My van travel plan is to head north …. eventually as north as North Dakota! The first few days after leaving southern Arizona, I am not traveling new roads. However, I did notice a short distance and time off Interstate 25 (I-25) in New Mexico allowed me to see an area I had never seen before. I drove through many, many pecan trees. Wondering if they were pistachio or pecan trees, it soon became clear to me. They were pecan trees. A sign indicated, “anyone thieving at the pecan trees would be prosecuted”. That’s fair! Then I saw this sign about a short-lived colony in the area:
Further down the road I passed fort ruins. If you are a history buff, there are plenty of fort ruins to see in the west, but I drove on and connected with I-25 to spend hours at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is open all year with 374 different bird species having been observed. My bird list for this location is shorter than that, so I still have plenty to see out here!
Depending upon the season, there are birds migrating through this wetland area. I was rushed in my birdwatching because I was trying to stay ahead of a thunderstorm! I drove both loops and saw no new birds, but remained dry! The area is beautiful and one unusual snake was crossing the road while I was driving the auto loop. I stayed at a winery that night and people did not know it was a desert kingsnake as I asked around to see if anyone knew what it was before I put it in iNaturalist app. They were thinking garter snake and knew it was not a rattlesnake.
I-25 is hundreds of miles long! After hours, finally getting to Colorado! I took a walking break at Pueblo Colorado’s riverwalk. It was a short, stretch-my-legs, time before hopping back on the interstate.
My first 3 days on the road were fun. I met people from Lebanon, Oregon, beat the thunderstorm while bird watching, but unfortunately had plenty of thunder, lightning and rain while driving. My windshield is very clean….and not cracked! (If you don’t know, I already 3 trips with a windshield crack each trip.)
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in New Mexico, is more than 57,000 acres between the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains with 30,000 acres designated as wilderness. I recently visited the refuge for a couple of winter days to view various ducks, sandhill cranes and geese. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages this area. It is a challenge to do so because of the shrinking water supply from the Rio Grande River. Birds do land here and then fly off to feed in nearby fields of the Middle Rio Grande Valley.
I scoped out the refuge the previous spring to know what to expect when I arrived here. There is a wonderful visitor center and nature shop. Friendly volunteers will answer questions and provide insight on how best to spend your day if this is your first visit. The first day of my visit I drove the north loop. It was four hours of slowly driving an auto loop, stopping at observation decks and a blind or other spots where I simply noticed some bird activity and wanted to spend more time. At some spots I walked with my camera and tripod to get closer to birds and not flush them with any vehicle noise. I eventually saw 20 different species of birds, 1 coyote, 2 squirrels, and 4 javelina.
Other important info: You are at 4500 feet elevation so plan for cooler weather than the cities, plus hat, layers of clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses. Mountain lion are in the refuge; signs remind you of this fact. There is an annual Festival of Cranes each December to celebrate the sandhill crane migration. Hiking trails and a biking trail are other activities to check out when you have more time at the refuge.
There were not many sandhill cranes there while I was at the refuge since it was midday and they were out for lunch! But about 150 were in the nearby agricultural land eating their lunch so I was able to observe them.
Friends of Bosque del Apache help support this wild area since federal funding is not enough to meet the increasing challenges in this area. Here is a link if you wish to join the Friends. Or when you drive on Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico, plan a couple hours to visit the refuge! You’ll have a great break from driving as you spend time in nature.