Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Episode 3:  Back to the Bosque

In November of 2021, we spent a wonderful month at a little Airbnb in Lemitar, New Mexico.

Casita del Cranes, Lemitar, NM (2021)

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.

back to Casita del Cranes and the Bosque del Apache!

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,

November 4, 2022

And we tracked the color changes over our month’s stay.

by the end of November, the leaves were nearly gone, and ice formed on the wetlands in the early morning

On this visit, we spent a lot of time just relaxing at Casita del Cranes.

such a relaxing place!

It is the last house on a quiet road and the only sounds are the birds

lots of kestrels on the power lines around Casita

And occasional freight trains that rumble by day and night – something we found charming.

picturesque freight trains rumble by day and night

Oscar and Maddie loved going for sunset walks along the ditch road,

sunset on the ditch road in front of Casita del Cranes

And checking on Pam’s chickens!

Oscar checking on Pam’s chickens

And we loved all the photo ops right outside our door.

a few of the animals around Casita (clockwise from lower left): Say’s phoebe, yellow warbler, roadrunner, Mexican ground squirrel, mourning dove

We heard the calls of the sandhill cranes every time we stepped outside.

sandhill cranes in the field next to Casita

And often found them in the nearby fields or flying overhead.

sandhill cranes at sunset

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.

sandhill cranes at the Flight Deck, November 2021

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

snow geese flying out at sunrise

And sandhill cranes,

sandhill cranes at sunrise

Along with the coyotes that regularly scouted the shoreline in the early mornings.

coyotes on the shoreline in the early morning

We also managed to capture several of the Bosque regulars: an adorable least bittern doing her best to shoo away an American coot,

least bittern and American coot

the many duck species,

Northern pintail

White pelicans,

white pelicans

Northern harriers,

female northern harrier



And dozens of TTB’s (tiny twitchy birds).

dark-eyed junco

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.

Gambel’s quail (male) on the Desert Arboretum trail

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.

the Canyon National Recreational Trail

It is a 2.5-mile trail through a canyon where we found animal tracks in the sand

snake, bobcat, and mice tracks in the soft sand along the trail

And nests tucked into crevices high up on the cliffs,

peregrine falcon nest high up on the cliff

While winding our way up to the top of a ridge with a glorious bird’s-eye view of the refuge.

couple’s selfie from the top of the ridge

The Bosque is not just about birds. Many other animals call this area home including javelinas,


Mule deer,

mule deer

Ground squirrels,

ground squirrel

And multiple species of reptiles.

Eastern side-blotched lizard

You can view all of our bird and wildlife photos here:

says phoebe-03447
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

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.

Bernardo Waterfowl Area snow geese at sunset

One day we drove east to Tularosa and on our way, happened upon the Valley of Fires.

Valley of Fires campground pano

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.

from a distance the lava looks black and dead

The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick, and covers 125 square miles.

the lava is 160 feet thick! (vertical pano)

The lava appears black and dead but take a closer look and it is full of life

white-crowned sparrow (juvi)

And color!

the Valley of Fires is full color!

On another day we drove south and west to Silver City, stopping at the VLA.

the VLA

The VLA (Very Large Array) is comprised of twenty-eight enormous radio telescopes and is part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

28 enormous radio telescopes

It also makes for some excellent photo ops!

taking photos at the VLA!

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.

golden eagle in flight

We passed the Chino (aka Santa Rita) Open-Pit Copper Mine, the third largest in the world

the Chino Copper Mine

And something you must see to believe!

something you must see to believe!

We drove through the Gila National Forest with its astounding beauty

the road through the Gila National Forest

And exhilarating hairpin curves,

the road!

Stopping at the Emory Pass Overlook for a panoramic view of the mountains and forest.

Emory Pass Overlook

Ride along with us for 30 seconds as we head down the mountain. Unless you get dizzy easily – then skip the video!

fasten your seatbelt as we drive through the Gila National Forest!

On yet another day we drove north to the Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge from the High Bridge

And the High Bridge, located about ten miles west of Taos.

the High Bridge

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!

TG walked out into the middle of the High Bridge

I wanted to photograph the bighorn sheep that are common in this area, but all we managed to find were some fresh tracks.

bighorn sheep tracks

We detoured home via Ramah, with prehistoric cliff dwellings dating back to 1200-1300 A.D.

prehistoric cliff dwellings in Ramah, 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.

El Morro Visitor’s Center

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.

a picnic lunch in the Cibola National Forest

You can view all of our landscape photos from both the Bosque and our day trips here:

bernardo sunset-9233
hover on photo to arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

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.

such a fun day!

We had so much fun and took so many photos that this visit deserves its own Flickr album!

El Rancho Hotel
hover on photo and then arrow through the set or click on any photo to open a new tab in Flickr

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!

1982 /2022, my star stack, northern harrier in flight, and freight train wheels close up

During our month-long visit we sampled some of the local cuisine: huevos rancheros in Tularosa,

huevos rancheros at Loredo’s Bakery 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.

My oh my, Frito Pie!

Piñon coffee – a “must” for coffee lovers in our opiñon!

piñon coffee and red chile veggie burrito

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.

lunch at El Corral – where everyone feels like family

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!

Christmas – New Mexico style!

Coming Next: Westward Ho(ly Cow)! Mini Episode 3.5: “The BIG Surprise”

Badlands National Park