Riparian means “relating to, living on, or located on the bank of a natural watercourse.” While riparian refers to anywhere there is water, riparian areas are always more astonishing when they appear in arid country. One of my favorite sights, whenever I’m visiting a desert, is the sudden appearance of the surprising burst of luxuriant growth that marks the presence of water. In southern New Mexico, at Oliver Lee State Park a few miles outside Alamogordo, There is a riparian area nestled between the towering cliffs of Dog Canyon. Here, flanking the cheerful little creek that bubbles and tumbles along the canyon floor, cactus is replaced by poplars and other deciduous trees. Cattails, horsetail, and ferns crowd the banks of the stream. It is lush and beautiful—and very narrow, with the desert still controlling the land only a few yards from the watercourse.
The photos below were taken by the friend I was visiting in New Mexico. The first faces the canyon, revealing the fall colors of the trees clustered around the creek. The second faces away from Dog Canyon, across the expanse of the Tularosa Basin. The broken wall in this photo is part of the ruins of a cabin built by a French settler in the 1800s, and pencil-line of white you can just make out to the right, at the base of the distant mountains, is the sun reflecting off White Sands.