BOSQUE DEL APACHE NWR -- Maybe the corn isn't as high as an elephant (sigh!) this November, but the sandhill cranes are at least eyeball to corn ear with 260 acres of cob salad as the 16th annual Festival of the Cranes gets underway.
Not that the cranes would be caught dead in a standing cornfield. They like their corn "bumped" as the refuge staff calls it -- knocked to the ground, the better to see the wily coyote that lurks in the shadows.
Deadly coyote encounters with cranes, and, more often, snow geese, are a part of the drama of the festival, although few aficionados admit they come for such unseemly entertainment...
That was the opening of a story I wrote for my hometown newspaper, the Socorro Mountain Mail special section on the Festival of the Cranes, nine years ago. Upcoming this month, November 14-18, is the 25th annual Festival, and not much has changed since. It remains among the biggest shows in New Mexico, the least expensive (the price of a federal Golden Eagle or Golden Age passport) and, in my mind, more spectacular than Albuquerque’s balloon festival. It certainly has more characters, literally tens of thousands, including the wily coyotes mentioned above, and dozens of species of birds. There is a pre-festival program (workshops, lectures, etc.) Nov. 11-13.
I won’t go into the detail on all the things you can do there, because the Festival of the Cranes website tells all. But I will assure you that if you want to add to your lifetime bird list, or photograph birds up close and personal, or catch hundreds of snow geese or sandhill cranes against the sunset, you won’t be disappointed.
I have never been there without seeing at least one of the following birds: ring-necked pheasant, bald eagle, roadrunner, great blue herons, red winged blackbirds, pelican species plus many smaller birds. Yes, they can be found in Albuquerque, but they are all within sight of your vehicle if you make a round trip tour of the Bosque del Apache at a pace as comfortable as you please.
The festival includes lectures with notable guest speakers and, if you sign in advance, field trips. Many outdoor organizations and artists have booths and there is an annual art contest, the winner earning a stipend and the artwork itself place on the upcoming Festival’s program. All the info is available by going to the Friends of the Bosque and following the cues to many pages of information.
Yes, I’m biased about the Festival. I was born a quarter mile north of San Antonio on the farm to market road, and just a quarter mile from the Owl and Buckhorn Bars, in place then and very famous now as watering holes for refuge visitors just as they were for scientists like J. Robert Oppenheimer late in World War II. The scientists traveled Highway 380 through San Antonio to Trinity Site to work on and explode the world’s first atomic bomb. Incidentally, in years past a field trip to Trinity Site where that 1945 explosion occurred, has been a part of the Festival program although I don’t know if it is this year. Check the long menu of things to do at http://www.festivalofthecranes.com/AllEvents.html.