Surprise! (March 30)

After a little research on Tuesday night, we decided on two stops for Wednesday morning before heading on down the highway.

First, the little town of Socorro, New Mexico, where we were staying, happens to be home to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and a Mineral Museum! Can’t leave town without taking the kids to that!

Second, Joe thought that we might want to see Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge…It was just a few miles south of town, and though everything looked dry and brown as far as the eye could see, it is a migratory bird refuge, and it might be nice 🙂

We headed for the Bosque del Apache in the cool morning, while the dry lands were still pale and blue and the golden sun was just peeking through the clouds…

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Turns out, the reserve is a managed wetland, replicating a process that used to occur naturally, when the Rio Grande would annually overflow its banks, creating seasonal wetlands that supported a great variety of plant and animal life. The process doesn’t happen naturally anymore, since the Rio Grande is dammed for a variety of modern uses, but within the boundaries of the refuge, the seasonal oasis is manually recreated, allowing for a flourishing diversity of wildlife!

This is the magic that happens in the desert when you get a little bit of water on the landscape…(Photo courtesy of Spencer)

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Green! And green makes us happy 🙂 (Photo courtesy of Spencer)

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Cottonwoods, willows, reeds and cattails intermix with the desert plants, creating a vibrant landscape full of birds, deer, javelinas, coyotes, bobcats, roadrunners, lizards and even mountain lions!

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It’s a beautiful and refreshing countryside, more alive, more natural, still arid, but full of specialized life instead of desolate decay, which is much nicer 🙂

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The Visitor Center is terrific, friendly staff, beautiful displays, and a sweet little picture window looking out on a bird feeder that draws some of the native inhabitants up close for viewing!

Pyrrhuloxia… (similar to a Cardinal)

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird…

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A young male Red-Winged Blackbird – the golden outline of their feathers fades to black after the first summer…

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Gambel’s Quails, female and male…

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And a cactus garden!

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The park is mostly accessed via a couple of driving loops that wind through the wetlands, with trailheads dotted along the way. We stopped at the boardwalk…

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Which led across the water and into the desert. We were on a scientific exploration expedition, looking for tracks and traces of wildlife!

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There were lots! Some we could recognize (roadrunner, javelina), and some not (coyote or bobcat?), but every sandy surface was dotted with prints! All of their owners, however, were safely out of sight.

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It’s the kind of exploring that is guaranteed to put sand in your shoes (which, apparently, does not make us happy)!

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We stopped frequently along the road as we spotted creatures, birds mostly…

The iconic roadrunner…

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Isn’t he handsome?

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A flock of barn swallows, hunting along the surface of the water in the cool morning…

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Cinnamon Teal, breeding plumage…

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Say’s Phoebe…

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Sweet Mule Deer, their soft ears poking above the waving grasses as they lounged or grazed…

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Cattle Egrets, in breeding plumage…

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And a Great Egret circling with two Black-Crowned Night Herons…

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We also stopped to wander through the forest, a small grove of oaks with last year’s leaves carpeting the ground and this year’s buds just beginning to open…

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The wide grasslands stretched out to the line of green along the water with the dry mountains beyond and the sculptured sky above…

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It was a beautiful day in the sunshine, in a desert truly in bloom, with the help of just a little water!

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And then it was off to the Mineral Museum! (Hahaha, love that dimple!)                         (Photo courtesy of Spencer)

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As ever, the rocks and gemstones were just amazing. I could fill book after book with photos of crystals of all shapes, sizes and colors…

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(Photos courtesy of Spencer)

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But soon, it was time to say good-by to the little town of Socorro, with the beautiful oasis and the dazzling mineral collection, and get on the road again to El Paso for the night…

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