Top Campgrounds, RV Parks & Resorts For Outdoor Recreation (Birding & Hiking)

These selected RV parks offer outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation including birding, hiking, and fishing.

A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A+ Motel & RV Park is centrally located in Cajun Country near Calcasieu “Big” Lake and other great fishing, hunting, and birding destinations and the Creole Nature Trail All American Road.

Enjoy the Old West in and around Angel Lake RV Park in Wells, Nevada. Some of the least known, pristine outdoor recreation areas in the West is all easily accessible. Deer, antelope, and other big game populate the surrounding back country. Anglers will find nearby lakes, reservoirs, creeks, and streams much to their liking. Angel Lake, tucked into the East Humboldt mountain range, is a particular favorite for its fish and striking 8,400 foot scenery.

World-class birding and the Texas Tropics surround you at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort in Mission. The World Birding Center Headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park welcomes Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort residents to the top birding observation center in the nation. You can bike through the Park or take advantage of the convenient tram service.

Thousands of acres of state and federally protected wildlife habitat, lakes, parks, trails, and a 40-foot high Hawk Observation Tower on the banks of the Rio Grande River are within easy walking distance of your front door at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort. Additionally, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) outdoor butterfly park is adjacent to Bentsen Palm Development.

Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission.
Bentsen Palm Village RV Park, Mission, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque Bird Watcher’s RV Park is a small mom and pop operation offering basic gravel parking lot type sites with full hookups. It’s nothing fancy but is quiet and clean and handy to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

RVers, birders, photographers, and all lovers of nature and the outdoors are attracted to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese arrive for the winter each November amid a backdrop of purple mountains clothed in autumn colors and bathed in the light of New Mexico’s spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

Catalina State Park protects a choice section of desert on the western base of the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson. The environment offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. An equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders and plenty of trailer parking is also available.

Miles of equestrian, birding, and hiking trails wind through the park and the adjoining Coronado National Forest, as well as an interpretive trail to a prehistoric village.

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Usery Mountain offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range from easy to difficult. These trails are popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. The park’s modern campground is excellent for RVs of all sizes.

Wake up to a breathtaking sunrise; wind up the day with a spectacular sunset at the Van Horn KOA, set in a beautiful desert valley surrounded by mountains. This country setting, landscaped with native plants that attract wildlife, is filled with the sounds of birds. Visit Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns national parks, Fort Davis and the town of Marfa, whose “Ghost Lights” have defied explanation since 1883. The full-service KOA Cafe can deliver a Texas dinner to your campsite.

Vogel Talks RVing selected the list of top campgrounds, RV parks, and resorts from parks personally visited.

A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana

Van Horn KOA, Van Horn, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Van Horn KOA, Van Horn, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort, Mission Texas

Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park, San Antonio, New Mexico

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona

Crystal Lake RV Park, Mims, Florida

McCammon RV Park, McCammon, Idaho

North Llano River RV Park, Junction, Texas

Quail Ridge RV Park, Huachuca City, Arizona

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, Arizona

North Llano River RV Park, Junction, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
North Llano River RV Park, Junction, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Van Horn KOA, Van Horn, Texas

Wildhorse Resort & Casino RV Park, Pendleton, Oregon

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
—John Muir

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Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

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 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 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.

Continue reading →

Phone: (575) 835-1828

Website: fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque

Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthebosque.org

Festival of the Cranes: festivalofthecranes.com

2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida's most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida’s most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Website: fws.gov/merrittisland

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org

3. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)
Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)

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

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Wichita_Mountains

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

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

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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Great Birding Destinations

For great birding destinations, you can’t beat national wildlife refuges.

Scenic Bosque del Apache National Wildlife 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. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Bosque del Apache National Wildlife 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. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Refuges situated along the country’s four main flyways—Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific—are natural bird magnets. Some refuges have been designated Globally Important Birding Areas—sites that provide essential habitat for one or more bird species.

Which refuges are best for birding? The answer depends on where you RV and the species of birds you wish to see.

Following are five of our favorite national wildlife refuges.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Mild winters, bay waters, and abundant food draw more than 400 bird species to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. Among them: the whooping crane, one of North America’s rarest birds. The only wild flock of whooping cranes makes Aransas Refuge its winter home. You can hear the birds trumpet across the marsh.

In winter, many other birds feed on fish, blue crab, and shellfish in the coastal marsh. The refuge’s oak hills provide important habitat for neotropical birds, such as orioles, grosbeaks, and buntings, migrating between North and Central America.

For Aransas National Wildlife Refuge bird checklist, click here.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Scenic Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge thrills birders in late fall and winter when sandhill cranes, snow geese, and Arctic geese arrive by the tens of thousands.

At dawn, hushed visitors gather to watch geese and cranes lift off as one from their marsh roosts. At dusk, visitors gather to watch the birds return.

Visitors to Santa Ana are often greeted with the raucous cry of the drab brown, scrawny-looking, turkey-like bird called a plain chachalaca, a bird that reaches its northern limits in the Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Visitors to Santa Ana are often greeted with the raucous cry of the drab brown, scrawny-looking, turkey-like bird called a plain chachalaca, a bird that reaches its northern limits in the Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Festival of the Cranes (this year’s event is November 19-24, 2013) features many birding tours, talks and wildlife experiences for all levels of experience.

For Scenic Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge bird checklist, click here.

… Continue reading →

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge on the southernmost stretch of the Rio Grande is a top birding destination, home to species such as green jays, chachalacas, and great kiskadees.

The refuge is important habitat for birds from the Central and Mississippi flyways that funnel through the area on their way to and from Central and South America. Other bird species, like the groove-billed ani, reach the northern limit of their range in this area.

Hundreds of thousands of migrating raptors—including broadwing hawks, northern harriers, and peregrine falcons—fly over the refuge in spring and fall. Santa Ana Refuge’s rarest raptors, the hook-billed kite and gray hawk, are seen occasionally.

Abundant spring warblers include: golden-winged warbler, magnolia warbler, northern and tropical parula, American redstart, palm warbler, and yellow-breasted chat.

An ebird Trail Tracker station shows visitors what birds are being seen when and where.

For Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge species list, click here.

… Continue reading →

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Hundreds of bird species, migrating to and from Central and South America, funnel through Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, at the southern tip of Texas, making this Central Flyway starting point one of North America’s most biologically diverse regions.

Many bird species also reach their northernmost range here along the Rio Grande. More than 250,000 ducks use the refuge in peak season in November; an estimated 80 percent of the North American population of redhead ducks winter in the area.

The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The refuge is a vital stopover for migrating neotropical songbirds, such as painted buntings, Bullock’s oriole, and various warblers and hummingbirds.

The refuge is also well known for its raptors, including migrating peregrine falcons in the spring and fall. The once-rare aplomado falcon can be seen hunting the refuge’s grasslands.

For Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge bird checklist, click here.

… Continue reading →

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, on Florida’s east east coast near Cape Canaveral, is world-famous as a birding destination. More than 320 species have been documented here.

From December to February, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds use the refuge as a rest stop or winter in refuge impoundments. During warmer months, resident wading birds, shore birds, songbirds and raptors forage in refuge marshes, open waters and forests.

The Scrub Ridge and Pine Flatwoods trails offer your best bets for seeing the Florida scrub jay, a species found only in Florida. The Oak Hammock and Palm Hammock trails provide great viewing for a variety of songbirds and raptors. Two other hiking trails—Cruickshank and Wild Birds trail—provide wildlife viewing platforms and photography blinds.

For Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge bird checklist, click here.

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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Drought Affects Migrating Birds

From nesting grounds in Alaska and Northern Canada, thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other migratory birds are winging their way south to their traditional winter watering holes in the American Southwest.

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

The problem is a year of drought has ravaged wetlands and crops throughout Texas and New Mexico, forcing the birds to fly off course in search of water and food, reports The Associated Press.

In the Texas Panhandle, there’s no standing water in any of the playas and officials at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge haven’t seen many birds. It’s just as dry at Texas’ oldest national refuge in Muleshoe, where 27,000 birds have moved through so far this fall.

“I don’t know where our birds are going,” said refuge manager Jude Smith. “It’s not just the cranes, but the geese and the ducks.”

That’s why managers at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in south-central New Mexico are bracing for record numbers this fall and winter. With nearly 13,000 acres of wetlands, the refuge is one of the country’s best known spots for observing migrating waterfowl.

The shallow ponds at Bosque del Apache and the adjacent Rio Grande are havens for the weary birds as they search for a resting place following their long journey.

“The birds will go where the water is first and where the food is second. They’ll follow those two all the way south,” said Jose Viramontes, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The best times to see the birds fly in their massive formations are dawn and dusk. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache is managed specifically to provide habitat and protection for migrating birds and other endangered species. When farmers upstream finish irrigating for the season, water from the Rio Grande fills the refuge’s impoundments, providing a place where birds can roost overnight without having to worry about coyotes or other predators.

But Bosque del Apache wasn’t completely immune from the effects of the drought. This year’s corn crop that managers depend on to feed the birds throughout the winter was decimated by a lack of rain, according to The Associated Press.

To keep the birds fed, the refuge plans to spread 500,000 pounds of barley donated by a Colorado brewer.

“If we didn’t have that, the birds would go elsewhere, and we know that they’re safe here so we prefer to keep them here,” said Robyn Harrison, coordinator of the crane festival. “And honestly by the time they get here, they’re not interested in flying any further for a while.”

It can take up to three days for a crane to recover from its migration, she said.

At Bosque, the early mornings are spectacular. That’s when the birds wake up and begin to stretch their wings and legs. A big racket ensues as they all take off in search of food.

The yodeling call of the crane is distinctive and their long wings are captivating, Harrison added.

“Just a slow easy flap and they take off in large Vs. It’s just an incredible sight,” she said.

Harrison has been organizing the festival for the past four years and it never gets old.

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. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Roswell, manager Floyd Truetken said twice as many cranes have passed through the Pecos Valley this year and he suspects some of those birds changed course after finding it too dry in Texas.

While late summer rains took the edge off of what has been one of the driest and warmest years on record for New Mexico, Truetken said lake levels at the refuge are still far below normal.

Biologists at refuges around the Southwest have been busy sharing anecdotal evidence of the drought’s effects on the birds’ flight patterns. However, they will have to wait to model any shifts in the flyway, given that wintering populations usually peak in December and January depending on the species.

Related

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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Festival of Cranes: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The Fly-Out in the morning and the Fly-In in the evening are memorable events. That’s part of the mystique, why the cranes get top billing here, why the organizers call this event The Festival of Cranes.

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. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A week before Thanksgiving (November 15-20, in 2011), Bosque officials celebrate the birds’ arrival with six days of birding tours, field seminars, and formal lectures.

You’ll learn that these are ancient, ancient birds, and the sound they make is ancient and has never been imitated. It has echoed across geological time. They have seen mountains and rivers come and go. They have survived and adapted to everything.

Divided into two species—the lesser and the greater—sandhill cranes follow the seasons, the former summering as far away as Siberia and the latter in a refuge in southeastern Idaho.

Standing 4 feet tall on long, thin legs, with boat-shaped bodies, grayish plumage, featherless red caps, and ever-wary amber eyes, they are transformed by flight, fast becoming long, sleek, and sensual, powered by 6-foot wingspans.

Camping

We spent eight memorable days last November celebrating the return of the Cranes to Bosque. Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park, on State Route 1, several miles north of the Refuge, was our convenient home-base during this time. Long pull-through sites with 50/30 amp electricity, water, and sewer are available. Daily rates are $23-26. Weekly and monthly rates are also available.

Photo Tips

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

Sunrises and sunsets are magical times at Bosque, and often end up involving silhouettes. Silhouettes abstract objects into a two-dimensional shape, eliminating their color and texture.

Merging two cranes into one can either be electrifying or make the birds difficult to comprehend. In most cases, you’ll want to keep the objects in your photo separated and unmerged if you want the viewer to be able to make sense of the image.

For example, in Early Morning Anticipation, I worked not only to keep the four sandhill cranes apart, but I tried to selected moments when their heads and beaks were silhouetted against the water of the pond. Often times, easier said than done. That fourth crane just did not want to cooperate! You’ll require considerable patience and incredible luck—and a long lens that will accomplish this feat.

Details

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Operating Hours: Open year-round; Visitors Center: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; weekends: 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Tour Loop: 1 hour before sunrise-1 hour after sunset

Location: From Socorro, 9 miles south in I-25 to exit 139, ¼-mile east on U.S. 380 to the flashing signal in San Antonio, and 9 miles south (turn right) on Old Highway 1 to refuge entrance

Best Times: November-January

Festival of the Cranes: November 15-20, 2011

Admission: $3/vehicle; all federal lands passes accepted

Contact: (575) 835-1828

Address: P.O. Box 340, San Antonio, NM 87832

Website: fws.gov

Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR (Friends of the Bosque)

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. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Website: friendsofthebosque.org
Note: This is the last of a three-part series on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Part 1: Birding Hotspot

Part 2: Woods of the Apache

Worth Pondering…
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise.

—Henry David Thoreau

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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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Birding Hotspot: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

As the sun reddens the sky, thousands of snow geese scattered on a big pond begin to waken and disrupt the quiet air with loud honks.

The best times to see the birds fly in their massive formations are dawn and dusk. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors perched on embankments, observation decks, or inside parked vehicles see and hear the communication that eventually gets the flock into the air and headed north to fields where they feed all day.

The snow geese are soon joined in the sky by flocks of sandhill cranes.

Much later in the day near sunset, birders and photographers alike stand under a stream of flyers heading back to the relative safety of the ponds and marshes to roost.

It is the rare human who is not stirred to awe and excitement as thousands of birds soar scarcely 20 feet overhead. This vast haven is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

If you’ve never witnessed—or heard—the morning fly-out and the evening fly-in of thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese, then you’ll want to head on over to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, located midway between Albuquerque and Las Cruces just south of Socorro. And if you’ve seen it all before, then I don’t have to recommend that you return to see it again—and again.

It is no wonder RVers, birders, photographers, and all lovers of nature and the outdoors are attracted to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese arrive for the winter each November amid a backdrop of purple mountains clothed in autumn colors and bathed in the light of New Mexico’s spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

If, like us, you combine RVing with birding and photography—both natural fits—then a trip to Bosque del Apache is a must.

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

On the Chihuahuan Desert’s northern edge and straddling the Rio Grande River in Socorro County, 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.

The Preserve’s name means “Woods of the Apache” in Spanish, after the cottonwood forests indigenous to this part of the Rio Grande Valley and the native people the first European explorers often saw camped in the area.

The Bosque (pronounced ‘BOS-keh’) provides habitat to over 300 species of birds and more than 135 different animals, including mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, and is internationally famous for sandhill cranes, snow geese, and Ross’ geese.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is designated by the American Bird Conservancy as a Globally Important Bird Area.

In 1846, when naturalist Lt. James Abert camped there, he observed and reported large flocks of sandhill cranes. These migratory birds followed their ancestral routes south in November and left in February or early March, returning north to breed.

In the 1930s, the population of sandhill cranes severely declined as a result of habitat loss due to land use changes. By 1941 the great migrations had almost ceased with only 17 sandhill cranes returning to the Bosque.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 to provide refuge and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife, and to develop wintering grounds especially for the sandhill cranes.

As sunset approaches sandhill cranes and snow geese head back to the relative safety of the ponds and marshes to roost for the night. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Depending on the weather to the north, the rough honk of sandhill cranes is heard as early as September, when the vanguard flocks first arrive. By mid-to-late-November approximately 12,000 to 17,000 cranes share the 57,191-acre refuge with tens of thousands of migratory snow geese, Ross’s geese, Canada geese, pintails, shovelers, mallards, and a host of other waterfowl.

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

Part 2: Woods of the Apache

Part 3: Festival of Cranes

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

Read More