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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

2022 Pre-Conference Tour: New Mexico

27–30 August 2022

Following our arrival in Albuquerque, our Tour hosts, Michael Melendrez and Anna Forrester, met the 22-member group on Saturday morning at an airport hotel. While still in the city, we visited an example of how various Quercus species can thrive in the urban landscape, provided their establishment and subsequent management included use of appropriate soil amendments to foster both high survival and rapid growth rates. Michael provided an informative description of how to integrate the use of appropriate tree species and soil amendments to ensure desired outcomes for such challenging urban planting sites.

Quercus gambelii Mama Tree
Quercus gambelii "Mamma Tree" with Guy Sternberg, Fourth of July Canyon, Manzano Mountains

We then departed Albuquerque for our multi-day excursion down to Las Cruces, stopping at both historical and botanical sites along the way. Our first destination was to the Manzano Mountains in the Cibola National Forest, where we saw a diverse array of trees including a very large Quercus gambelii (Michael called it, “Mamma”), as well as Acer grandidentatum (bigtooth sugar maple), Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir), Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain juniper), and J. deppeana (alligator juniper—with its fascinating bark!). Traveling south through the Manzano Mountains, we next visited ruins of the historic Manzano Quarai Mission (part of the extensive Salinas Pueblo Mission National Monument), an impressive adobe structure built by the Tiwa Pueblo people and Spanish Franciscans (1622 to 1635). Following this informative stop, we pressed on to the small town of Socorro, where we spent the night.

Quarai
Manzano Quarai Mission

Thanks to Anna and Michael, the next day started out with a most interesting excursion to the largest series of radio telescopes in the world, called the Very Large Array (or VLA for short). It certainly lived up to its name (!) as it included 28 huge dish antennae deployed over a 13-mile area. Perhaps the best aspect of this stop, and indeed the entire tour, was its timing, as it coincided with the “summer monsoon”, resulting in a fantastic array of wildflowers of many species and colors, all providing multiple opportunities for beautiful photographic compositions everywhere we went.

Very Large Array
Wildflowers with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array on the horizon in the background

Following a brief visit to the locally famous Datil Gas Station and Convenience Store (home of the equally famous—and huge—snake skin hanging on its back wall), we traveled on to the Gila National Forest to visit the famous Catwalk on Whitewater Creek, site of a set of suspended catwalks, built as the infrastructure needed to both gain access and to support a high-pressure water system (used for mining gold) within this very steep and narrow canyon.

Glenwood Catwalk
Tour participants on the Glenwood Catwalk on Whitewater Creek, Gila National Forest

In terms of botanical “richness”, this stop provided examples of species such as New Mexico sycamore (Platanus wrightii), Arizona walnut (Juglans major), and New Mexico alder (Alnus oblongifolia), as well as netleaf oak (Q. rugosa), gray oak (Q. grisea), Emory oak (Q. emoryi), turbinella oak (Q. turbinella), and Gambel oak (Q. gambelii). Following this informative stop, we drove on to Silver City, a historic town with roots tied to the gold rush, where we stayed for the next two nights in a charming hotel.

Alnus oblongifolia
Alnus oblongifolia viewed from the Glenwood Catwalk

The following day, we traveled to the Pinos Altos Mountains, stopping to observe species including Gambel oak, gray oak, Emory oak, and, for the first time, many examples of silverleaf oak (Q. hypoleucoides), with these latter two species commonly growing in association with ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Southwestern white pine (P. strobiformis). We traversed several miles of high-altitude landscapes that had been severely impacted by past forest fires. Interestingly, Q. gambelii was the dominant hardwood species in terms of regenerating these post-fire sites. Throughout the day, our travel route provided us with multiple examples of diverse landscapes, as we traversed mountain roads ranging from 5,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation.

Quercus hypoleucoides at Pinos Altos
Quercus hypoleucoides at Pinos Altos

For our final stop, we visited Fort Bayard, a US Army fort dating back to the Civil War, which is also an active National Cemetery site. Aside from the history which surrounded us, we were also reminded of the sacrifices made by so many, who are now at rest in this special place—including Michael’s father, Samuel—a veteran of both World War II and the Korean conflict. We then returned to Silver City for the evening, following what was a truly special day….

Pinus sabiniana at Fort Bayard
PInus sabiniana at Fort Bayard

Our final day of touring led us on to Las Cruces, site of the 10th International Oak Society Conference. Along the way, we drove over the Black Range Mimbres Mountains via Emory Pass (8,200 feet elevation). The sweeping vista was incredible, coupled with the presence of multiple Q. gambelii trees providing many acorns for all to share! Descending into the desert valley, we saw large examples of Q. emoryi—with an array of blooming wildflowers. 

Emory Pass
Emory Pass

For those of us who were “new” to New Mexico, our Tour proved to be a wonderful experience. Our sincere thanks go to Michael and Anna for the numerous hours they invested in planning for all the multiple logistics-based tasks required to make our tour such a success. In these efforts, they were ably assisted by Michael’s daughter Amanda and her husband Sam. Thanks to you all!!

Group photo Mangas Gambel Oak
Participants of the New Mexico Pre-Conference Tour under the Mangas Quercus gambelii

Photos © Guy Sternberg

A detailed Tour report will be published in the 2023 issue of International Oaks (Proceedings of the 10th International Oak Society Conference). IOS members can view more photographs of this Tour in a photo gallery here.