|Camping at Ranchos los Ojos
Our expedition took us to the Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation properties in the Sierra San Luis. So From the border crossing in Douglas, we headed southeast, through Agua Prieta, Sonora, and then continued on highway 2 not quite to the border with Chihuahua. A winding dirt road took us to the main house of the Rancho los Ojos. Beautiful big cottonwoods shaded our campsite close to the river, but as the wind picked up towards the end of our stay it was more comfortable to move into the ranch house. After roughing it on a deflated air mattress, a room with original art on the walls and a great modern bathroom were a welcome change.
The huge area that is owned by the Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation consists mainly of rolling high elevation grasslands that are dotted with mesquite, juniper and 8 species of oaks. Smaller neighboring ranches that have been acquired recently include also pine forest, but we did not get that far on our tours because we were too engaged in exploring creeks, washes and slot canyons on the way.
|Canyon at el Pinito
|Claret Cup Cactus, el Pinito
In these parts, April is definitely part of the dry pre-summer time. The mesquites were fresh and just greening out, but the grasses were brown and brittle.
|Result of careful grazing management on Rancho los Ojos, left, overgrazed neighboring land, right
|The Ranch owner (standing) explaining her conservation procedures and plans for the land
The main feature of the foundation property are thousands of check‐dams or gabiones. They reminded me of artificial beaver dams (without the beavers' tree harvesting, though). But like beaver dams, these structures retain water, turning grassland into swampy cienegas, preventing erosion by seasonal flood-runoffs and instead allow permeation of water into the soil.
|Punta del Agua
|Sangmi Lee and Fred Skillman with morning coffee and visions of great bug collecting
|John Palting's moth collection already stretched, pinned and baked, ready for presentation
|Not carrying a kite, but an unusually small beating sheet. Nico's was three times as big, so he got more beetles, obviously!
So the place temporarily became rather dangerous for the local bug population, especially when during daylight hours opportunistic Thrashers and Orioles joined in and cleaned up the black lights at the kitchen door of the ranch house.
|True Bugs, Heteroptera
We had several people who specialized in mites. Other Arachnids were also plentiful.
Over all, I personally ended up with over 70 species of beetles. The numbers would have been higher if windy conditions hadn't made collecting difficult on the last days. We are also way into the dry season. During the summer monsoons this area must be extremely rich.
|Patchnose Snake, Herper, Birder, Botanist, Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar
The vegetation on the way to the hot springs of Ojos Calientes was especially lush (even after our botanists were through collecting) and revealed a number of interesting reptiles: First a Patchnose Snake and a Sonoran Whipsnake (that one escaped without having its picture taken).
|Gopher Snake (Photo by M. McNulty)
|Clark's Spiny Lizard
|The impressive Blacktail Rattler had just eaten (Photo Jim Rorabaugh)
|Little Red-spotted Toad in the rancho's kitchen garden
|Carne Asada dinner on day one (photo Jim Rorabaugh)
This year, our Mexican hosts had prepared an Earth Day and birthday (for several participants) surprise: a big pinata was gruesomely slaughtered. I leave the id of that thing to your imagination.
Chip Hedgecock took the obligatory group photo with all of us perching on the huge trunk of a dead Cottonwood that had been hardly diminished by a three-day axe-attack on it by our tenebroid people.
This memorable expedition was sponsored by Greater Goods Foundation, hosted by the Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation and prepared and led by Tom Van DeVender and Analilia Reina - thank you so much for making this possible!
To learn more about the Cuenca los Ojos Foundation, its history and goals, and to see some beautiful art inspired by the landscape go to https://cuencalosojos.org/