San Andres Mountains at a distance; photo from Wikimedia Commons
Ever since we moved to Las Cruces, we've had a long list of places we want to visit. Once we heard of its existence, the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge was added to that list. Imagine--over 57,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert, just waiting for exploration.
Too bad for us (and good for the animals who live there, except for any wayward missiles that might come their way!), this refuge is one place that most humans don't get to traipse around in. From the station profile:
This 57,215 acre Refuge extends over 21 miles along the southern portion of the San Andres Mountains in southern New Mexico. It supports a population of State endangered desert bighorn sheep, as well as mule deer, mountain lions, and golden eagles. Thirty eight species of mammals and 142 species of birds have been documented on the Refuge. The Refuge is located within the White Sands Missile Range and is therefore closed to public entry due to their security protocols. [Emphasis mine].
According to the Refuge brochure, although not generally open to the public, local educational programs or guided group tours of the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge can be arranged (well in advance, due to security regulations) by contacting the Refuge office.
The Refuge was established in 1941; since 1952 there has been no grazing there by domestic stock, which has allowed the land to recover some of its pre-grazing vegetation. One of the main goals at the Refuge is to restore the local population of desert bighorn sheep--you can read about that project here.
What we can do to learn about this desert gem is to visit its website, which is maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Set aside some time to explore this really excellent site--I've been working my way through it for several days. My favorite part, so far, is the photo gallery, which includes (among many other collections) sections on birds (photos together with audio clips), historical photos, some fascinating shots from remote cameras that capture visits to a watering station by mountain lions and javelinas, and a collection of landscape photos of some of the prettiest desert land you'll never see.
To get a feel for the area, you can explore nearby lands with public access: The White Sands National Monument, run by the National Parks Service; and the Aguirre Spring Campground, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.