The falcon flew low and fast over Strawberry Rock, an outcropping high above the Rio Brazos Valley, just east of Chama, New Mexico.
We were sharing a picnic with good friends in a pine copse rooted in rough sandstone and marveling over the clear blue horizon, when the small raptor shot past; its backswept wings and breakneck speed were its only identifiable features.
As it stretched out and banked west, the falcon’s swift form was highlighted against the quartzite face of the Brazos Cliffs, glowing in the midday sun; it then hurtled down the dark green valley, following the silvery flow west toward the Rio Chama.
That shutter-click of a moment seemed suspended in time. Like our vacation, a lifting up and out, a release.
Yet at some point the falcon had to wing home, and so did we, though our pace was a bit more sedate. A day later we were rolling along U.S. 64 across northwestern New Mexico, straight through the state’s oil-and-gas patch in the San Juan River watershed.
The region contains the nation’s second largest gas reserves, a play that has gone through a series of booms and busts since the 1920s, but it has been experiencing a decline of late. The small towns along our route bear the marks of this economic withering — idled rigs, banged up pickups, pitted roadbeds, and dusty stores with little on the shelves. Even the relatively bustling Farmington, which received a substantial infusion of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act dollars to repave an extensive portion of U.S. 64, has not been able to generate enough new work to break out of its doldrums.
That’s why so many are looking for salvation in two words: Mancos Shale. The formation, which extends from New Mexico into portions of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, is buried about a mile beneath the surface. Estimated to contain upwards of six billion barrels of oil, approximately one-third of which lies within New Mexico, the untapped resource is being touted as a godsend for the recession-hit area.