Take A Walk on the |Desert| Grassland

One reason I’m at home (where I downsized to) goes beyond the availability of green chile, skin-cracking dry air, or hearing Spanglish.

It’s all our public open space land, just minutes away here in El Paso.

I took a walk my last time in Marfa, on 11/3/2013 –

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a raw, breezy day to end my trip…Palmilla / Yucca elata is about the only green now dotting the tawny, dormant desert grasses…

Most of Texas has little open land accessible to the public, especially near larger towns and cities, but even including remote Marfa; Albuquerque was well-endowed in nearby public lands, too. I lost track of all the fine, interesting people I met at 2013’s Marfa design symposium, but few were from there. I felt like I was welcoming them to my area, which is the case ecologically, but 3 hours by car.

At the Saturday evening cocktail party, some locals pointed me to places I would have never known about. One was a working ranch’s generous desert grassland preserve.

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this was easy to find and there was ample parking, not that Marfa requires much driving around…
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always glad to find access to a large chunk of land, let alone so well-managed…I introduced myself to the guys out working on a Sunday afternoon…
one of a few water towers showing you’re in Marfa…I hope you like palmillas AKA soaptree yuccas, since there’s many more…
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nearer the road I’m walking (hands in pockets to stay warm), that looks like a Clematis…if I have time, I’ll look it up and add the name…
no problem on the raw day, as it had rained lightly and earlier  on the dormant grasses, shrubs and evergreen succulent out front…

Marfa averages 12-15″ of precipitation / year, the land rather gentle with well-developed soils, explaining a lusher look than some other desert grassland areas of the Chihuahuan have.

Beargrass or Sacahuista / Nolina texana, not the coarser form (or species) in the foothills above the Rio Grande valley where I’m at…
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even dormant and my not being a rangeland expert, I recognize Little Bluestem and those post-frost russet blades…
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and those spiky seed heads…amazing here with another 3-5″ of rain / year than the foothills by my old place, the extra fullness these plant have…
moving along, more Chihuahuan desert grassland, as the road eventually curves towards the Davis Mountains, home of Mt. Locke and McDonald Observatory…I was last there over a decade ago…
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some rocky areas along the road, and of course…drum roll…more Palmilla, with a mesquite that the ranchers missed :-)
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the Texas state grass (Sideoats Grama / Bouteloua curtipendula) and the New Mexico state grass (Blue Grama / Bouteloua gracilis) coexist almost 50%-50% in this spot, if you look closely…
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Prairie Zinnia / Zinnia grandiflora hanging on to less blooms, but live, weeks after the first frost of fall…a totally underused wildflower that got my respect in the uber-summer of 2003, when wild sand sages and saltbushes were dying…
more Palmilla plants, but this time the New Mexico state flower (Yucca species) is surrounded by the NM state grass…how about that?
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New Mexico’s state grass and flower and Texas’ state grass still being friends…I think the Dallas Cowboys are still the most popular NFL team in NM and El Paso…the latter in Texas…well, only politically…so confusing, so just go with the plants, since they don’t care…like smoked brisket and chiles in the same restaurant…

You’ll notice most of the same plants and characteristics of the environment transcend those political lines for hundreds of miles. Try looking more at what plant communities are, as well as similar climates. Then it makes more sense in creating a garden.

You probably realize that political boundaries are often arbitrary and artificial, unrelated to natural features; ecological boundaries are usually not that way. Except to those who have never drawn maps, or who may have spent too much time at Cal Berkeley, CU Boulder or UNM, that is…

these views never fail to get me elated…and you can see this or drier versions of it, from E of Tucson to W of the Pecos to Abq, and probably far S into Chihuahua…but a couple miles in the first cold of the fall was plenty for me
growing everywhere in my new home, too, I must figure this plant out…
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nice red stems…in need to be keyed out, too…
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too bad I have 3 hours to drive, since I could seriously keep going…
a few clumps of Little Bluestem and Arizona Cottontop / Digitaria californica in front of the ranch house…nice touch…
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7 Replies to “Take A Walk on the |Desert| Grassland”

  1. I always love seeing your Texas ‘desert’. I may need to borrow your seed plant as inspiration. Ok?

    Borrow away…so many interesting seedheads. And some are native outside Tucson…

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  2. Yucca with native grasses, it’s a good combination and tough to beat for hardiness. After this winter I’ll replace more of my perennials with something similar.

    How nice that they have protected some of the grassland from grazing and provided access.

    To think I first saw that combo and liked it, first time in NM on a high school trip…little did I know!

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  3. Loving those wide open spaces. Quite the opposite of what I deal with daily in my suburb. Something rests the eye when it can take such a literally long view.

    Our last run of freezing days provided a final blow to several plants in less protected areas. Thanks in part to your influence I’m going to invite negative spaces to reassert themselves, however randomly, and resist the urge to immediately/automatically (re)fill every gap.

    I know what you’re saying, and when I visit ATX, then drive back west, I feel the change as things open up. While we who live in the open, like some enclosure…to find the balance! Interesting on the winter opening things up, like your 2011 uber summer may have. Often, in wet periods, gaps grow in unless it’s rocky…something to explore?

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  4. Beautiful…what a treat…of course the grasses speak to me…especially Little Bluestem. I hope you post what the red-stemmed plant is when you find out.

    It was great to find out about this place – now I have a natural place to explore in other seasons when I visit.

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