Galisteo Love Letter

The Gate to the BLM

Not far from my place is a tract of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. BLM land is public land; it belongs to you and me. One eighth of the landmass of the United States is held by the BLM, more than 250 million acres where you’re free to hike, camp, shoot guns and run cattle. On BLM land, this is still a free country (unless you’re a mustang).

Yesterday, my Valentine was in California, so I set off for a hike by myself across the BLM with my two good dogs. Solitude and open spaces are the great loves of my life and there’s no other way I’d rather spend the day than hiking in a place like this:

Feeling the Love..

This tract of land surrounds the Galisteo Dam, a flood control dam built in 1965 to hold back 100 year floods. As far as I know, they’ve never come, but there’s still plenty of time. A round trip hike to the dam is about 12-miles, a nice conditioning hike a week before my birthday Grand Canyon trip next week.

All day long, I saw not a single other person on my hike, but I did have a few animal encounters. On the way out and on the way back, I ran into a herd of a dozen cattle, all with curved, pointy horns. As usual, they took one look at me, flanked by my two big dogs, and turned tail.

Out here, even the girls have horns! Galisteo Dam in the background.

On one of the very first hikes I took out here, I came around a juniper and found myself much too close to one of the rangeland steers. Before I could retreat he ran straight at me, horns low. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do. And then he blew right past me, a reeking red and white freight train of death. I whirled with him and then saw the rest of the herd scattered behind me. I had come between the bull and his buddies and he had panicked to rejoin them.

As it turns out, rangeland cattle are skittish to the point of absurdity. From that day on they have always run from me, heads low in fright. Only with a long lens can I get decent pictures. It’s almost as if the delicious beasts know they’re destined to be food.

Bowie & the Big BLM Arroyo

About halfway to the dam, I stopped for a rest on the edge of the flood plain, before beginning the climb. My young dog Dio was scenting intently to the south and a moment later, a coyote chorus exploded from a nearby bluff. Impossible to tell how many, but more than one or two. Then Dio’s head whipped to the north, towards the river, and I heard very faintly, a return chorus. We were in the middle of a pack.

No worries. They were just letting us know we’re on their turf. My dogs will stay with me, if I tell them to, and no number of coyotes would ever attack a person and two big dogs. We stay in the open, where we can see and be seen. I never catch a glimpse, but I feel coyote eyes on me the rest of the day.

Dio listening to the coyotes, Ortiz Mountains to the south

At the top of the dam, 500-feet above the flood plain, is a defunct picnic area. I’m not sure if it’s ever open; all the times I’ve been here in the winter the heavy metal gate across the road in from I-25 has been padlocked. There’s a fair amount of broken glass around, but the graffiti on the overlook has been painted over with a fresh coat of paint, much to my disappointment. I love graffiti.

Galisteo Dam Picnic Area

Freshly Painted Overlook, Shadow Self Portrait

Cerrillos Hills from the Galisteo Dam

Standing at the top, on the edge of the dam, among bright red and pure white sandstone slabs – the red dotted with chartreuse lichen, the white decorated with delicate fossils of frozen grass – I finally see the need for the dam: The land below is rippled by giant flood waves…

View from the Dam

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Cowboys & Horses, Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Galisteo Love Letter

  1. sandy says:

    Great portrait! It has a real New Mexican look to it.

    The earth looks almost smothered by that stunning sky.

  2. Perhaps you have been asked this before… Have you ever read Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather?…or The Professor’s House..? In each, she describes the southwest, and New Mexico in particular, in such beautiful and lucid prose. I had images in my mind of how it must look, as I’ve never been to New Mexico – and your photographs are bringing her words to life for me. I thoroughly enjoy reading and following your blog. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Linda says:

    Hi Mary,
    I happened upon your blog recently, and just couldn’t read & savor one more of your superb articles without expressing my keen appreciation and deep gratitude! Your photos capture the spirit as well as the subject. We are, loosely speaking, neighbors. A year ago, after a lengthy search, I found and fell in love with a 48 acre parcel atop a mesa with stunning 360 degree views. This parcel is part of the Ortiz Mine Grant and the Mesita De Juana Lopez Grant, a rich history about which I am eager to learn more. Most of my writing is now done on Hubpages, and I found you because I was updating some links in my WordPress blogs. Yippee! Have a very, very Happy Birthday! Cheers, and a wildly zealous “thumbs up” for your work! Linda

  4. Just a note to thank you for the pleasure I receive in reading your posts.

    The Old Coyote

    • You’re welcome, Old Coyote! I debated for a long time about how much of my life I really wanted to share with the world wide web, but feedback like yours makes me feel great about putting my photos, stories and myself out there. Hopefully I will inspire a few people to get out and see more of the world!

  5. Pip says:

    I have also just come across you (Freshly Pressed at its best!), and am really enjoying the descriptions of NM since I live in ABQ. *L* We’ve been shooting up on that BLM land, as a matter of fact. 🙂

  6. mjspringett says:

    i love my vacarious adventure with you and your dogs, are they going along to Grand Canyon? thanks MJ

  7. What a beautiful place. That steer would have scared the you know what out of me! Beautiful photos, I love the self portrait.
    Happy Trails!

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  10. Hi Mary,
    Thanks for your kind reply. Yes we are off grid up here. The fact that being on grid was not an option was yet another reason this was an ideal property. Unlike Madrid, we have delicious water (thank you, Galisteo Watershed), and we border a Pueblo. Hard to believe we put in our well a year ago this month. What a blessing to live on this untamed land. Have you been to Tent Rocks yet? You might enjoy my photos and my hub, No Toast Today…. If you check them out I hope they evoke a smile. Thanks again, and Happy Trails, L.

  11. You know, I kept thinking that the name ‘Galisteo’ sounded familiar… ‘Tourquoise Trail’? I’ve kept an article from a winter, 1990 issue of Countryside magazine about artist/horsebreeder Priscilla Hoback and her Quartermill Farm in Galisteo. The map accompaning the article features the Ortiz mountains, Galisteo Basin, nearby town of Lamy… The article claims that Galisteo is a “perfect example of the real New Mexico…” and from the photos, I’d agree. I had relatives in Espanola, which is about 30 miles south of Taos. I first visited NM in 1968 at the age of 14, and have loved it ever since. Your photos take me there free of charge! P.S. The writer of the article was Tricia Hurst, photos by Richard Jeffery.

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