Monday, November 26, 2012

A Visit to the Bosque del Apache

The Bosque del Apache ("forest of the Apache") is a National Wildlife Refuge that straddles the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. My first question, when I read that the refuge is an arid wetland, was: Where does the water come from? Our Rio Grande is not so grande in these drought years, and seeing all that water is a rare and delightful experience for us desert dwellers. Here is the explanation from the Southwest Region Fish and Wildlife Service:
The heart of the Refuge is about 12,900 acres of moist bottomlands--3,800 acres are active floodplain of the Rio Grande and 9,100 acres are areas where water is diverted to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests.
To visit the Bosque in the fall is a delight - the cottonwoods have turned a bright gold; the air is warm enough for shirtsleeves, yet cool in the shade; and there is water everywhere. That would be enough to make a wonderful outing, but the real point of going at this time of year is to see the Sandhill Cranes, Ross' Geese, and Snow Geese, as well as thousands of ducks and migratory birds.

As we drove in to the Refuge, this was our first breathtaking look at geese resting in the shallow water.

There were geese in the water and the sky for as far as the eye could see. 

On the other side of the river, we came across small groups of Sandhill Cranes feeding in the water and in the fields. Crops of alfalfa and corn are planted in the refuge, then the alfalfa is harvested and the corn left for the birds.

We were just a week late for the best cottonwood color, but the trees were still lovely. That metal contraption in the foreground of the above photo is part of an irrigation gate on one of the ditches. 

This field was full of sandhill cranes gathering at the end of the day. Too bad I wasn't using a telephoto lens--all of these photos were taken with my iPhone.

If you would like to see the amazing photo winners from the recent Festival of the Cranes photo contest, click here. To hear the incredible sound of thousands of geese "flying out" in the morning, check out this recording from the Friends of the Bosque.

For even more photos and news, you can friend "Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge" on Facebook. They have recent posts showing the rescue of some mule deer fawns from a water-filled ditch, and a trail camera shot of a mother mountain lion and her frolicking kitten.

At the new visitor center, you can buy CDs to play in your car for an audio tour of the refuge, or you can download the seasonal tours for free on this page, put them on your iPod and play them through your car speakers as you drive along.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ghost Town

Last summer we took a ride up to Lake Valley, located in Sierra County. There were no lakes to be seen, of course - this is New Mexico and water is pretty much a rarity. The valley was apparently named for ancient lake beds long gone.

Such big empty spaces

It was a beautiful wide open space, appearing pretty empty to the casual eye. There were few signs of people, other than the couple of cars we passed along the road and the ever-present stock fences. We saw a roadrunner (our state bird) and a few distant cattle. When we stopped the car, the only sound was the breeze through the grass; all else was hot and still.

It hasn't always been that way. Back in the late 1800s a huge silver deposit was found at one end of the valley. There are stories told that the silver was so pure that it could be loaded from the mine into railroad cars and taken straight to the mint with no need of smelting.

Enlarge this photo to read a bit of town history


Old safe

Sign creaking in the wind
 All that's left now is a ghost town, with just a few buildings still standing, but there were once 4,000 people living in Lake Valley. Saloons, churches (way more saloons than churches), a school, stores, a hotel, and houses once stood here. With not a single tourist in sight, you are free to sit in the shade and imagine what it might have been like in its heyday.

If you would like to read more about the ghost town, you can check out these links, or just google "Lake Valley, NM ghost town:"

- A page from the New Mexico Ghost Towns website: 

- Bureau of Land Management site, gives directions and information for visitors: 

- Official Bureau of Land Management Brochure, with some historical photos: 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

New Day in November, for Skywatch

City-light diamond necklace at the throat of the mountains
Twinkles, then winks off
The wind chime hangs very, very still

A shiver-cold desert night is ending
Scarlet fingers from the rising sun
Reach up, into a warming sky

Distant dogs bark up into the orange pink gold light
Coyote gives one last commanding howl, and
The November day is born


For sky photos from all over the world, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.