Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Oxbow

Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Oxbow, July 2021

Mary Harner and I tagged along yesterday morning out in the Rio Grande Oxbow with Wes Noe, a UNM Water Resources Program/Community and Regional Planning student who is doing his masters project at field sites there.

Mary Harner and Wes Noe on the Rio Grande at the Oxbow, July 2021

Loyal readers will remember remember my travels with Mary, a University of Nebraska colleague studying the Rio Grande.

Wes is a masters student in our WRP/CRP dual degree program, drawn to the Oxbow as a study site because of its fascinating linkages between the riparian ecosystem and human communities on the bluffs above. Neighbors banded together to preserve some open space surrounding it, and Wes is connecting that political and community process with years of intermittent scientific study of the Oxbow itself.

Now that Wes has a permit to work at the site, Mary and I asked to tag along on a field visit. He’s doing return sampling at sites that were studied a number of years ago, looking at bugs and measuring depth to groundwater, looking for changes over time, and variations among the sites.

The Oxbow is an amazing outlier in the Albuquerque Rio Grande riparian system. At ~50 acres (~20 hectares), it’s the only river-connected wetland in this stretch of the river.  A fragment of old river stranded, it was stranded by water managers in the 1950s who, desperate to more efficiently more water for human use, dug the channel that you see in the picture of Mary and Wes above. It’s fascinating to me that what passes here for the “natural” river channel is in fact an engineered system. But then, I guess, the whole system is engineered at this point, for better or worse.

Surrounded by bluffs and relatively inaccessible, the Oxbow has oddly thrived, though as a particularly novel ecosystem. I’ve poked around its edges for years, but thanks to Wes’s permits and wayfinding skills (and his cheerful curiosity – best part about students!) Mary and I were able to get into its interior yesterday for the first time.

A remarkable wilderness pocket right in the middle of the city.


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