Well, my time in Albuquerque has come to a close and Ive now headed further south to spend the first month of the year in Las Cruces! I am really looking forward to my continued exploration of this beautiful and fascinating state, but I am still really fond of Albuquerque and hope to make it back here in the next few months. One of the more interesting things about my time in Albuquerque is discovering that I have family there! Not only do I have family there, but I actually really enjoy hanging out with them! Luckily enough my Grandfathers brothers son and his wife (if you know the technical term for this relation please let me know) enjoy spending time outdoors and were hospitable enough to tote me around to several notable birding and hiking destinations. Like most New Mexicans they are very proud of their beautiful state, and they made for excellent company as we explored some of New Mexico’s natural wonders together.
You dont get to choose who you are related to. It seems like most Americans view family as a hefty obligation that you have to hang out with a few times a year and then you take to social media to complain about it behind their backs. Well luckily the New Mexico branch of my family would fit in really well with the Michigan branch of my family and they were super enjoyable to spend time with! As mentioned, they also happened to really like spending time outdoors. They were gracious enough not only to take me to Bosque Del Apache but also to Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks for hiking and birding excursions. In the case of Tent Rocks not only did they introduce me to a local I would not have seen on my own, they were also full of knowledge about the area. Tent Rocks National Monument is a truly breathtaking and unique place, and like all spectacular geologic formations, it gives you a feeling of being on another planet.
Kasha-Katuwe means ‘white cliffs’ in Keresan, the traditional language of the nearby Pueblo de Cochiti. Delicately layered sand, gravel, volcanic ash, and tuff of the Peralta Tuff Member of the Bearhead Rhyolite and sand and gravel of the Cochiti Formation, which are older units in the Jemez Mountain volcanic field, have been eroded into fragile to robust spires with balanced rocks perched on top. The hoodoos, erosional cones, and pedestal rocks that characterize Tent Rocks form as the result of differential erosion (Smith, 1996). Water and, to a lesser extent, wind erosion preferentially attacks the moderately-indurated sand and ash grains around the base of large blocks in the gravel-rich beds. Eventually, the gravel clasts rest on pedestals, thus protecting the underlying sand and ash from further erosion. As time passes, the capstones are gradually undermined and the rocks topple, leaving an unprotected cone.
While I still have no idea what some of that means, it makes for very fascinating viewing and a very dramatic backdrop for hiking and birding. We were lucky enough to have a perfectly clear and bright blue day for hiking, and once we reached the peak we could view all the surrounding mountain ranges in their entirety. The day we went was crowded according to the park ranger, but it still ended up being an amazing day trip. I appreciated that they had set up nice picnic areas right near the ample parking area and that there were bathrooms.
Tent Rocks also did provide some excellent bird watching! I was able to get great views of Townsend’s Solitare and Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay in the picnic area at the base of the trails. As mentioned earlier there are some wonderful picnic areas set up, and if you are planning a visit it makes for a wonderful place to enjoy a packed lunch. Once we got to hiking there was not much space for birding, so most of my quick bird scouting was done in the picnic area. Many parts of the trail are narrow so it would be slightly awkward to bird at a lot of the places on the way up or down.
In addition, I also got to see a Sage Thrasher. One of my favorite aspects of birding is when you see a bird that… well… you didn’t know was a bird. As I am working harder and harder at honing my birding skills and birding for longer and longer periods of time, it’s becoming much more rare to find birds that I didnt know exist. I was lucky enough to have one of those magical moments with Sage Thrasher which had apparently escaped my notice when I was doing research into targets in New Mexico.
Besides Tent Rocks, they also arranged a second day trip. Since no birder can visit New Mexico without a visit to Bosque Del Apache I jumped at the chance when my Aunt and Uncle (well not really my Aunt and Uncle as mentioned above I think technically they are my second cousins or cousins once removed or something) invited me to join them on a day-long excursion there. In addition to checking off a box by visiting Bosque Del Apache, they informed me no visit (birder or non-birder alike) to New Mexico is complete without Green Chili Cheeseburger and Buckhorn Burger (right at the ‘gateway’ to Bosque Del Apache) fit the bill for fulfilling that! Seriously these were absolutely knock your socks off amazing cheeseburgers. Do yourself a favor and stop in there. Even though I look like half of my eyebrow is missing I love this photo:
I’m sure many detailed posts about Boque Del Apache exist. I’m sure many posts with much more high definition photos exist as well (when I went in December there was probably over $200,000 of photo equipment collectively being used) so I will spare you a million photos of Sandhill Cranes and Geese. This place has deservedly gained a reputation as one of the best places for bird photography in the US, but in my opinion it’s so much more than that. If you are in this part of the world seriously – just go. Even if you aren’t a birder per se there are sites aplenty to keep you entertained. I mean which warm-blooded ‘merican doesn’t like a Bald Eagle?
One of the main things that makes Bosque Del Apache so awe-inspiring is the sheer number of birds. Everywhere you look there are oodles and oodles of birds. Seriously someone needs to invent a different shorthand to express the fact that there are a metric fuck ton of birds here. Simply putting ‘x’ on your ebird list does not do it justice. As my friend Wyatt suggested ‘xxx’ would be more apt. There is just something indescribable about seeing tens of thousands of birds all at once that knocks the socks off off casual nature lovers. Perhaps its that it makes you ponder the wonders of nature? Perhaps its that it makes you feel so small in this immeasurably vast world? Well, you won’t know until you go and see for yourself.
Lastly one of the last highlights of Bosque Del Apache was not even avian! It was mammalian! The Javelina is a pig like (its a pig cousin actually) inhabitant of the park that was kind enough to grace us with its presence. As my Aunt aptly pointed out, it would make a great star in a Disney movie. As mentioned with the Sage Thrasher there is something spectacular about seeing an animal you never knew existed, and I was over the moon to encounter this fascinating looking animal.
A little info on Javelina from Texas Parks and Wildlife –
Javelina travel in small herds or “family groups” and seem to have a somewhat limited home range. In the winter, they are generally active in the early morning and late afternoon. Javelina are largely nocturnal during the hotter times of the year. They feed primarily on cacti (particularly prickly pear), mesquite beans, lechuguilla, sotol, mast, fruits, and insects.
Fewer things in the world make me happier than viewing wildlife and birds. The only thing that makes it better for me is doing so with excellent company, and luckily my Aunt and Uncle provided exactly that. As mentioned earlier I am now in the south of the state in Las Cruces, so sadly I dont get to see them as often. I have been seeing some excellent birds though! I look forward to posting in the next week (I’m trying to get back to my original posting schedule of twice a month) and am excited to share my birding adventures and new species from this part of the state!