Southern New Mexico Oak Open Days

Group photo under large Texas madrone (click on images to enlarge)

The New Mexico Oak Open Days were a six-day whirlwind tour of the state covering more than 1,400 miles. Led by IOS founding member Michael Meléndrez of Los Lunas, NM, attendees were wowed by a dozen species of oaks plus numerous non-oak species.

The first day started with a drive to the east side of the Gila National Forest, a mountain range called the Black Range – in particular the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. We made a quick stop to see Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii) and gray oak (Quercus grisea) on the way.  From the ghost mining town of Kingston, we picked up the Percha Creek Canyon where we saw species such as Q. grisea, large single-trunk Gambel oaks (Q. gambelii), Q. emoryi, and monstrous Q. hypoleucoides. Other notable species included Alnus oblongifolia, Juniperus deppeana, and Juglans major.

The second day began with a drive further into the Gila to see Q. rugosa. We stopped at a scenic lookout and were flanked by shrubby, multi-stemmed Q. gambelii. Large Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Pinus strobiformis dotted the slopes as we climbed higher in altitude (to 8,100 feet). Leaving the Gila, we headed towards Las Cruces and the Organ Mountain Range. We stopped south of Hillsboro to look at three large Emory oaks growing in a dry streambed called an arroyo. That afternoon, we drove to the Tetons of the Southwest, the Organ Mountains, jutting 5,000 feet into the sky. From the Dripping Springs Visitor Center, we hiked the mile-and-a-half trail (climbing 700 feet) to see Q. arizonica and the unusual hybrid Q. ×organensis (Q. arizonica × grisea). Many other species were found here as well such as Ungnadia speciosa, Opuntia engelmannii, and Fallugia paradoxa.

Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii) Quercus grisea near Hillsboro
Quercus grisea acorn Quercus hypoleucoides in Gila National Forest Putative Quercus hypoleucoides × emoryi

Day three began with a drive to the eastern slope of the Organs. We stopped at the San Augustin Pass to see Q. turbinella. The hillside was covered with this species, none more than 6 feet tall. We then made a short drive to Aguirre Springs on the east side of the Organs to look at a larger Q. arizonica than we had seen on the western

Quercus turbinella at San Augustin Pass

side of the range. Then we headed off to Carlsbad Caverns, a 200-mile drive to the east. Along the road to the caverns, we briefly stopped to look at Sophora secundiflora and Quercus mohriana.

Day four began with a drive to McKittrick Canyon just across the Texas border. This proved to be a highlight of the trip as we were able to see several oak species we had not yet seen. We saw Q. vaseyana, Q. pungens, Q. muehlenbergii, and Q. mohriana. Beautiful Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) also grows here on the high pH soils. We also saw Rhus lanceolata, Juniperus ashei, and Acer grandidentatum. We then drove to the Frijoles Ranch, an old settlement now owned by the National Parks system, to see huge specimens of chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii). Sitting Bull Falls was our final destination of the day. This secluded area features a 150-foot waterfall with a beautiful pool below. Interesting species found here were sandpaper oak (Q. pungens), Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) and little walnut (Juglans microcarpa). We stayed the night in Roswell, a city well known for Area 51 and numerous UFO sighting claims.

Sophora secundiflora Mohr oak (Quercus mohriana) in McKittrick Canyon
Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis)
Huge Quercus muehlenbergii at Frijoles Ranch Quercus pungens in McKittrick Canyon

Day five began with a quick visit to the New Mexico Military Institute to see Q. fusiformis and Q. buckleyi. From Roswell, we headed to Lincoln, NM, home of the Lincoln County War and the legend of Billy the Kid. We made a quick stop to look at some unusual hybrid oaks just outside of Lincoln. Lacking better description, these “Q. ×undulata” are

Quercus fusiformis in New Mexico Military Institute, Roswell, New Mexico

abnormally tall (45 feet  tall), with substantial trunks. We spent a few hours touring Lincoln and learning about Billy the Kid and the cast of characters that played a role in the Lincoln County War. Michael made a phone call to local rancher James Sánchez to gain permission to see oaks on his property. His small group of trees has been called Fendler oaks (Q. ×fendleri) . These trees have the size of the hybrids we had seen down the road, but bark and leaf characteristics were definitely different. Leaving Lincoln, we headed northeast to the Capitan Mountain Range. Along the way we began to see Q. oblongifolia alongside the road. Naturally we had to stop to take photos and admire acorns. We continued on to the Capitans to see some large chinkapin oaks. Along with the chinkapins, we saw more Mexican blue oak (Q. oblongifolia) and Gambel oaks. We also found putative hybrids of Q. gambelii × muehlenbergii and Q. oblongifolia × gambelii. With daylight fading, we headed to our evening destination of Ruidoso.

Rancher James Sánchez standing by his Fendler oak
Leaves of remaining Fendler oak Collecting cuttings of Fendler oaks
Quercus oblongifolia Old courthouse and jail that Billy the Kid escaped from in Lincoln, New Mexico

Day six began with a drive up the Sierra Blanca Mountain Range, climbing to an elevation of over 10,000 feet. Taking a long hike higher up the mountain, we saw an entirely different set of plant species such as Pinus albicaulis, Picea engelmannii, Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica, and Acer glabrum. A devastating fire had taken

Acer glabrum Sierra Blanca Mountain

acres of mature forest, most trees standing charred and dead. Our final destination of the day waited 2 hours north, so we ate a snack in our cars and headed out. Gran Quivira is part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. It features ruins that include the remains of structures built centuries ago by ancestors of the Pueblo peoples, as well as what is left of mission churches built by Franciscan missionaries in the 17th century. Here we found Juniperus monogyna, Pinus edulis, and an unknown (to me) species of Cylindropuntia.

The trip concluded on day seven with a drive from Los Lunas to the Manzano Mountain Range. The Manzanos (meaning apple trees) get their name from the apple orchards that early Spanish settlers planted. We saw three large remnant apple trees alongside the road.  The fruit was not too large, but very tasty. The bigtooth maples (Acer grandidendatum) at the foothills of the mountain were showing beautiful red, orange, and yellow fall color. We saw several large single-stem Q. gambelii, large Douglas fir, and Juniperus scopulorum. On the way back to Los Lunas, I had to stop to look at the hybrid oaks along the road. Most had a definite Q. gambelii influence, but the other potential parent is unclear. Each individual was a bit different in terms of size and shape of the leaves.

 

Huge burned out Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) Tour guide Michael Meléndrez with a crispy corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica)
Pueblo ruins Fall color on Acer grandidentatum in the Manzano Mountains

This Tour far exceeded my expectations and my expectations were pretty high. Michael is an excellent tour guide and knows his state far better than I know mine! We would have never found half of these trees on our own. I’d like to thank Michael and Kari Meléndrez and Anna Forster for taking time out of their busy schedule to organize and execute this Tour. Look for a more in-depth account of this tour soon in Oak News & Notes and a full report in International Oaks this spring. 

Quercus rugosa in Gila National Forest
Listening to the elk bugling at Sierra Blanca Mountain Author in large Texas Madrone

All photos ©Ryan Russell