You do not have to be a birder to enjoy Bosque del Apache Refuge. When the natural flooding of the Rio Grande was contained, this land was set aside to protect the migrating birds. It is one of the largest refuges in the country. Using a system of canals that can be diverted to flood the grasslands, plus growing corn and other food sources locally, Bosque del Apache provides nourishment for the tens of thousands of birds that travel here. The birds spend the nights in the marshes for protection from predators before flying to feeding areas the next morning. The prime photography times are sunrise and sunset.
There is a large event, The Festival of the Cranes, that takes place the week before Thanksgiving. This festival celebrates the return of the sandhill cranes and snow geese to Bosque del Apache. There are over 150 workshops at this festival, many are led by photography professionals.
Although October is early in the season, we were fortunate that the sandhill cranes and snow geese had already begun to make their appearances here. The refuge is also home to coyotes, rattlesnakes, mule deer, javelinas, bobcats, ducks, and hundreds of bird varieties. During our short stay, we were lucky enough to spot all of the above except the javelina.
There is an auto tour drive through the refuge and a few trails. Along the gravel road drive there are viewing areas overlooking the massive fields frequented by the migrating wildlife. On these platforms usually there are photographers waiting to capture some amazing photographs. The volunteers at the Visitor Center are able to update you on sightings, areas to visit, and refuge information. The volunteers that we met were among the most enthusiastic anywhere. They have truly immersed themselves in the wildlife in the area and are very knowledgeable. We also found out that during the weekends the refuge provides three hour guided tours. I am sure that it would be amazing to participate in some of those informative sessions.
This is another location that was recommended to us by my friends at the Camera Club of Richmond and it is just 1.5 hours south of Albuquerque so it was an easy decision. We stayed in a basic campground called Bosque Birdwatchers that is literally at the entrance to the refuge. While we were there we met several of the other campers. One single lady was traveling around the country in her small casita. She was very knowledgeable about solar panels and we talked to her for a good while about portable solar panels since this is something we are considering. Another couple, Richard and Stephanie, that we met live in Hawaii. They store their camper for 8 months in Arizona and come to travel in the continental US for several months in the summer. They were an amazing couple and we enjoyed talking to them and learning about their adventures.
The closest town is San Antonio, NM and it is best known for two small taverns that compete for the best Green Chile Cheeseburgers in the USA. The Owl Bar and Café claims that the grill was started to help feed the “prospectors” from the top secret “Trinity Project” located nearby. The competitor, Buckhorn Tavern, was featured when Bobby Flay visited in 2009 to “throwdown” for the best green chile cheeseburgers. We did go to the Owl Bar one night and saw that there were dollar bills with notes attached to all of the walls in the tavern. When we inquired, the owner told us that she takes all of the dollar bills down at the end of the year and donates the money to charity, specifically to children’s hospitals. She proudly informed us that they had donated more than $28,000 to her favorite charities.
This crossroads town of less than 200 inhabitants is not made up of much more than these two eateries, for shopping and diesel fuel you need to drive north to Socorro, NM. Ironically, the birthplace of Conrad Hilton has no hotels.