Woods of the Apache: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The Refuge

Sandhill cranes start to walk. Others lower their heads, long necks stretched out in front of them, almost off-balance. This signal is followed by quick steps, the awkward first wing flaps and flight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 15-mile one-way loop road offers visitors an opportunity to travel through this drama at their own pace. The refuge’s dirt roads are well maintained and RVs should have no trouble driving on them. If 15 miles sounds too long, you can cut your tour short by taking a two-way cutoff and driving on one section—the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop.

For some species the best observations will be from your vehicle, which acts as a blind. Waders, shorebirds, great blue herons, hawks, mule deer, and other wildlife can be closely observed and photographed from your toad, tow vehicle, or RV. Bird-watchers will need scopes or binoculars to catch some of the more skittish species.

Along the loop road are spots to stop, get out, and walk to a viewing deck, boardwalk, bird blind, or nature trail. Several of these are accessible to people with disabilities and offer prime viewing.

Seven designated walking trails of various lengths are also available. The longest is a 9.7-mile round trip that covers surrounding desert land. Others are easier and much shorter. They include a trail through cottonwood and willow stands; another with a marsh overlook; and one incorporating a one-quarter-mile boardwalk over a lagoon.

Planning your day

Most birders and photographers start their day before dawn to await the en masse liftoff of thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best times to see the birds fly in their massive formations are dawn and dusk.

Most birders and photographers start their day before dawn to await the en masse liftoff of thousands of snow geese. Sandhill cranes take off a short time later.

Some cranes start to walk. Others lower their heads, long necks stretched out in front of them, almost off-balance. This signal is followed by quick steps, the awkward first wing flaps and flight. In pairs and threesomes, they take to the air. In one stroke of their wings they accomplish what takes the geese a dozen.

Come early and dress warmly and in layers. Although the mornings can be brutally cold, the afternoons warm up. Gloves are essential until then.

During the day, you can drive the loop road looking for opportunities; in late afternoon, head back for the birds’ return.

Expect numerous RVers, birders, and photographers from mid-November to early December, with numbers tapering off after that.

The refuge is open an hour before dawn and closes an hour after dusk, to enable visitors to be on hand when the birds begin and conclude their daily activities. Drive slowly and stop frequently.

Friends of the Bosque

The Refuge Visitors Center offers exhibits explaining the aims, methods, and successes of the refuge and provides a brief history of the area.

Sandhill cranes in flight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since 1994, the Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (Friends of the Bosque) have supported the biological, educational, and research activities of the Bosque del Apache NWR. The Friends operate the Bosque Nature Store in the Visitor Center with proceeds benefiting various refuge programs, research efforts, and special events.

Friends of the Bosque volunteers promote Refuge and Friends events, conduct workshops and programs, provide labor for special projects, and support the Refuge in thousands of ways each year.

Note: This is the second of a three-part series on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Part 1: Birding Hotspot

Part 3: Festival of Cranes

Worth Pondering…
There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

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