Days 7 and 8
We left T or C on May 30, heading north on Interstate 25 and then switching over to Interstate 40, west to the town of Grants, NM.
Grants is a cute, quiet little town. Not a whole lot happening, but in the high desert, so it isn't as hot during the day despite the sun. And nights are quite chilly.
But travelling north on I-25, we saw that we'd go right past two national wildlife refuges! How exciting! So of course we stopped to check these out!
The first, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, was way off the highway, in a quiet and very green oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert. The Rio Grande runs through here, creating wetlands and lakes that attract migrating birds, forest mammals, predators, and river animals.
In fact, sandhills cranes and snow geese winter in the Bosque del Apache, and flocks of hundreds (or even thousands) of birds migrate here for the winter. The photographs at the visitors center make it look like millions of birds come through, but I suspect there aren't quite that many. Definitely huge flocks that crowd the sky!!!
We didn't see many birds. I heard some very loud chirping, back and forth from opposite ends of the parking area, and thought I'd go see what (or who) was making all this noise. It turned out to be a young quail, who was calling to his parent, who called back - sort of like Quail Marco Polo.
We walked around the visitor center, and I also explored the grounds of the refuge. It really was wonderful to see all that verdant foliage after so much time in the desert!!! My eyes always feel more rested when they look upon lush green environments.
On our way out, Young Little Quail had somehow gotten up to the top of the light post, and was calling for mom to help. I tried explaining that if Baby Quail jumped and flapped its wings, it probably would just float down to the bushes, and be fine. But, well, I don't speak quail, and Baby Quail doesn't speak English - so he/she kept calling for mom. (Though one wonders how it got up there, and then was too afraid to come back down.)
Their website: www.fws.gov/refuge/Bosque_del_Apache/
A bit north of the town of Socorro, we entered the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. This huge refuge extends on both sides of the highway, and provides protected lands for animals such as coyotes, prairie dogs, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, and many smaller animals as well.
They have programs such as butterfly counts, and banding hummingbirds. I realize not everyone thinks those activities would be exciting, but, well, some of us do.
Again, we walked around the visitors center, and then I explored the outside area. There's a facility here where faculty and students from the university study the various biomes (sub-environments within a larger area) and how the environment and the animals affect each other.
Sevilleta is in the high desert - desert regions at elevations between 2000 to about 5000 feet (610 m to 1.5 km) are referred to as high desert. Still dry and arid, but with very different vegetation than deserts at lower elevations. The higher elevations are too high for some plants such as saguaro cactus, for example. At the higher elevations, the plant life tends to be shorter, bushier flora such as mesquite and sagebrush.
We didn't see any animals, but it was raining in the difference which made for dramatic skies and mood lighting!
Sevilleta's website: www.fws.gov/refuge/Sevilleta/
Plus there is less traffic, fewer trucks, and no one minds if you pull over onto the shoulder to take photos of the scenery, or any of the kitschy things for which Route 66 is known.
We like to make getting there as much a part of the journey as the final destination.
So we tiki toured, stopping to look at some lovely red cliffs or bluffs or buttes or mesas. Dad's hat was very impressed with them as well, especially the layers of colors that were formed countless millennia ago.
We stopped in the town of Continental Divide which sits, as you guessed, right on the continental divide. People were conflicted about whether the exact elevation was 7,275 or 7,295 feet about sea leave (about 2.2 km!). But everyone agreed that yes, this was on the exact continental divide, which also tiki wanders through the mountain ranges, dividing east and west. Well, the waterways, anyway. Or, as one fellow traveller said as he headed off down the road, "It's all downhill from here!"
We spent two nights in Gallup. I had initially planned to drive from there to Chaco Canyon, to see some of the cliff dwellings. But with some research, it quickly became apparent that this was a very idealistic plan. Chaco Canyon is huge, with a plethora of ancient architecture. It cannot all be seen in one day, especially when it takes two hours to get there (and two hours to return). Chaco Canyon is one of those places that needs several days, maybe even a full week, to be fully appreciated. With camping nearby, since there aren't any hotels.
So, change of plans. Part II will talk about what I did instead of heading to Chaco.