As one famed species spreads its wings and flocks toward another seasonal mainstay, a plethora of different birds return to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for the spring and summer seasons.

The great crane migration during the winter months is a main attraction for visitors to the refuge, but the area is much more than that. Renewal and beauty are year-round.

Jessica Jia, lead park ranger at Bosque del Apache, said, “Each season in nature has its own charm.”

With the weather now turning, and the pandemic a stale worry best set in the past, spring and summer have much to offer. Jia explained that “nature carries out movement and rebirth” during the warmer months.

A calliope hummingbird are some of the visitors at Bosque del Apache NWR.
Courtesy of Jessica Jia

She said, “Visitors can look forward to the arrival of migrating hummingbird species, baby birds and beautiful sunsets over uninterrupted desert landscapes.”

Established in 1939, the San Antonio, New Mexico, refuge spans 57,331 acres along the Rio Grande between the Chupadera and San Pascual mountains. Over 30,000 acres are dedicated to untainted wilderness, and the entire space remains a vital stop for migrating birds.

Officially designated in 1975, it is one of over 560 units within the National Wildlife Refuge network of lands and waters. The mission of the preservation system is to revive and maintain these areas for the strength of the atmosphere and wildlife, as well as for the benefit of future generations.

Page Steed, who resides in Canyon, Texas, but maintains a photography studio in Angel Fire, recently visited Bosque del Apache. She considers the refuge “to be a Shangri-la oasis for nature enthusiasts year-round.”

“I enjoy spending time in that entire region,” she said. “Mostly, I enjoy the peacefulness and sounds of nature wherever I am situated.”

Visitors benefit from the true purpose of the refuge. Bosque del Apache is in place to protect wildlife and preserve the ecological integrity of a vital stretch of the Rio Grande. The staff’s goal is to sustain a quality and healthy environment, within their control, and mimic natural processes the river once did to better serve the species that use it for basic survival.

Jia said, “Visitors can come and enjoy areas that were once prevalent … which today exist only in small patches.”

Thousands of years ago, the Rio Grande was healthy and voluminous, despite its appearance now. Over centuries, human interruption began altering the vibrancy of the water along with subsidiary ponds and marshes that would form from the overflowing river. It’s a stressful time for conversation due to the water level of the Rio Grande, Jia said.

Bosque del Apache’s desert arboretum.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain

Each year, however, revival and restoration can be enjoyed in this small patch of land. Nature is a strong mother. In spring, attractions include hummingbirds, butterflies and the arrival of swallows and shorebirds. Wildflowers and cactus blooms are prominent as well.

Summer brings another expansion of wildlife as the staff prepares the land for migratory birds and endangered species, Jia said. Baby quail, roadrunners and turtles can be seen gracing the land. Other attractions include fishing and frogging, as well as basking in gorgeous sunsets.

Steed shared that the “sunrises and sunsets are absolutely breathtaking!”

“If you’re looking for lots of bang for your invested time, this area cannot be beat,” she said.

Artists, like Steed, can take advantage of the refuge. Spots for undisturbed photography, painting and drawing are scattered throughout, and the space provides plenty of picturesque models to capture. The activities for people, no matter their experience in nature, are abundant.

Due to the size of the refuge, Jia said that many may not realize there are over 10 hiking trails, a picnic pavilion, a garden, bicycling spots and ways to enjoy the area in solitude or with family and friends.

To get the best view of the summer species, Jia recommends checking the Wetland Roost parking lot, Point of Lands overlook and Elmendorf Trail while visiting. Baby quail roaming the land, cactus blooms and hummingbirds at the feeders provide visitors with some of the best photo opportunities.

The beauty of nature creates a variety of activities, but most importantly, it provides a reminder to absorb the natural order of the environment. Bosque del Apache is home to some of the nation’s most incredible wildlife.

“The refuge has been happy to see an increase in local visitors over the past year,” Jia said. “We welcome everybody … to come and enjoy their national public lands.”

It is time to revive one’s exploration, and there’s always as chance to bask in the natural beauty of the environment at Bosque del Apache.

Carl Knauf, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer