A narrow forest
the green canopy
Bosque was the word the first Spanish arrivals called the green river valley of the Rio Grande. Meaning ‘forest’, this is the lush riparian zone of the river’s edge. Bosques thrived due to repeated inundations of their floodplains from early snowmelt to heavy rains. In New Mexico, this adaptation lies in stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscapes. These ribbons of green give shelter to innumerable plant and animal species. On The Ojo, when you step into the Bosque after walking in the higher and drier terrain the moist and cool sensation on a hot dry day is delicious.
The cottonwood/willow forest of all western rivers are endangered habitats. Urbanization and agriculture are the prime reasons for their demise. Also, as rivers such as the Ojo Caliente continue to entrench, they are leaving their floodplains high and dry. Today, only extraordinary flood events can reach areas that once were submerged on a regular basis.
One can spot changes in the Bosque of The Ojo. Juniper trees, which cannot survive when their roots become soaked from a flood, are found now, in numerous areas. Some plants are now confined to the immediate river edge, whereas in the past they were more abundantly scattered throughout the floodplain. This is desertification in slow motion. Eventually, as the local water table drops for longer and longer periods, trees such as cottonwoods will no longer have enough moisture to survive.
Without a healthy ‘forest’ in the Bosque, the river itself has trouble finding the surface of its bed. Lush Bosques hold water in the soil which in turn helps keep the water table up which then allows the subsurface water to flow atop its bed. This creates habitat for many aquatic species and amphibians alike. Larger animals can find the water they need for survival. Even today, we have witnessed the immediate benefits of beaver dams that have been created on The Ojo. These dams are easily scoured away by large flood events, but when this is not the case, the pools they create can help keep the immediate water table high enough to keep the water trickling when everywhere else is bone dry.