Top of the Rockies, New Mexico

The best-laid plans of mice and fly-fishers often go astray, and  that’s what happened on our recent road trip. I hadn’t anticipated being so relaxed or busy with new experiences that I couldn’t find the energy needed to dig out the computer from our camping vehicle in order to post here on the blog, but that’s my story and I should probably stick to it. I missed the regularity of posting and being in touch with friends and readers, but Leighanne and I enjoyed a wonderful journey through the Rocky Mountains from southern New Mexico north to regions near lovely Canada.

I managed to fish 2o streams and rivers in six terrific western states. We visited with friends and family, explored four national parks and one incredible national monument. We probably added seven-thousand miles to our modern equivalent of a stagecoach. Now it’s time to reconnect with bloggers and other friends, and I’ll do my best with catching up and sharing some of our experiences from the beautiful backbone of America.

Rio Costilla

I’ve decided to try to organize events on a state-by-state basis, one posting for each of a half-dozen states beginning with New Mexico and then proceeding through Colorado, Utah, Idaho-Wyoming, and Montana, concluding with a touch of the Dakotas. Here we go…

at the Taos Pueblo

There’s nothing like the smell of desert rain as the southwestern monsoon season kicks in. My brother-in-law, Rich, and I revisited Dog Canyon near White Sands, New Mexico, enjoying the redolence of air produced by moisture interacting with creosote plants. I watched small birds in the riparian zone, especially verdins reconstructing their globular nest, and wondered how close we were to rattlesnakes and javelinas. Leighanne and I would soon be traveling north toward Taos and my fishing license followed by a fascinating tour of a Native American Pueblo.

We re-inhabited a primitive campground on the Rio Santa Barbara beneath the storming peaks of the Sangre de Christos. We got to walk and to fish about a mile of this beautiful churning water before the weather turned us back. I caught and released a lot of wild brown trout in the canyon and near our camp, but was saddened to learn that the Rio Grande cutthroats that I had caught here in the past have retreated to higher ground, thanks to competition from the browns and the likelihood of climate change.

why they’re called cutthroats

Anyone interested in natural history and in Native American culture should visit the Taos Pueblo when passing through this region. Listening to and observing the Pueblo artisans where the sunlit waters of Red Willow Creek sparkled nearby, and where the scent of sage and cedar filled the air, was simply wonderful.

The Rio Costilla, or Costilla Creek, can be found in the Valle Vidal, near the Colorado border, about 20 miles east of tiny Costilla, New Mexico, and it offers the best Rio Grande cutthroat fishing in the state (special regulations apply). It’s a magical place, reminding me of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley– without the crowds. We camped in solitude. The Costilla and its little tributary, Comanche Creek, are easy to fly-fish. There are no trees or shrubbery along the banks to snag your fly. You simply walk along the scented grasses and cast a dry fly for the hungry Rio Grande cutts.

New Mexico mountain high

A devotee of wild and colorful places, or a lover of small stream fly-fishing, can imagine entering heaven in a locale like this. The signs were everywhere.

[Next time, Top of the Rockies, Colorado]

a wonderful dry fly stream in elk country

impatient for release

Comanche Creek is only 3-4 feet wide but is loaded with cutts (special regs apply)

 

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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20 Responses to Top of the Rockies, New Mexico

  1. Brent says:

    Beautiful start to a series I’m greatly looking forward to following! New Mexico always has a stunning range of ecosystems and color palettes, often based solely on one’s elevation. I myself have been reviewing my pictures and trying to figure out how to proceed on my own recounting of the trip.

  2. The diversity of the state, culturally and environmentally, is absolutely fascinating. And the colors. No wonder Georgia O’Keefe was taken. Thanks! And we look forward to your tales and pics from CO and UT…

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m really looking forward to the next stop but I have to admit that I’ve been checking every day to see if you were home yet. New Mexico is a very special place and you captured very well some of the reasons why I love the West. Nice job Walt and welcome home!

    • Thanks so much, my friend. I’m glad your experiences of the West resonate with my own. New Mexico is a special state and region, indeed. I appreciate your being a faithful reader. Next stop is coming soon!

  4. I really enjoyed your first installment. You really captured what I love about New Mexico Walt and I’m looking forward to more. I have to tell you that I’ve been checking every day to see if you had posted along your way. Welcome home!

    • Thank you, Howard, much appreciated! It’s good to be back but, I’ll tell you, I sure love that region you call home. Colorado was a lot of fun. Each state was unique and inspirational.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    20 waterways! I’m jealous! Welcome home and I can’t wait to hear your state-by-state account of the western tour de force.

    • Thanks Bob. I got lucky, I guess, but the route unfolded pretty much as we had planned. The rivers seemed in better shape this year and less ravaged by drought. The weather, although stormy at first (with some forest fires in MT) turned out to be dry and relatively cool, all of which helped me fish like a demon.

  6. beckyparkins says:

    Love the pictures. Looking forward to traveling vicariously through your next blogs.

  7. Looks like lovely country! Comanche creek looks like a small stream heaven for sure. I’ve often wondered how tough those small streams are to fish with nothing but grass along the banks. The fish must be very weary of any movement. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your travels.

    • Thanks Mark. Yeah streams like Comanche are challenging because the fish are wary and it doesn’t take much to move them away. But if you creep along and target the riffles and undercuts, they are eager to take a dry fly. Lots of fun in an awesome environment.

  8. Amazing. I’m looking forward to the rest of them. Those cutthroat are really quite beautiful.

    • Rio Grandes are a pretty fish, indeed, and native to CO and NM but currently restricted to only a small portion of their original range. Thanks for your interest, Douglas, and best wishes.

  9. Les Kish says:

    Walt, I’d say your road trip was a resounding success. If you were too “busy” to dig out the computer it was for good reason. There’s always time to catch up later.

  10. plaidcamper says:

    Walt, I can’t pick up your photos here (sketchy Internet) so I’ll look later, but your words paint a picture of a wonderful trip. NM is a fabulous state, and the Taos Pueblo a particular highlight. Traveling out there in monsoon season adds an exciting edge to the spectacular landscapes.
    Sounds like your trip had all you wished for and more – I look forward to catching up with it properly!

  11. loydtruss says:

    Walt
    This had to be a trip of a lifetime for both of you. I’m so impressed with the easy access to all those beautiful streams and all the colorful cutthroats you landed. Just wondering is there a lot of fishing pressure on the streams you fished? It would be wonderful if one could buy one fishing license to cover all the states you fished. All the images are awesome, but my favorite is the Elk County stream, enjoyed the post and thanks for sharing!!!

    • Bill, I was thinking something similar, that if you could buy one license for, say, all the Rocky Mountain region, it would have made traveling easier but, as it was, the purchasing of licenses state-by-state, though a bit expensive, wasn’t too difficult. Fishing pressure in New Mexico wasn’t bad. The streams were remote, and most of the anglers I saw were fishing lower down in the watersheds where trout are stocked. We climbed higher into the systems where special regs allured the fly-fishing trout bums, like myself, a fairly rare breed in the mountains. Thank you for your thoughts!

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