TAKE REFUGE: Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Settlers noticed Apache Indians camping in the forests alongside the Rio Grande River and called the region “Bosque del Apache,” Spanish for “Woods of the Apache.” Today this place is one of the premier spots for birding and wildlife watching in the world.

The 57,331-acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was established in New Mexico in 1939 to provide habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. The adventurous can explore a stunning assortment of terrain including floodplains, canyons, forests, foothills, and farmland all surrounded by 30,000 acres of designated Wilderness on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert.

Over the years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and dedicated volunteers have shaped an amazing environment on the refuge, which supports a diversity of wildlife. It was chosen, along with 12 other national wildlife refuges as a Land Management Research and Demonstration area to showcase successful land management techniques and spearhead the development of new practices. Today, the USFWS is working to restore bare soil sites on the refuge which were stripped of nutrients by invasive tree species.

Sandhill crane wades in the Rio Grande.

What To Do?

The devoted workers also optimize the stay for visitors. The Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (a partner group) organizes regular events such as guided nature walks. But the highlight comes in November as sandhill cranes start to flock to the refuge in huge numbers. That’s when Friends of Bosque holds the annual Festival of Cranes in recognition of the tens of thousands of these magnificent birds that the refuge hosts. The group boasts that this year’s event will be the best yet including, “Over 100 lectures, workshops, tours, hikes and hands-on activities,” which range from art exhibits to photography tours.

The refuge is a dreamland for birders. Over 370 species have been recorded on the grounds. Throughout the year, migratory birds flock to the refuge including pelicans, mallards, and great blue heron. Some birds like snow geese, ducks, and the iconic sand hill crane are so numerous they appear to blanket the river and streams. In a breathtaking spectacle, thousands of feeding birds will erupt in an explosion of flapping wings when frightened by stalking predators.

Observers and photographers can also spot cool animals like bobcats, beaver, coyote, mule deer and a variety of lizards and bats.

Visitors can even enjoy the wildlife from their car on one of the automobile tour routes. The seasonal auto tour route is only open from April-September, closing in the winter to avoid disturbing nesting cranes and eagles.

For information about the refuge’s activities, wildlife and history, stop at the Visitors Center open from 7:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on weekends.  Guests can purchase souvenirs including T-shirts, baseball caps, stuffed animals and more at the Friends of Bosque’s nature store.

Located in San Antonio, N.M., this accessible paradise of diverse wildlife is an enchanting experience waiting to happen. Answer nature’s call and TAKE REFUGE at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.