In November of 2021, we spent a wonderful month at a little Airbnb in Lemitar, New Mexico.
It was located about 30 minutes from the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, where over 100,000 sandhill cranes, snow geese, and other migrating birds winter each year. So, when we returned to Casita del Cranes this year it was like coming home. We arrived late afternoon on Wednesday, November 2, and were settled in long before bedtime.
When we left Grand Teton, winter was right around the corner. A week later they had a foot of snow and temperatures had dropped to below zero. It was nice to return to autumn in New Mexico where the aspens and cottonwoods had just started to peak,
And we tracked the color changes over our month’s stay.
On this visit, we spent a lot of time just relaxing at Casita del Cranes.
It is the last house on a quiet road and the only sounds are the birds
And occasional freight trains that rumble by day and night – something we found charming.
Oscar and Maddie loved going for sunset walks along the ditch road,
And checking on Pam’s chickens!
And we loved all the photo ops right outside our door.
We heard the calls of the sandhill cranes every time we stepped outside.
And often found them in the nearby fields or flying overhead.
The Bosque del Apache is a combination of wetlands and agricultural fields, and the planted/flooded areas are rotated each year. Last year the birds were close to the roads and easy to photograph from the various observation decks.
This year the Wetland Roost, an area alongside the road heading towards the main entrance, was flooded and we got some wonderfully close shots of the snow geese
And sandhill cranes,
Along with the coyotes that regularly scouted the shoreline in the early mornings.
We also managed to capture several of the Bosque regulars: an adorable least bittern doing her best to shoo away an American coot,
the many duck species,
And dozens of TTB’s (tiny twitchy birds).
In addition to a 14-mile scenic driving loop, the Bosque maintains twelve hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty. Instead of spending all of our time looking for birds, we hiked several trails.
Some, like the Desert Arboretum, are short and easy.
It shares a parking lot with the Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop, making for a convenient stop on your way to or from the Bosque.
Others, like the Canyon National Recreational Trail, require a bit more planning.
It is a 2.5-mile trail through a canyon where we found animal tracks in the sand
And nests tucked into crevices high up on the cliffs,
While winding our way up to the top of a ridge with a glorious bird’s-eye view of the refuge.
The Bosque is not just about birds. Many other animals call this area home including javelinas,
And multiple species of reptiles.
You can view all of our bird and wildlife photos here:
We had such an incredible time in 2021 that we did not feel under any pressure to get “the shot” on this trip. We visited other wildlife refuges and explored the beautiful state of New Mexico.
One day we drove east to Tularosa and on our way, happened upon the Valley of Fires.
According to the BLM website, 5,000 years ago Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock.
The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick, and covers 125 square miles.
The lava appears black and dead but take a closer look and it is full of life
On another day we drove south and west to Silver City, stopping at the VLA.
The VLA (Very Large Array) is comprised of twenty-eight enormous radio telescopes and is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
It also makes for some excellent photo ops!
Catron County in western New Mexico has a population of over 12,000 elk. We did not see any elk on our drive, but we did see mule deer, a roadrunner running across the road (where else?), a coyote, and a beautiful golden eagle.
We passed the Chino (aka Santa Rita) Open-Pit Copper Mine, the third largest in the world
And something you must see to believe!
We drove through the Gila National Forest with its astounding beauty
And exhilarating hairpin curves,
Stopping at the Emory Pass Overlook for a panoramic view of the mountains and forest.
Ride along with us for 30 seconds as we head down the mountain. Unless you get dizzy easily – then skip the video!
On yet another day we drove north to the Rio Grande Gorge
And the High Bridge, located about ten miles west of Taos.
At six hundred feet above the Rio Grande, it is the tenth highest bridge in the United States, and a bit unnerving for even the most intrepid!
I wanted to photograph the bighorn sheep that are common in this area, but all we managed to find were some fresh tracks.
We detoured home via Ramah, with prehistoric cliff dwellings dating back to 1200-1300 A.D.
And stopped at the El Morro National Monument where a waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made it a popular campsite for hundreds of years.
We did not take the time to hike to the ancient campsite to see the over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs carved into the sandstone walls. Instead, we enjoyed a quiet picnic lunch in the Cibola National Forest before pointing ourselves back towards Lemitar and Casita del Cranes.
You can view all of our landscape photos from both the Bosque and our day trips here:
One day we drove to Gallup to visit the historic El Rancho Hotel. Opened in 1937, it was the base for many Hollywood movies filmed in the surrounding area and is full of movie star photographs and memorabilia.
We had so much fun and took so many photos that this visit deserves its own Flickr album!
Although we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary back in October by splurging on a week at the McReynolds Blacktail Cabins in Grand Teton, the day we officially said “I do” was in November. We celebrated this special day with a long walk along the dirt road in front of Casita, dinner at the only restaurant in town open that day, and a night out shooting stars while being serenaded by howling coyotes. It was, indeed, a Happy Anniversary!
During our month-long visit we sampled some of the local cuisine: huevos rancheros in Tularosa,
Frito pie – which is shredded lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and cheese on top of Fritos mixed with red or green chile sauce – and considered a specialty in these parts.
Piñon coffee – a “must” for coffee lovers in our opiñon!
We also drove east and north to the tiny town of Corona for a delicious lunch at the El Corral Cafe, where real cowboys (complete with Old West hats) strolled in for their pick-up orders.
When ordering any dish with chiles, you are always asked “green” or “red.” We overheard a guest at El Corral say, “make mine Christmas-style.” And with December right around the corner, that is the perfect ending to our month in New Mexico!
Coming Next: Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Mini Episode 3.5: “The BIG Surprise”