Glorious Grasslands – Las Cienegas National Conservation Area
I imagine it might have looked like this thousands of years ago. In fact I imagine most of the southwest probably looked exactly like this. Long, rolling grasslands swaying and wrapping the hills with their golden fingers. Mesquite trees spotting the landscape with curves of brown as far as the eye can see. Shadows and coulds rolling over the grass leaving patches of bright and dark from brilliant yellow at mid-day to a deep orange glow at dusk. This is the way it once was and still is right here. What a place!
We’re boondocked at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA) and the only living thing we’ve seen in 4 days is a Pronghorn….oh and one cow. It’s been near-perfect weather…perhaps a few more clouds than we normally like, but otherwise mostly bright, sunny days, a slight breeze and a cool 70 degrees (~21°C).
This 45,000 acre preserve is truely a capsule in time. It contains five of the rarest habitat types in the American Southwest: cienegas (marshlands), cottonwood-willow riparian forests, sacaton grasslands, mesquite bosques, and semi-desert grasslands as well as roaming herds of Pronghorn and Black-Tailed Prarie Dogs (recently re-introduced)….oh and some cows.
It also just happens to have a bit of wild west movie history. On-site historic Empire Ranch was the setting of several western classics including “Red River,” “Duel in the Sun,” “Hombre,” “Winchester 73” and “The Big Country”, amongst others. The ranch has been preserved as an open museum and the NCA still has a working cattle ranch on the grasslands (thus, the cows you see) that allows you to walk your nifty Keens where many well-worn cowboy boots have previously tread. So not only do you get some pretty cool nature, but you’ll get to pretend you’re a cowboy too.
So what have we been doing? Well apart from the visit to the Empire Ranch (which is well worth a gawk and gander) we’ve been doing absolutely nothing…nada…not a thing. This is one of those areas that is sooooo very remote and sooooo very relaxing that it’s really best just to throw off your inhibitions and go with the flow. We’ve gotten into the habit of taking our morning coffee with an east view of the Whetstone Mountains, our afternoon lounge by the shade of the RV and our evening glass over the sunset of the Santa Rita Range. Plus a few bike rides and walks across the grasslands thrown in. Simply wonderful!
The time off has also allowed me to map out most of our Apr-June travels. If all goes to plan we’ll be boondocking our way through Eastern Utah all of April, heading off across Idaho in early May and arriving at the Columbia River Gorge in Northern Oregon by the second half of May. Then we’ll take a leasurely pace along the Gorge and down the Oregon coast to our jobs at Bullards beach in July. The only month I’ve booked out is June and that’s purely so we can get the sites we want at the spots we want on the OR coast during summer vacations (I’m very particular about where we stay). The rest of the time we’ll be free-flowing our sites along the way…we’ll see how it goes.
So there you have it. We’re headed next to Patagonia Lake State Park, and then probably coming right back to the grasslands for another break before we go north. See ya at the next stop…