Butterfly Rites of Spring II: Desert Hilltoppers

March 2021

By Steve Cary

I can’t dive into today’s topic without some big “Thank Yous” and a heads-up. Thanks to Bill Beck, Jim Brock, Matt Brown, Bill Dempwolf, Rebecca Gracey, Cathryn Hoyt, Ken Kertell, and Joe Schelling for responding to my photo requests so promptly and effectively. Significant holes were filled and Butterflies of New Mexico looks more complete and more beautiful than ever. Thanks, you guys!

Second, Marcy and I recently completed a fun, late February/early March trip to the area covered by this Rites of Spring II post. I will write up that adventure for a future post. Meanwhile, this present effort has been in the queue for several weeks and I want to get it out. In doing so, however, I must note that the spring hilltoppers phenomenon described is expressed to different degrees in different years and at different localities. My very recent scouting of the geographic area involved suggests this will not be a “10” year for our desert’s spring hilltoppers, but more likely a 1 or a 2, due to pervasive, severe drought. If you go, you may very well see some of the players, but in small numbers.

With that caveat, here we go . . .

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Neblina’s Trail

The first section of Neblina’s Trail passes beneath tall ponderosa pines with a steep slope to the right.
Trail Name: Neblina’s Trail
Length: 1.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Suitable For: Hiking, running, good for families. Mountain biking is permitted but the short canyon ending in a dead end makes it somewhat unappealing to riders.

By Craig Martin

Map of Neblina’s Trail.

A short, shady trip up the Neblina’s Trail offers a quiet getaway close to town. The trail traverses under tall pines and is a cool trip even on a summer afternoon. The area was relatively untouched by the Cerro Grande fire, although the stream channel is choked with debris from floods following that fire and the Las Conchas fire. Tall, orange cliffs flank the canyon, and the trip ends in a narrows where cliffbush thrives in a thick stand.

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Tsankawi Loop Trail

The rock forming the mesa on the Tsankawi Loop Trail is a melted together volcanic ash called tuff. It is relatively soft and easily worn away by foot traffic, and forms either deep ruts or is simply a white color after the weathered orange layer on the tuff wears away.
Trail Name: Tsankawi Loop Trail
Length: 1.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Difficulty: Moderate, mostly because of the ladders
Suitable For: Hiking only, good for families with children under close supervision

By Craig Martin

If you are looking for a scenic trail with plenty of cultural resources and scenic vistas to enjoy, then check out the Tsankawi Loop Trail in the detached section of Bandelier National Monument near the intersection of the Truck Route and New Mexico Highway 4 north of White Rock. Because the trail is at a relatively low elevation, snow and mud dry out quickly, making this a good late winter destination.

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Coyotes & Food

A coyote trots off with a duck for dinner at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Mouser Williams)

By Mariana Rivera Freeman, Field Science Specialist

Coyotes can be controversial. To different people and cultures, the coyote carries diverse significance. But outside of the meaning we give these animals, they have a natural purpose of their own. While they go about that purpose, they occasionally come into contact with us, whether in the wilderness, where coyotes prefer to spend their time, or in human spaces.

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Butterfly Rites of Spring I: Adult Hibernators

February 15, 2021

By Steve Cary

But first, a big “THANK YOU” to Bryan Reynolds for his fun and informative mid-winter posts. I’m learning a lot from him and hope to team up with him on some future stories as we go along.


Here in New Mexico’s mid-continent, mid-latitude setting, all resident life forms including butterflies have ways to deal with challenging times. Winter, for example, is cold enough (regular sub-freezing temperatures), long enough (few to several months), and predictable enough (annual) to effectively sort adapted from non-adapted creatures. Can’t get through a long, cold winter? Then you don’t live here on a permanent, resident basis.

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