I'm driving down to the “Land of Enchantment” to find the River of Blackberries. Rio Mora translates to “The River of Blackberries” and is a nationally protected landscape outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico and home to a research station of the Denver Zoo. I have come down for the weekend for native seed collection research. Cruising through the southwest the blank space and wide skies are mesmerizing. There seems to be not a soul surrounding you. This starkness is what it is like driving into Rio Mora, but once you enter the perimeter gate life explodes around you. The gravel road takes a sharp turn downward and opens up onto a lush pinyon-juniper valley floor made complete by the setting sun, sixty head bison herd, and of course the Rio Mora running through.
Upon arrival I was immediately captivated by this ranch, the crisp air caught in my lungs like it were the first oxygen molecules on earth. Breathing deeply I spent the remaining dusk hours exploring my surroundings. As I looked around, I looked down and noticed creatures tracks scurrying through the dusty fields. I counted at least eight distinct animal tracks and followed each one until the trail went cold, then picking up a new set and seeing where this trail would take me.
Over the next two days the team at Rio Mora explored the different habitats from wetlands to grasslands that the ranch encompasses, collecting native seed specimens for use in future restoration projects. There is something so calming and meditative about collecting seed. All that is on your mind is the plant you are searching for; foraging through the fields looking for one specific species, crushing the spent flower head between your fingers, and popping the tiny seeds into a paper bag. Collecting seed is like searching for a needle in a haystack, but when your field is the beauty of Rio Mora who wouldn't be in awe.