Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument

Rio Grande by Arroyo Hondo

Some 240,000 acres of land along the upper Rio Grande in New Mexico will be designated as a National Monument today by President Obama. It is an area I am very familiar with and much love. In fact I was just there on Monday showing parts of it to my friend and fellow photographer, Jessica Duke. We were looking for Desert Big Horn Sheep that have been re-established in the Rio Grande Gorge. And we found them.

I have been posting photographs of the wild river and the Big Horn Sheep all week but it seemed appropriate today to post a blog here about our newest gift to ourselves.

John Dunn or Low Bridge

The high bridge spanning the gorge some 600 feet above the surface of the Rio Grande gets all the headlines these days. But before that engineering feet in the 1960's there was the low bridge built by Long John Dunn of Taos. He was a bronc rider, stage coach driver, gambler and a legend in northern New Mexico.

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built a narrow gauge line from Alamosa, Colorado to Espanola, New Mexico on the wrong side of the Rio Grande Gorge and missed the town of Taos by going through Tres Piedras. John Dunn, who left Victoria, Texas to hide from the law in Taos, built a bridge where the Arroyo Hondo meets the Rio Grande and ran stage coaches out to pick up passengers off the Chili Line. It is easy to get down to the John Dunn bridge from the Taos direction but the switch backs up the opposite canyon wall must have given passengers a few nervous moments.

Big Horn Ram on the Canyon Wall

The high basalt walls of the Rio Grande Gorge does not seem to bother the Big Horn Sheep. Visitors going across the high bridge in the mornings report seeing them on the rim and the mesa beyond. We went down south further and caught them on the walls by Pillar.

Rio Grande before Embudo

Checking us out

That location, however, didn't get us that much closer to the sheep. It did put us in awe of the ability of these agile animals to climb. They seem very much home in Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. And hopefully this designation will keep them and one of America's last wild rivers safe.

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