Inspiration: Las Cruces – Alpine – Marfa

What a great time! It started with a hike and ended with a drive, and there were more than a few stops. There’s usually landscape inspiration if you know what to look for.

Photos from Feb. 14-15, 2020:

Picacho Hike 1_2020-02-14-SML

I shared one of my 3-times-weekly hikes with Gayle: a few national monument trails behind the neighborhood. Soft, gentle sand in the arroyos, firmly packed desert pavement on level areas, and slight elevation gains between the arroyos and my car.

In late winter, one can see the legibility found in good design. Green vs. dormant, negative space vs. mass, and flowers-optional.

Picacho Hike 2_2020-02-14-SMLPicacho Hike 3_2020-02-14-SMLPicacho Hike 4_2020-02-14-SML

Always a surprise. Flowers on this old cactus clump this summer!

Picacho Hike 5a_2020-02-14-SML

A quick link from Kevin in Sweden on how creosote bush isn’t poisonous to many species including cacti or grasses, a common misconception in my state, perpetuated by range science courses and those who believe deserts are just dry holes in some vast grassland.

Countless examples occur around the Chihuahuan Desert.

It’s an easier, more fulfilling choice to learn from such examples of companion plants, than to be a contrarian.

Picacho Hike 5b_2020-02-14-SML

.

A few hours later, the serene hike then chaotic El Paso driving are far behind. The annual Valentine in Valentine event must require a 4 pm arrival to get the secret code, so we checked out something I drive by almost every trip to that area.

Pictures were taken but were not needed there.

Since this faux boutique’s commissioners are ignoring their original mission – decay back to the earth from which adobe is made – I choose to return its name to the place it’s actually near, 1 mile away. Prada Valentine!

Prada Valentine 1-SML

.

After another 40 minutes on the road and no deer carnage, it’s Marfa! Even a coffee roaster has a mini gallery in their lobby to enjoy some artists’ works.

Big Bend Coffee Gallery 1-SML

That was followed by a refreshing Ranch Water drink from the Capri, a block away. It was about the best experience in their town this trip: hospitality, atmosphere, or patronage.

But we were on the way to a serene room in another town, Alpine. It’s larger yet more like a small town.

Alpine-Maverick Inn 3-SML

It was even more welcoming than that photo implies. Seriously deep sleep in southwestern comfort, only to shower, dress, and walk out into this! 

Alpine-Maverick Inn 1-SML

A good coyote fence / step railing detail to employ some day

Alpine-Maverick Inn 2-SML

Who tires of native plants when bold specimens are not just regional but local natives? Only those without their desert eyes on.

Alpine-Maverick Inn 4-SML

I’ve learned that July 2013 in downtown Alpine was a “month of murals”, including these below showing their sense-of-place, not elsewhere’s.

Alpine Panorama Mural-SMLAlpine Mural-Ranch Brands-SMLAlpine Calendar Mural-July 2013-SML

Wild west serenity

Alpine-LS Vignette-SML

.

Now, we’re back in Marfa by daylight, when one can see it.

That after the usual start following the last visit a year ago, or maybe a month or two. “What happened to that restaurant?”, or “they were open as of 2 days ago on Instagram, so what’s with the ‘for sale’ sign?”, or …

We found an OK breakfast where I’ve had great lunches other times. Then, a few blocks away to join our breakfast burritos with excellent coffees from a refreshingly quiet Frama.

Marfa-GG Frama-SML

.

Chinati! Here one can see and be inspired more each visit. It’s a special place and always great to escape all the vibe-seeking from trendy visitors that much of Marfa has become.

Gladly, the opposite personalities are also found, if one knows where to look.

Pre-Covid-19 by a month, there are still so few people.

Marfa-Chinati Barracks 1a-SML

Unfinished projects, too

Marfa-Chinati Barracks 1b-SML

For now, interior photos from several buildings are posted, so you can escape whatever you need to and soak in something better. I’ll probably delete these.

Marfa-Chinati Barracks 2a-SMLMarfa-Chinati Barracks 2b-SMLMarfa-Chinati Barracks 2c-SMLMarfa-Chinati Barracks 2d-SMLMarfa-Chinati Barracks 2e-SMLMarfa-Chinati Barracks 2f-SMLMarfa-Chinati Barracks 3-SML

.

Judd’s 100 Works in Mill Aluminum are different each time in different light. In the light of thickening cloud cover, it’s subdued into almost black and white.

Marfa-Chinati Sheds Mill Alum 1-SMLMarfa-Chinati Sheds Mill Alum 2-SMLMarfa-Chinati Sheds Mill Alum 3-SML

.

From the enclosed to the expansive, Judd’s 15 Works in Concrete

Marfa-Chinati Conc 1a-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 1b-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 2a-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 2b-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 2c-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 3a-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 3b-SML

Waves, repetition…get it? That’s only the start. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen these works, always with a content mindset that’s open to learning more.

Marfa-Chinati Conc 4a-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 4b-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 5-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 6a-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 6b-SMLMarfa-Chinati Conc 7-SML

That distant row of trees has me pondering what species were there before being choked out by volunteers of that noxious, invasive non-native species Siberian elm. They line the arroyo that soon joins in with Alamito Creek.

Marfa-Chinati Conc 8-SML

It reminds me of similar areas on the great plains, especially where those lower into the prairies east of the famous 100 degree meridian. Those have elm, hackberry, walnut, cottonwood, and even some redbud.

No clue what once grew here

.

Before the 4 hour drive back to Las Cruces, we walked the area just beyond the Presidio County Courthouse for glimpses of the iconic water tower and some of their architectural entropy.

Marfa-Cthse Area 3-SML

Marfa has even more examples of entropy than where I live.

Marfa-Cthse Area 1-SML

Plus, well-tended properties

Marfa-Cthse Area 2-SML

Hopes for the present and future

Marfa-Plaza Bench1-SMLMarfa-Plaza Bench2-SML

.

Earlier and then later in the day, this spot always shines: the row planting of Desert Candle / Dasylirion leiophyllum by Chinati’s Chamberlain building proves mass and abstraction with a space’s architectural form is powerful.

Marfa-Chamberlain Out 1a-SMLMarfa-Chamberlain Out 1b-SMLMarfa-Chamberlain Out 2a-SMLMarfa-Chamberlain Out 2b-SML

Or, “Who needs so many plants of one species. I mean twenty?” – nameless and without her desert eyes on.

In line with the above quote, our attempt to catch a good, pre-return drive meal and drink failed miserably. Photos for that are unnecessary to post, too.

.

The drive back including the seemingly endless sunset were too good to photograph!

More Garden Visits

We went to the Desert Botanical Garden 2 times in a week, and more since. Here’s what I saw, mostly unlabeled…

The 6/9/18 visit was toasty, but the paved path up to the ramada and views over the valley were impressive, though any breeze was a no-show.

But near the start of walking, this jewel:

DBG-White Ramada1-SMLDBG-ElephFood Cacti Etc-SMLDBG-Herb Garden1-SMLDBG-Herb Garden2_Green Wall-SML

.

Curry Plant / Helichrysum angustifolium, an early xeriscape mainstay in ABQ, which I had no idea would grow in the low desert…

DBG-Herb Garden3_Helichrysum1-SMLDBG-Herb Garden3_Helichrysum2-SML

.

This is about my favorite spot and combo at the garden…

DBG-Herb Garden5_Agave v-r_Art PC1-SMLDBG-Herb Garden5_Agave v-r_Art PC2-SMLDBG-Herb Garden6_Anemp calif1-SML

Yerba mansa / Anemopsis californica below an agave; minty, medicinal, waxy, fresh

DBG-Herb Garden6_Anemp calif2-SMLDBG-Ramada1-SMLDBG-Ramada3-SML

.

One can’t get enough shots of Camelback Mountain.

DBG-Ramada4_Camelback Mtn-SMLDBG-Crested Saguaro1-SMLDBG-Crested Saguaro2-SMLDBG-Cacti Grass Swaths1-SML

That green swath of Gulf Muhly / Muhlenbergia capillaris makes this area.

DBG-Cacti Grass Swaths2-SML

.

The 6/15/18 visit was cooler, though still 7F warmer than Scottsdale, but the breeze was delicious. Phoenicians showed up more than previous visits so far this summer, with many parking spaces filled. Previous visits this summer resembled a ghost town.

Nothing like spring visits, where it’s a major Canada and Midwest fest!

DBG-Agave macroacantha-SMLDBG-Echinopsis_Baileya1-SMLDBG-Riparian1-SML

Natives Western Cottonwood / Populus fremontii, sitting boulders, and some scattered Deergrass / Muhlenbergia rigens…simple, gracious, relaxed. I’ve seen some nice regional plantings probably inspired by this spot.

DBG-Riparian2-SMLDBG-Riparian3-SML

.

O’Odham shelter and garden shelter…

DBG-TohOodham1-SML

.

Desert Grassland, the blending of Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts at their extremes…

DBG-Desert Grs1-SML

.

Foothills chaparral, again where Sonoran and chaparral meet

DBG-Fthl1-SML

.

Jojoba / Simmondsia chinensis

DBG-Simondsia_chinensis1-SMLDBG-Simondsia_chinensis2-SMLDBG-Wall_Garden Entry-SMLDBG-Yucca Forest Arroyo-SMLDBG-Entry_Dwarf Opuntia-SMLDBG-Entry Ramada1-SML

Tall guy…

DBG-Entry Ramada2-SML

Two / too serious women…

DBG-Entry Ramada3-SML

Who wouldn’t enjoy walking to parking spaces under a gentle shade canopy of Parkinsonia?

DBG-Entry Walk_Desert Trees-SML

.

Even Saturday evening, on the 6/22/19 flashlight tour. At 8 pm it was 98F with no comfort, while at 8 am it was 84F.

DBG-Entry Saguaro Group-SML

.

A Parry Penstemon / Penstemon parryi that had to flower 3 months late…

DBG-Entry Penstemon_parryi-SMLDBG-Sculpture1-SML

.

Cardon / Pachycereus pringlei

DBG-Cardon Bldg1-SMLDBG-Light Yucca_rostrata1-SMLDBG-Crested Saguaro-SMLDBG-Yucca_rostrata_Container1-SML

.

Last Sunday’s visit on 6/29/18 though hot early (91F at 7 am), had some amazing light and a few moments of breeze. We just wandered the central loop walkway, without going off to the side much.

DBG-Entry Cacti Terr1-SML

.

Bunny Ears Prickly Pear / Opuntia microdasys used as a groundcover, and massing instead of random chaos…all uniquely bueno!

DBG-Opuntia microdasys GC1-SML

Did I say light? Let there be a flood of warm light, before it becomes a Sonoran laser beam sun.

DBG-Entry Trees_Golden Light-SMLDBG-Stenocereus_alamosensis-SML

.

Barrels imitating pots, and vice-versa

DBG-Golden Barrels_Pot-SML

I have no clue how many firms have designed sections of the Desert Botanical Garden, but it seems more than other gardens I’ve visited. Even the Denver Botanic Gardens, which has hired some different designers and horticulturists for specific areas.

It was time for a light breakfast and a cup of good joe, to reward myself from trying but failing to capture a covey of Gambel’s Quail earlier. And AC!

.

6/30/19 weather:
109F / 83F / 0.00 or 43c / 28c / .00

Inspiration on the Trail

A few left and right turns for several miles takes you off Thompson Peak Parkway, and into a well-considered trailhead approach and parking area at the Gateway Trailhead of the vast McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

First, you drive by one of a pair of attractive walls along the parkway, a generously wide walking path of decomposed granite (DG) in front.

Thompson Peak_3984 ft-Google St View-SML

3,974 foot elevation Thompson Peak, with the antennas on top, is distant center. That late “winter” view is stunning, even from the Google Van’s street view!

.

Once parked, you walk through the open, breezy shelter that was awarded LEED Platinum for the design. The design team included a landscape architect, who had their desert eyes on. They had sensitivity for what makes the Sonoran Desert or any arid land great! It’s so harmonious with the natural place.

The upward swoop of the roof line soars into the blue, the sound of crunchy DG walking.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Walls5-SMLMcDowell Sonoran Pres-Walls4-SML

The use of concrete for seat and other walls, plus structural elements for the rammed earth in columns, works well.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Walls3-SML

.

The gap in this wall is probably for drainage out.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Walls2-SML

.

What a cool spot for a mini ampitheater, as it defines “only go off the trail here” using the seat walls. The curved forms are a good contrast to the angular mountains and verticals of saguaros.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Walls1-SMLMcDowell Sonoran Pres-Walls1b-SML

.

Onward!

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail01-SML

That smooth DG  gives way to the majority of the trail system I saw, small desert rocks left. While not a trail designer, my years of mountain biking the ABQ foothills saw a few places where the small rock was removed, called “sanitizing”.

While smoothing out riding, that sanitizing practice mostly takes away from riders developing technical skills, and it can cause increased erosion of the trail surface.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail02-SML

Until I’m ready to go home, I’ll gradually get better at hiking through rockier sections of trail, though I have to be careful. The small elevation gains are what I can handle, though I might be able to increase those in the next 2 months. I’ll still seek out more smooth trail lengths, as I build back my strength, balance, and stamina.

Some of that may be at the Phoenix Mountains Preserve instead of here.

.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail03-SML

Expansive views into North Scottsdale are made better across a larger stand of Teddy Bear or Jumping Cholla / Cylindropuntia biglovii. Leafy low desert shrubs like Jojoba / Simondsia chinensis grow more often along arroyos at the drier end of their range.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail04-SMLMcDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail06-SMLMcDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail05-SML

Notice the differences in the ribs on Saguaro / Carnegia gigantea vs. ribs on their large Compass Barrel / Ferocactus cylindraceus

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail07-SML

.

Mountain bike tracks…

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail09-SMLMcDowell Sonoran Pres-Trail08-SML

.

Good to emphasize these warnings…

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Sign1-SMLMcDowell Sonoran Pres-Sign3-SML

.

Their trail signage is among the best I’ve seen in public open space.

McDowell Sonoran Pres-Sign4-SMLMcDowell Sonoran Pres-Sign5-SML

.

“Hyper-summer” began late in the low desert, but it’s here until I return home with lows about to stay around 80-85F. I intend to continue hiking different trails, though starting at sunrise.

.

Do you have natural areas you can easily access, which inspire your person and gardening instincts, for your immediate climate and vegetation?

Or do you have that but plan ahead to avoid dangerous weather conditions like here?