LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Much of the American West has been suffering from extreme drought this year, with California running out of water and wildfires breaking out in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. But there is a bright spot - or rather, a green spot - New Mexico, where unusually heavy late-summer rains have arrived. NPR's John Burnett sent us this postcard.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: It's a remarkable site - the high desert, normally the color of baked pie crust, has been transformed.
KURT KEMPTER: We now have this green carpet covering all the flat mesas, the low lands, and we're just not used to seeing a pistachio-green color in the landscape out here. It's very, very unusual.
BURNETT: Kurt Kempter is a geologist who lives in Santa Fe and takes frequent hikes in the Piedra Lumbre - the valley of shining stone, that captivated the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, near Abiquiu, New Mexico. At this moment, he's sitting in the shade of a pinon pine, looking out past 165-million-year-old cliffs of yellow, cream and red onto a positively verdant desert floor. In terms of living things, it's not just the yellow paper flowers, the Indian paintbrush, verbina and snake weed that have exploded.
KEMPTER: The insect population is good. I've seen a tremendous surge in the swallow colonies building on the canyon cliffs. You know, there's good food everywhere, so lots of rabbits out. Coyotes then are plump and healthy. So it's just good times in the desert.
BURNETT: This in a part of the West that has suffered through a punishing drought for the last three to four years. All over New Mexico, arroyos have been dry, fearsome windstorms covered everything in dust, farmers had to pump groundwater for their chile and alfalfa fields, cattle ranchers were forced to buy expensive hay trucked down from Colorado, the Whitewater outfitters have been grumbling about low flows. And then, last month, like an answer to a prayer, the monsoons arrived. The National Weather Service's description - abundant moisture, slow-moving storms - is music to the ears of New Mexicans, as is the late afternoon thunder. Forecasters say the drenching rains are the result of backdoor cold fronts charging down from Colorado colliding with monsoonal Pacific moisture coming up from the south. In the past few weeks, the draught map over New Mexico has turned from the deep brown of exceptional draught to the sandy color of moderate drought. No one knows if this means the drought is over, but it's certainly given way to widespread hope that the years-long dry spell may finally be easy. Now, they pray, just bring us a thick winter snowpack. John Burnett, NPR News.
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