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In the Shadow of the Carmens

Afield with a Naturalist in the Northern Mexican Mountains

Bonnie Reynolds McKinney, with foreword by David H. Riskind

Publication Year: 2012

Just across the Rio Grande from West Texas in the state of Coahuila, México, the mountain ranges of the Maderas del Carmen rise majestically. Often called magical or mystical, they have stirred imagination for centuries. Stories of bandits, Indians, ghosts, incredible flora and fauna, cool forests, waterfalls, and vast woodlands filter across the Rio Grande.Many people have dreamed of exploring this vast ecosystem, but few have made the trip. Bonnie McKinney is among the fortunate. In 2001 McKinney and her husband, Billy Pat McKinney, moved to the Carmens to manage the large conservation project spearheaded by CEMEX, the Monterrey-based cement and building materials conglomerate. Like those before her, she had been enthralled by the massive mountains with their cliffs of purple and gold in the sunset, and by horizon views of high forests. She, too, wondered what treasures the mountains held. Having lived and worked in the Carmens for nearly a decade, McKinney has never been disappointed by these mountains, which never fail to surprise her. In lavish photographs and loving words McKinney takes readers on a fascinating armchair journey, Introduction byducing them to the incredible biodiversity of this jewel of northern México.

Published by: Texas Tech University Press

Series: Grover E. Murray Studies in the American

Others in Series, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-8


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii-xviii

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pp. xix-xxii

All the naturalists I’ve known working in the greater Big Bend National Park have been drawn to the sheer limestone cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen, and particularly the highest peak, Pico Cerdo (known as the Schott Tower in far-west Texas), located across the Rio Grande in Coahuila, Mexico. To the south and east is the jagged Sierra del Jardín—with Pico Centinela as its highest point ...

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

I am grateful to CEMEX for giving me the opportunity to live and work in the Carmens. I also thank my husband Billy Pat and my son Matt and daughter-in-law Julia for their support. I wish to thank the staff at El Carmen for their support and assistance—everyone who works at El Carmen contributes in many ways to the success of this large conservation project. ...

In the Shadow of the Carmens

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1. The Carmens

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pp. 3-14

For twenty-two years I lived on the Texas-Mexico border, and every day that I was in the field conducting wildlife work, I never failed to look south to the great mountains in northern Coahuila. Those mountains were so fascinating to me that I could only imagine what natural treasures and untold secrets were hidden in their deep canyons and high peaks. ...

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2. The Lobo Mexicano and Hacienda Santo Domingo

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pp. 15-20

My first encounter with the Mexican lobo in Coahuila was in the form of a rug hanging on the wall at Hacienda Santo Domingo in April 1994. My longtime friend, rancher Chabela Spence Sellers, and I were spending the night at the Hacienda Santo Domingo, courtesy of owners Bobby and Bonnie Paul, so we could get an early start on a new breeding bird survey route we were establishing. ...

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3. Chamiceras

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pp. 21-24

The Moreno, Juárez, and Fronteriza Canyons all flow into Cañón el Álamo (also called San Isidro). About a half kilometer from the juncture of the three canyons with El Álamo is a high mountain road that snakes around the forested slopes and canyons of an area known as the Chamiceras (loosely, burned place). ...

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4. El Club, Home of the Coahuila Mole

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pp. 25-34

Many years ago, El Club was famous for its great hunting opportunities. Hunters from the United States and Mexico made the long trek to the east side of the Carmens to hunt desert mule deer, mountain lions, javelina, Carmen Mountain white-tails, and black bear. This area was a part of a privately owned ranch consisting of about fifty thousand hectares. ...

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5. Mesa Bonita and the First Chichimoco Sighting

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pp. 35-40

Our schedule had been so busy that we couldn’t find time to go to Mesa Bonita, even though this was an area I was very anxious to visit. Jonás knew the area well because his master’s degree was focused on the diet of black bears here in the Carmens and he had filled my head with visions of what this high mountain mesa looked like. ...

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6. El Jardin and Canon del Diablo-Peregrine Palaces

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pp. 41-52

For many years I had heard of El Jardín. I knew it was somewhere in the Carmens on the east side, and that it had been famous among hunters in the United States who journeyed there to hunt black bear and Carmen Mountain white-tailed deer. I had conjured up many images, but really had no idea of what El Jardín was really like. ...

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7. Campo Cinco, Pumas, and Spotted What's-Its

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pp. 53-58

Campo Cinco is high in the Carmens, another meadow in the fir-pine forest. Formerly it was called Campo Madera, a lumber camp and hub of activity during the logging operation years. Several wood-plank houses, clotheslines, and tons of broken glass, plastic bottles, tires, and general junk littered the area. ...

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8. Cuadra Pelota and the Miller's Shrew

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pp. 59-60

Cuadra Pelota translates to a playing field for a ball game, according to locals in the Carmens. The area is one of the most scenic in the mountains. The road winds downward to a meadow of grasses with towering cliffs of volcanic rock called “tuff.” On the north side are numerous caves and holes, and a thick forest of pine, fir, and oak is found on the steep hill at the south side. ...

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9. La Laguna

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pp. 61-64

I had heard of La Laguna in the Carmens many years ago. While flying telemetry on radio-collared black bears that had crossed the border from Texas to Mexico, I studied it many times from the plane. Taking the road east from Campo Uno, you travel a couple of kilometers on a rocky road going up a little in elevation, where the forest opens to a park-like setting of pine-oak woodland. ...

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10. Canon el Oso

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pp. 65-70

Starting high in the Carmens above Campo Dos, and continuing even higher toward Campo Tres where these canyons fork, is the beginning of Cañón el Oso, so named for the many black bears that inhabit this area. It is a long winding canyon of consummate scenic beauty. ...

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11. Drought in the Carmens

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pp. 71-74

Drought in the Chihuahuan Desert country is a dreaded event. We had been extremely lucky in the Carmens for several years, whereas our neighbors in West Texas and Chihuahua and other areas of Coahuila had suffered greatly because of prolonged drought. ...

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12. Los Pilares and Desert Bighorn Sheep

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pp. 75-86

The desert bighorn ewe stood silhouetted against a blue sky high on the rim rock inside the entrance to Cañón el Álamo. She was soaking up the last warming rays of the evening sun, her face nearly all white, revealing her age. Nearby her lamb of the year lay sprawled on a limestone rock, also enjoying the sun. ...

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13. The Road to Campo Uno

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pp. 87-92

The road to Campo Uno is an example of a lesson in vegetation and elevation. Leaving Campo Cinco the road winds upward for several kilometers heading east. To the left is the junction of the road that leads to a great overlook: this area is known as El Divisadero (The Divide). ...

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14. Snow in the Carmens

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pp. 93-96

I will always remember November 2001. We had been in Coahuila a little more than a month and Bill was busy with operations and projects. Four new biologists and I were beginning the first long-term baseline inventory of the flora and fauna in the Carmens. The old headquarters of Rancho Pilares served as the base for all operations. ...

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15. Canon Juarez

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pp. 97-102

One of my favorite places in the Carmens is Cañón Juárez, especially in the autumn when the foliage on the big-tooth maples, oaks, and Virginia creeper vines presents a collage of gold, red, orange, and green. Cañón Juárez begins just past our house in Cañón el Álamo where the canyon forks, right into Juárez and left into the Cañón Fronteriza. ...

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16. Zacatosa

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pp. 103-106

Located at the lowest elevations in the project area, Zacatosa is comprised of typical desert floor habitat. Part of the old Rancho Pilares, Zacatosa is hot and sparsely vegetated with many areas of erosion. It is also an area rich in birdlife because of the earthen tanks that hold water and provide rest stops for migrating ducks, shorebirds, and a host of songbirds. ...

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17. La Cachuchua

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pp. 107-110

There is only one passable road to the high country of the Carmens, also known as the Maderas. The road is on the west side and leaves from Los Pilares. Departing the lower desert country, the climb is gradual. The peaks tower above and first-time visitors to the Maderas probably have second thoughts about schlepping up the mountain in a vehicle. ...

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18. Hacienda Piedra Blanca

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pp. 111-114

I had heard of the Hacienda Piedra Blanca many times while living in West Texas, but I didn’t know exactly where it was on the east side of the Carmen Mountains. In the mid-1990s, when Chabela Sellers and I were conducting a bird project on her ranch, La Escondida, in the Serranías del Burro, we drove down the long Valle de los Venados coming from La Linda. ...

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19. Canon el Alamo

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pp. 115-124

History, species diversity, legends, ghosts, mines, rare cactus, and beautiful scenery all combine in a large canyon complex at the southern end of the Carmens. This canyon’s original name was El Álamo on the old maps; recently local inhabitants call it Cañón San Isidro, probably because a ranch by this name was located in the canyon. ...

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20. Cuesta Malena

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pp. 125-128

The Cuesta Malena is the unofficial southern landmark that heralds the beginning of the western side of the Carmen Mountains. In Mexico, a cuesta usually refers to an area at the top of a hill or a pass in the mountains. In the past, the Malena was called the Cuesta Plomo, and then its name was changed to honor a local woman upon her death. ...

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21. Campo Dos

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pp. 129-134

Campo Dos, the highest camp in the Carmens, is well hidden in a narrow portion of Cañón el Oso. Leaving Campo Cinco, the road twists and turns gradually climbing upward. This road provides an experiential lesson in plant habitat. All it takes is a few feet of elevation difference: going down a few feet you enter the oaks, and then uphill a few feet, you are back in fir and pine, ...

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22. Canon Moreno

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pp. 135-140

Many of the canyons in the Carmens are tucked away in the mountain, hidden from view. Until you are very familiar with this mountain chain, it is not evident just how much country is here, and how the many canyons and mountains are assembled. Moreno is one such canyon. I have been to Moreno many times over the last nine years, and yet I never tire of it. ...

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23. Canon Morteros

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pp. 141-144

Cañón Morteros lies on the southeast end of the project area marked by a rambling house perched on the top of a slope. Down below the Chihuahuan Desert stretches for miles. To the southwest is the Ejido San Miguel, and farther south the Sierra Santa Fé del Pino range; to the west the jagged peaks of the Sierra de Hechiceros rise behind the Sierra San Vicente. ...

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24. Skeletons in the Desert

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pp. 145-146

In the course of our fieldwork we have stumbled onto several graves with no markers. We found one on the road to Campo Uno, a slight hump of dirt covered with rocks. At the head of the grave, we scratched around in the soil and found the remains of a candle. ...

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25. Chihuahuan Desert Bears

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pp. 147-156

All of my family, friends, and colleagues know that black bears are my favorite wildlife species. Not only are they my favorite, but I have been privileged to work with black bears first in West Texas at the Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, and now in Coahuila, Mexico, in the Carmens. ...

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26. The JoBoni Satyr

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pp. 157-160

For almost five years we had been working steadily on all phases of the flora and fauna baseline inventory for the Carmens when we realized in 2005 that we were lacking information on butterflies, which were everywhere in the spring through the fall months. We began fieldwork documenting the presence of species and collecting specimens. ...

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27. Billy Pat and the Flying Bug

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pp. 161-164

Billy Pat, my husband of over thirty years, did not enter middle age by suddenly feeling the need to buy a sports car, head to the bar, and chase women. Instead, he woke up one morning with the flying bug. He was raised among people who flew airplanes more than they drove cars ...

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28. The Pronghorn Returns

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pp. 165-166

The pronghorn was extirpated from a large portion of its historic range in Mexico many years ago. Problems associated with the extirpation process included loss of large tracts of grassland habitat, fences, and over-hunting. Pronghorns need large amounts of space to run, and loss of native grasslands and the barbed-wired fences that restricted their movement were probably the major factors in their decline. ...

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29. Doc Baker's Visit, July 2007

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pp. 167-170

The late Rollin Baker was my mentor, friend, and endless source of information on mammals of Coahuila. Doc Baker and I began corresponding in the early 1990s when Chabela Sellers and I launched a bird project on her ranch in the Serranías del Burro, directly across the valley from the Carmen Mountains in Coahuila. ...

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30. A Final Note

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pp. 171-172

As I write this final note, I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse of the Carmens—magical, mystical, mythical, mysterious, never-ending beauty in a vast mountain range, so close and yet at times so far that you can only dream about it. The name alone evokes images burned into my memory for all time. ...

Color Plates

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pp. 197-212

Scientific Terms, References, Index

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pp. 173-213

Common and Scientific Names Used in the Text

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pp. 173-182


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pp. 183-184


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pp. 185-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780896727656
E-ISBN-10: 0896727653
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896727649
Print-ISBN-10: 0896727645

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 79
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Grover E. Murray Studies in the American