Playas en el Desierto Colorado
If you need a translation, that literally means, “beaches in the Coloradan desert”. If you’re still confused, then it’s probably safe to assume that you have never visited the Blanca Wetlands outside of Alamosa, Colorado. Up until a few days ago I didn’t know something like “playas” existed. Sitting a few miles outside Alamosa in Southern Colorado, there lays a network of interconnected ponds – an oasis atop a rare water table within a closed basin all in the midst of farmland and sand dunes. This is where I will be spending my summer.
The wetlands are a unique stopover site for birds where there are over 200 ponds of freshwater, salt marshes and playas. Although there are 200+, they are more hidden than one would think. I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of the wetlands for my first visit from another intern, Anjelica. I hadn’t been in Alamosa more than 24 hours before I set off to discover the area I would be spending the next 6 months, and as we bumped along the 7 mile dirt road that led to the wetlands I was skeptical to say the least. Anjelica told me about the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that would come through during the summer, the various fish ponds that held trout and blue gill, and the 45 wells that drew water across hundreds of acres. I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow as we passed acre after desolate acre of short, scrubby brush and dense greasewood. How could this support any wildlife much less shorebirds? I continued to doubt the vastness of the wetlands right up until the truck crept over a final sand dune and nearly dumped us in the middle of a muddy shoreline.
It was as if the shallow rolling hills were keeping a secret just passed the horizon; water was suddenly everywhere. Every winding two-track road led us to another hidden body of water, and every turn put us right on top flocks of ducks, geese, coots – more birds than you could imagine. Being from New Mexico I have always been fascinated with water and can honestly say I have never seen a collection of water quite like what I saw in the Blanca Wetlands that day. Every pond had different surroundings, salinity, and scattered wildlife. In combination with an unreal snowy mountain backdrop, I was in awe for most of my tour 🙂 It was a lot to take in on my first day but I am incredibly excited to start learning about everything that this unusual habitat has to offer.