evaluate a number of alternative management
strategies to determine which presents the best management approach
for the agencies to adopt in terms of mitigating potential impacts
and facilitating solar energy development while carrying out their
respective missions. The measures adopted as a result of this PEIS
will provide consistency and certainty for solar energy development
and will help expedite environmental analysis for site-specific
projects in the future.
During work on the PEIS, the BLM will focus attention on the 125
applications already received for rights-of-way for solar energy
development, while deferring new applications until after completion
of the PEIS. The 125 existing applications are for land covering
almost one million acres and with the potential to generate seventy
billion watts of electricity, or enough to power twenty million
average American homes. The PEIS will establish a process for accepting
future applications, possibly through a competitive process, which
is likely to attract companies with the experience and resources
necessary to quickly deploy solar energy projects.
A Notice of Intent published in today’s Federal Register
opened a public comment period on the scope of the PEIS. The BLM
will accept written comments related to scoping that are postmarked
or delivered by July 7, 2008, and electronic comments that are received
by the same date. A public scoping meeting to obtain comments was
held in Albuquerque on Thursday, June 26 at 6:00 p.m.
For further information, visit: http://solareis.anl.gov.
Las Huertas Creek Restoration Field Day slated
for July 12
—JOHN ORNE GREEN
Las Placitas Association and the Earth Care Fellowship
of Las Placitas Presbyterian Church are organizing a Restoration
Field Day on Saturday, July 12 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the
site of the quarter-million-dollar river restoration project along
Las Huertas Creek (formerly a river feeding into the Rio Grande).
All Placitans and others interested in the project are invited to
The morning begins with a tour of the main site at the creek, with
brief presentations by local experts on the long and colorful history
of the area, its ecology, and the specifics of the extensive planting
and restoration activities to date. So far, a thousand beneficial
trees and shrubs have been planted, trails and holding pond dams
constructed, and other structures set up to induce meandering of
the creek (reducing erosion and promoting plant growth).
The project has been funded by the New Mexico environmental agency
and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. Las Placitas Association
administers the grant. The goal is to decrease the major erosion
into the creek and thus the silting of the Rio Grande during big
rains. Other major benefits include restoring traditional flora
and encouraging the abundant wildlife habitat of former times.
The site is near the location of the historic Las Placitas Indian
Pueblo, as well as the San Jose de Las Huertas Land Grant Village,
the largest unexcavated Spanish colonial town in the American Southwest,
now owned by the Archaeological Conservancy.
After the tour, participants will break up into small work groups
for an hour-plus of hands-on experience of the restoration: watering
the planted areas; weeding out the exotic, non-native Siberian Elms
and Salt Cedar, both of which are detrimental to the river ecology;
making erosion gully brush and stone silt dams, as well as Zuni
Stone Bowl mini-water catchments; and river trail making.
Then all will meet back for refreshments and lunch and wrap up
presentations on the project. Lunch is potluck, with dishes and
beverages to share.
Presenters for the day include Reid Bandeen, a hydrology expert,
president of Las Placitas Association, and author of the publication,
“Best Management Practices for Erosion Control” and
other works on local water harvesting. Other speakers will address
the history and ecology of the Placitas area.
Participants should bring the requisite New Mexico outdoor kit:
hats, sunscreen, water, and work gloves. Participants can meet at
the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church at 8:30 a.m. to carpool to
the site a few minutes away. Detailed directions will also be posted
at the church. For more information, please contact John Green at
email@example.com or (505)
The mysticism of mud
—ERNEST ATENCIO, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
Mud season just ended on the sage-covered mesa north
of Taos that I call home. During the last few months, you could
tell who lives on dirt roads by the perpetual stripe of mud on their
lower pant legs. That's normal. But I have never seen as much mud
as I saw this spring. On the two-mile drive from the pavement to
my house, the mud built up in the wheel wells and froze, leaving
maybe a millimeter of coarse clearance to abuse my already-worn
tires. Slipping and sliding through the foot-deep quagmire, the
car sucked goop into every nook and cranny of the undercarriage.
Out here on the high and dry mesa we had so much runoff from snowmelt
that homes flooded. People were stranded for days at a time. A babbling
brook flowed across our normally parched property for weeks, creating
a sizeable pond behind a simple check dam across a gully. Last November,
we braced ourselves for the predicted La Niv±a drought. Now,
neighbors who have lived out here longer than we have say they haven't
seen this much water in over 20 years. The Natural Resources Conservation
Service says that the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just east of us
have the greatest snowpack with the highest water content in decades.
Taos Ski Valley says this was the best year ever. Local rafting
outfitters are beginning what's sure to be a wet and wild summer.
New Mexico will meet all its water delivery obligations to Texas.
The gentry will water their Kentucky bluegrass sod to their hearts'
content. And everyone will forget for one more year that we live
in a dry region and that we need to be frugal with our water.
Next year, when we're back to our normal dryness, people will complain
about the "drought" as if it's just a passing blip, and
we will continue watering golf courses and suburbs and using high-flow
plumbing fixtures, waiting for the rains to return.
Maybe we all have a case of eternal optimism. Despite years of
drought—despite all the evidence that the West was always
a hot and dry place that is steadily becoming more so—one
snowy winter erases all memory. I have a friend who comes from a
much wetter region and fervently believes that the rain and snow
will come, even when it's dry as a bone. Two years ago, when we
were suffering the worst winter drought on record, he consulted
a psychic who convinced him that it would start snowing in January.
When January came and went without snow, he revised it to heavy
snows in February. Then, March was going to be a record-breaker.
I think that psychic left town soon after.
It's a matter of faith akin to the "rain follows the plow"
mysticism that brought settlers to the Great Plains in the late
1800s. For decades, pioneers just passed through the "Great
American Desert" on their way to greener pastures, but the
1870s and early 1880s saw some of the heaviest sustained rainfall
in centuries. The newcomers believed they had brought the weather.
A 19th century amateur scientist and bombastic marketeer of the
West named Charles Dana Wilber promoted the theory, saying, "God
speed the plow. ... By this wonderful provision, which is only man's
mastery over nature, the clouds are dispensing copious rains ...
(the plow) is the instrument which separates civilization from savagery;
and converts desert into a farm or garden. ... To be more concise,
rain follows the plow."
This was more fuel for Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United
States was meant to expand westward and that God was on its side.
People wanted to believe it, so they did. In about 10 years, nearly
2 million people put down roots and industriously farmed the plains.
Until the rains ended, and things dried out again.
You would think we know better these days, but I'm not convinced
that we do. Some of the old acequia farmers still talk about the
terrible drought of the 1950s. The acequia tradition—brought
from the other side of the planet by early Indo-Hispano settlers—has
been around long enough to see big fluctuations in the weather,
and the farmers have learned to live with it. But that 1950s drought
was severe enough to stick in the memory of anyone trying to make
a living from the land: It was the longest and driest spell in over
a century. Yet tree rings tell us that the '50s, tough as they were,
were nothing compared to much drier spells throughout the last 2,000
years. The 30-year rolling average we use to figure "normal"
weather skews our perspective into something close to what those
High Plains settlers once believed. But enlarge your perspective
to the last two millennia, and it's a very dry picture indeed.
Add global warming, and you can see that we're heading for some
huge changes. Hotter and Drier is the ominous title of a recent
report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural
Resources Defense Council. It says that the American West is heating
and drying up faster than the rest of the planet. According to University
of New Mexico climatologist David Gutzler, there will be zero snowpack
in the northern New Mexico Rockies by the end of the century, if
not sooner. Imagine what skiing and runoff will be like in the meantime.
Before too long, I won't have a reason to complain about springtime
But for the moment, getting down the driveway is a mucky chore,
and we have more water than we know what to do with. It would be
nice to believe that maybe all those scientists are wrong, and that
we really are the chosen ones. Maybe the rain will continue to mystically
follow us across the West. But maybe not. Anyway, we'll worry about
that next year.
Ernest Atencio is a writer and anthropologist who
spends most of his time working on land conservation. He finally
got all the mud off his car. This article first appeared on May
12, 2008, in High Country News (www.hcn.org),
which covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues.