Field & Stream

The Outer Limits

WE DROVE SOUTH FROM Albuquerque, trailing the cottonwoods along the Rio Grande, down the old Spanish royal road that once stitched old Mexico City to old Santa Fe, down to the funky town of Truth or Consequences, and then east, over the high, piney Capitan Mountains to drop through the black lava fields of the Valley of Fires, the land of crusted ember.

It was a strange place for a duck trip. We sortied toward the Pecos River and Roswell, a town that attracts conspiracy theorists, UFO believers, and tourists who flock to gift shops selling alien dolls and scorpion-filled lollipops. We hunted hard and a little mean in a great southern arc across New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert because hidden in the heat shimmer, in the sage, mesquite, rubber rabbitbush, and wolfberry, in the marshes along the Rio Grande and Pecos rivers, were the ducks.

And the ghosts. We never were far from the ghosts.

For my friend James Powell, this was a homecoming. He was born in Roswell and spent his early years in Albuquerque. He hunted mule deer with his father in the big woods around the family cabin near the iconic peak of Sierra Blanca, and his stepfather took him on waterfowling trips to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, on the Rio Grande, when he was 6 years old. At the White Sands Missile Range, where Powell worked as a young biologist, he ran vegetation transects across creosote flats and rattlesnake dens. He learned to love the marsh, he told me, “because when you’re raised in the desert, a wetland seems like a miracle.”

The passion paid off in unexpected ways. Powell is now chief of communications for Ducks Unlimited, and he and I have hunted together for years. We have a lot in common: jobs

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