A Pareidoliac Quest for the Southwest

I’m back from my two-week ramble through the public lands of Arizona and New Mexico. This was an ideal destination for me: I’ve been in the area a few times before, just enough to begin to know what to seek out and what sorts of landscape patterns might be waiting for me, but not nearly enough for it not to seem entirely exotic and impossible to my boreal-based brain. Well, I’ve only now scratched the variations on landscape and vegetation and physiognomy of the great American southwest. But I did get to run down some old leads and spend some really solid time in a couple of regions I’ve long wanted to. And do so with the wonder of ignorance.

And oh yes, I was there to do some research reconnaissance. Looking to see what vegetation pattern looks like from side-on and roots-up instead of from above. I have a lot of digesting to do, but I suspect the trip was successful on that criterion. For sure I had great meetings with people who really do know the ecology of the magnificent semi-arid zones: Dave Breshears (who made time for me the day his right-hand-guy was leaving for a faculty position), Neil Cobb (who made time for me the week he was prepping for his wedding celebration) and Michaela Buenemann (who made time for me in between settling into her new faculty position and road tripping to Dr. Cobb’s wedding celebration). The reflexive generosity of time and ideas that researchers have for each other is one of the things I love about working in the sciences. It seems the best people are the ones who are the most giving of their resources. (Including data! Thanks guys. Thanks also to Dr. Alfredo Huete, whom I now really regret not having been organized enough to ask for a meeting with.)

Thanks also to this guy, whose website drove home the point that, unless it specifically says “no camping”, you can pretty much camp anywhere you want in the southwest. This turned out to be a key idea in my trip. There were a lot of places I wanted to camp, and did. And while I’m at it, thanks also to Enterprise, for not freaking out when I brought some rental cars back with a little dust in the wheel-wells.

Much of the point of being there was to take photos I could later reference while taking the remote-sensing god’s eye view of the same landscapes. So I had my camera in my hand a lot, and I’ll post some photos as I work through them.


[…] 2 months ago I was wandering around in rented cars, waking up to the dawn in improvised Forest Service campgrounds, cooking up bacon and eggs and coffee on camp stoves, breaking down my tent then rushing out into the pinon-juniper woodlands with a gps antenna magneted to my bandanna, a compass around my neck and a camera in my hand, documenting the landscapes that were going to become my study sites. I would drive and hike around looking at things until I decided I had to look at something in particular very slowly. Then I would stare at it. Mostly bushes and trees and soil and water courses. Also hills and valleys. I visited Sierra Vista and Tombstone and Arizona and Flagstaff and Cedar Ridge and Tuba City, and mostly places in between, like Cochise County and the San Pedro River and the Coconino forest and Waputki and the Little Colorado canyon and the rangelands of Navajo Nation. I took a train to New Mexico and did similar things there. Then I took a train home. It was a good time. There was a lot I missed because I was in a hurry to look at semi-arid vegetation, but there was a lot I saw because I was looking for semi-arid vegetation. I wrote about it a bit here. […]

[…] summers ago I did field research in Arizona and New Mexico. At the time I knew I liked New Mexico, what I didn’t know was that […]

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