Summer, fall, winter, spring. Yep, we’ve got them all and they’re very different from each other.
In honor of the summer solstice later this week, I’ve been giving some thought to the seasons of northern New Mexico and their progressions. (See more about day length changes in my previous guest blog post HERE.)
Summer is here now obviously and we’re all waiting with bated breath for the summer rain pattern to kick in–our “monsoons”. The word means moisture that comes inland from a large body of water. In our case, it’s usually the Gulf of California that provides the water for clouds which build up almost daily in July and August giving us short, cooling, healing rain storms. We’ve had scattered rain this month, but we’re pretty parched right now as evidenced by many wild plants. The rains will come soon.
A couple of weeks after the rains begin (each of which might last an hour before the return of blue sky), we see a rejuvenation in the landscape. Plants which have been waiting, waiting, burst forth with new growth and flowers. Birds and bees respond. Saturated Kelly green color is lacking, but is replaced here with intricate, softer greens. Because more precipitation falls in the mountains, deeper and richer greens appear the higher in elevation one climbs from the Rio Grande valley (at 5000 feet elevation) into the surrounding mountains (at 12,000 feet). Only a few miles as the crow flies brings these changes!
The monsoons end in September and fall is a glorious time. Without the distraction of other wild colors, the clear golden leaves of mountain Aspen trees get their full due. Many of the summer flowers of the valley are now replaced with banks of wild yellow-flowering Chamisa as well. As the fall progresses, nights grow cold and hard frost puts a cap on the flowers. The daily temperature pendulum swings about 25 degrees Farenheight between day and night year-round, so daytimes are still very pleasant. Our first snowfall in the mountains often happens in October although it won’t “stick” until the ground has cooled off more.
November and early December are colder but often sunny enough to continue hiking in many places with a light jacket. Or cold enough to want a parka, with snow beginning to accumulate in the mountains. The difference that elevation makes is hard to exaggerate. The local downhill ski area (at 10,000 – 12,000 feet) begins to prepare for a winter season. By Christmastime, there is usually enough snow to begin snowshoeing on upper elevation trails though hiking continues in lower, sunnier places like the rocky canyons near the Rio Grande. In town (at 7000 feet) snow rarely accumulates for long except in shadows because those sunny days melt it right off. Our naturally low relative humidity, often below 10%, ensures that it not only melts but dries.
A good snow year provides us with the water our early spring landscape needs. So not only the skiers and snowshoers are saying “more! More snow!” but so are the very plants. There is much variability, but the mountain receives on average 225 inches of snow; our little airport, 17 inches.
Spring begins its emergence in March with warming temperatures and spring winds. I must admit that the gusty winds of spring are my least favorite aspect of New Mexico. In most places, a stiff breeze is fine, but if for some reason you’ve found yourself in an arroyo (dry creek bed) or sandy mesa when the wind kicks up, then you’ll be pretty dusty by your return. The mountains begin to melt out quickly in south-facing places while snow lingers sometimes into May in the shaded, north-facing spots.
By early to late May, mid-elevation forays into the mountains become possible again with either patches of soft snow to traverse or none, depending on the year. At lower elevation, the earliest flowers–the ones that depend on winter moisture, not the monsoons–begin to flower. Like the various cactus, the bright sand verbena, and yucca.
Which brings me back around to June. I suppose because I know that they cannot last, I’m enjoying the long, very pleasant evenings and gorgeous sunsets right now. They will give way to another sort of beauty in another couple of months but that’s part of what we love here–the changing beauty of the seasons.
If you’re into graphs, here’s a great link to average weather information for Santa Fe: http://weatherspark.com/averages/31551/Santa-Fe-New-Mexico-United-States