To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.
For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.
1. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Bosque del Apache is Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest.
An hour from Albuquerque, a 12-mile auto loop along refuge impoundments offers great views of the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains. From late October through early spring, see huge flocks of sandhill cranes and snow geese fly out at dawn to feed in fields and return at dusk to roost in the marshes.
In November the annual Festival of the Cranes is a premier birding event. Organized by the Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, the 26th annual Festival of the Cranes is scheduled for November 19-24, 2013. This will be the YEAR OF PHOTOGRAPHY; plan to take advantage of the optics, camera, printing, and eco-travel expert onsite.
Wildlife to Observe: Thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, Ross’s geese, and ducks.
Phone: (575) 835-1828
Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthebosque.org
Festival of the Cranes: festivalofthecranes.com
2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is known for its abundant birdlife and is a major destination for birders from throughout the world. Over 320 species have been documented so no matter what season you visit, you are likely to see a variety of birds.
The peak season for birding is between October and April with optimum conditions occurring from December to February. The best place to see wildlife is along the Black Point Wildlife Drive. The 7-mile, one-way drive follows a dike road around several shallow marsh impoundments and through pine flatwoods.
Seven walking trails are routed through a variety of wildlife habitats and provide additional wildlife viewing opportunities.
The 17th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is scheduled for January 22-27, 2014.
Wildlife to Observe: Waterfowl (in season), wading birds (including roseate spoonbills), shorebirds, and raptors. Alligators, river otters, bobcats, various species of snakes, and other wildlife may be visible as well.
Phone: (321) 861-0668
Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org
3. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Take a three-mile drive to the top of Mt. Scott for a stunning panoramic view of the Wichita Mountains. Interspersed between mountain peaks, visitors may view some of country’s last untilled native prairie, where bison and cattle roam among the cross timbers—remains of dense growth of oaks and greenbriar that once covered parts of Oklahoma and Texas.
Every September the Annual Bison Roundup culls the animals for testing and separation into groups for sale, donation, or return to the herd.
Another scenic driving option is SR-49, which extends about 20 miles through the refuge. Both roads are part of the Wichita Mountains National Scenic Byway.
Wildlife to Observe: Texas Longhorn cattle, bison, elk, deer, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, prairie dogs, turkey, bobcat.
Phone: (580) 429-3222
Friends of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthewichitas.org
Please Note: This is Part 4 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives
I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.