In 2002, after hiking through much of the beautiful land in Socorro County, we decided to try to find a setting for a new home in this rough land. We loved the bosque – the mostly cottonwood forest that borders the Rio Grande – and we loved the mountain desert – its dramatic views of the expanse and the mountains beyond, the geology of its arroyos.
The west side of the Rio Grande from south of Albuquerque to Las Cruces is agricultural, served by an array of irrigation ditches. The east side, however, unless settled into a town or city, is much as it has been for hundreds of years, with floodplain rising to mesa top and few roads. Most of this land is public – Bureau of Land Management, national wildlife refuges, state land – and private land is unusual. We were lucky to find the perfect spot – a wonderful combination of bosque rising up to mountain desert, at the end of a county road. After some consideration, the owner agreed to sell us his south 68 acres. We named it Dogshine, after the gleam in our dogs’ eyes when we hiked with them.
We knew what we wanted in a home and began to draw up sketches. We worked with an architect and a general contractor to create our home. After consideration of solar energy, we opted instead to connect to the electric grid through the Socorro Electric Cooperative. The Bureau of Land Management had to be persuaded to allow electric lines across their land from Johnson Hill Road, however. Where feasible, we proposed burying the line to preserve the view. After more than a year of negotiating with the BLM, we were able to proceed with power. Fortunately, obtaining a well permit and having the well drilled was far simpler and faster.
The lower part of the land, a 30-acre piece on the floodplain, had become accreted to the upper adjoining parcel because the Rio Grande had moved westward in the previous hundred years. It had been deeded only by quitclaim, so we went through the long legal process with the federal government to officially claim it. It now holds equal title insurance status with the rest.
Making many decisions to build a home just the way we wanted it, with innumerable details, we completed construction in Summer 2004. We built corrals and sheds for our donkeys and sheep. We built fish ponds in the yard, with one just for the dogs. We hiked every day on our own land and the adjoining BLM land, sometimes for hours at a time. We cleared a path to the river, and often took the short walk to the riverbanks. In winter months, migratory sandhill cranes would be there too. Observing wildlife became a fascinating activity.
Building a home up on the mesa overlooking the bosque and river takes it out of the path of the seasonal fires which often race through the bosque, fueled by salt cedar. Building on the floodplain itself is foolhardy, and we placed the lower 30 acres in a conservation easement to preserve wildlife habitat.
We worked with the USDA’s Natural Resources agency and the local Save Our Bosque Task Force, a coalition of local government employees and citizens, to remove the impenetrable salt cedar at the edge of the bosque. The 14-acre area hosts a demonstration project using no herbicides to control the salt cedar, contrary to the usual method. The project began in 2005 with mechanical extraction, bulldozing, and cutting, and has been successfully continued with grazing by Barbados sheep. The results are dramatic in aerial photos, both Google’s and those by US Geological Survey. This area now serves as a firebreak and allows easier access to the mostly cottonwood bosque.
This ends the story of the realization of a dream. We did the hard work – and now it can be yours.