Magical Bosque Del Apache

There are many and varied reasons that New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.

High on that list, the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is a gathering sanctuary for the denizens of the sky and those who passionately adore them.

Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States.

Bosque del Apache is Spanish for “forest of the Apache,” and there’s ample historical evidence that this area of lush riparian forest flanking the Rio Grande was a popular campsite among roaming bands of Apaches during much of the 19th century. Even prior to that, archaeologists say, Pueblo people occupied the area for centuries before Spanish explorers established the Camino Real, the Royal Road from Mexico City to Santa Fe. The Camino Real ran right through the present-day refuge.

Along the loop road are spots to stop, get out, and walk to a viewing deck, boardwalk, bird blind, or nature trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the loop road are spots to stop, get out, and walk to a viewing deck, boardwalk, bird blind, or nature trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache stands out as one of the country’s most accessible and popular national wildlife preserves—for wildlife and human visitors alike—providing a seasonal home, November through March, for up to 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks. Many thousands of bird watchers, photographers, and nature lovers from around the nation and beyond follow them here.

And there’s no better time or way to appreciate all that the 57,000-acre refuge has to offer than attending the 30th annual Festival of the Cranes, November 14-19, 2017.

It’s a glorious pageant of nature celebrating the annual migration of birds as they head south for the winter.

The 15-mile one-way auto loop road can be shortened by taking either the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 15-mile one-way auto loop road can be shortened by taking either the 7-mile Marsh Loop or the 7.5-mile Farm Loop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This nationally recognized wildlife, birding, and photography festival offer 156 event sessions in 6 days. Printed Festival catalogs are now available. Session costs range from free to $290.

Pre-registration for event sessions is required with registration starting September 5 for members. Non-member registration starts September 6. Become a Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge member and register early on September 5.

Naturally, as a stopover on the flyway south, birding leads the way, followed by photography, but there are multiple other happenings associated with the festival other than birding or photography.

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

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

Many of the free events are targeted at youths and young families, hoping to encourage and foster a lifelong love of outdoors and wildlife.

Naturally, when it comes to many of the other events, the appeal goes to the experienced. Given the stunning natural beauty of the area, coupled with the ever-enticing wildlife and bird life, the festival naturally draws those with an experienced photographic eye.

The views, not only of the mountains and not only the river, but the trees are turning and you have the early-morning and later-afternoon sun, wispy clouds, and you get these colors that are just amazing. Then you add the next layer with the wildlife is so close, it becomes a very special moment.

For instinctive reasons known only to the birds, a sunrise “fly out” en masse is a daily routine. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instinctive reasons known only to the birds, a sunrise “fly out” en masse is a daily routine. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

All this activity can make one hungry, and one of the special treats of heading to or from Bosque del Apache is taking a side trip to eat. The San Antonio Owl and the Buckhorn Tavern are both nationally renowned for their unmistakably New Mexican green chile cheeseburgers. Either joint will dish a meal that will satisfy the hungriest traveler or nourish the biggest adventurer.

Where to Stay: Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel; Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park

The sandhill cranes spend the day feeding on corn and grain crops farmed on more than 1,300 acres, mostly at the northern end of the refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sandhill cranes spend the day feeding on corn and grain crops farmed on more than 1,300 acres, mostly at the northern end of the refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kiva RV Park and Horse Motel has 36 full-hookup RV sites about 40 miles north of Bosque del Apache at Bernardo.

Located on SR-1S between San Antonio and Bosque del Apache, the closest campground is appropriately named Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park with 36 full-hookup sites.

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Charles Kuralt

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