Visiting Bosque del Apache and the VLA

Bosque del Apache NWR

From the Balloon Fiesta, I headed to the village of San Antonio, about 20 miles south of Socorro, NM. I wanted to spend a few days at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which is a wintering grounds for thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Ross’ Geese and other waterfowl.  It was still early in the fall, so there was a small number of cranes and other birds compared to what will be here later in November. Each year the NWR holds a Crane Festival during the week before Thanksgiving, which is attended by thousands of people. I was happy to be here during a quieter time 🙂


Great Blue Heron

Larger resolution photos can be viewed in my Flickr Album

Bosque is really all about the birds and wildlife, there are a two loop roads that are open to the public as well as a couple observation ponds. Some of the fields are flooded in fall and winter to provide areas for the cranes. This process was just starting while I was there and takes a few weeks to complete. The water is drawn from the Rio Grande River, which runs along the eastern side of the refuge.


Eared Grebe at Boardwalk Lagoon

In addition to birds and waterfowl, one may see coyotes, bobcats, javelina, skunks, and even mountain lions and an occasional black bear. A group of four javelina were foraging beside the road when I stopped at the Boardwalk Lagoon. Although javelina bear a resemblance to pigs, they are in no way related to pigs.


Collared Peccary, commonly known as Javelina

I was hoping to see bobcat and mountain lion but not this time.


American Goldfinch near the visitor center feeders


American Widgeon on the north observation pond

This American Avocet makes me think of a ballerina.


Graceful American Avocet on north observation pond


Look at the stare this Northern Harrier was giving me, a little unnerving!


Northern Harrier

On Friday thru Sunday, guided van tours are given twice daily. The tours go onto roads that are not open to the public, so it is worthwhile to avail oneself of them. I went on the Friday morning and Sunday afternoon tours. We saw quite a few birds, lots of javelina, and a couple skunks. No bobcats or lions though.

All of the Roadrunners I have seen ran away before I could get a decent photo. This one jumped up into a small tree next to the road and stayed there for a few minutes while we sat in the van snapping photos. A very accommodating Roadrunner!


Greater Roadrunner posing for photos

Further along we saw these two juvenile Red-tailed Hawks perched in a tree right next to the road. Once again, they stayed there for about ten minutes before flying. Very unusual for hawks, and very cool!


Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks


Getting ready to fly

One of the most colorful birds we saw were Ring-necked Pheasants. The ones found at Bosque are a white-winged variant.


Ring-necked Pheasant, white-winged variant

Later we came across another Roadrunner on about a 30 foot snag. I have seen Roadrunners up in trees before, so it apparently isn’t that unusual. Also, they do nest in trees.


Another Greater Roadrunner


Very Large Array Radio Telescope



The VLA, part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, is the most advanced radio observatory in the world, located roughly fifty miles west of Socorro, NM. It is open to visitors daily, however on the first and third Saturdays of the month, several guided tours are offered. I realized it was the third Saturday that I was in San Antonio. I left early Saturday morning so I could catch the first tour at 11am.


Visitor Center

The tour consists of about a 20 minute talk about the VLA, then the group walks from the visitor center to the control building and into the control room. From there you walk to an antenna where an engineer gave a short presentation and answered questions. I felt it was worthwhile to visit on the Saturday that the tours were given.

The array consists of 27 antennas, plus a spare. The antenna dish is 82 feet across, and I believe they are about 94 feet high and weigh 230 tons.


The antennas are very large!

The array is Y-shaped, with the stem of the Y extending north. The north arm is 11 miles long and the other two arms are 13 miles long. The antennas can be placed into four configurations, ranging in diameter between 22 miles and .64 miles. The antennas sit on concrete piers along a railroad. There are two Transporters that move the antennas along the tracks. The array was in the 22 mile diameter configuration during my visit.


The north arm extending out 11 miles into the distance

The VLA has appeared in several movies and commercials, probably the best known is Contact, starring Jodie Foster. In 2013, a 24 minute video about the array was produced and is narrated by Foster. It is shown in the visitor center and can also be viewed on the NRAO website. VLA Website   I really enjoyed visiting and learning about the VLA.

The camping in San Antonio is very limited. There is one small RV Park with about 20 spaces. The other option, where I stayed, is the San Antonio Bosque Park, which is about 8 miles from the NWR. The park sits between a levee and the Rio Grande River and is pretty heavily treed with cottonwoods. I did find a site that had partial sun and was able to keep my batteries charged. I took this photo of my campsite a couple days after I arrived.


My campsite at San Antonio Bosque Park


The next photo I took the morning I was leaving. Do you notice anything missing?


Getting ready to pull out

Yep, my bike is gone. It was stolen on Saturday during the time I was gone to the VLA. This is the first time I have had anything stolen during the two plus years I have been traveling. I did file a report with the State Police, so it is possible it will be recovered. I had it locked with a cable lock, but I should have had a better lock on it. So a word to the wise, if you travel with a bike be sure to put a very good lock on it.

After a week here in San Antonio, it was time to hit the road and start working my way to Arizona. I will be going to Tucson to have my damaged solar panel replaced and to attend the Loft Film Fest. I loved the films shown at last year’s fest, and am looking forward to this year’s lineup.


New Mexico sunset

17 Comments on “Visiting Bosque del Apache and the VLA

  1. Oh, man, that sucks that your bike got stolen, and in such a remote place 😦

    I visited VLA a few years ago and stayed in Datil at a federal campground, your photos reminded me of how much I enjoyed my visit even though it snowed all day (Open House is first Saturday in April, which gives behind the scenes tours, so it was worth braving the weather!).


    • The State Police Officer who came out to investigate said they probably came down from Socorro, which is most likely. Not many people in San Antonio.


  2. Deb it looks they also stole the carrier. did you also have a lock on it? Two people can move them both even connected, to a pickup without much trouble.


    • Dave, the carrier is folded up against the back of trailer. A little hard to see in the photo. It does also have a lock on it. It is a locking hitch pin that came with the Thule carrier.


  3. I always set up a game camera in my campsites. So far I’ve never had anything stolen while camping. It’s also fun to see what kind of critters are roaming around at night. My camera has a no glow flash for night time pictures so it doesn’t scare the animals. I had to add “Game Camera” to my pre-trip checklist, it’s so small and camouflaged that I’ve almost forgotten it when getting ready to move.
    The first thing I noticed missing was your tire covers. Then I thought “Oh No”, some piece of **** stole your bicycle.
    I really liked the pictures of the red tail Hawks. Safe travels 🙏.


    • Hi Brian, I’ve considered setting up some type of security camera but couldn’t think of a good way to do that. I had not thought of using a game camera, that’s a great idea. I will research that. I would definitely need to add it to my pre-departure checklist as I would forget it for sure! I left 2 remote temperature transmitters before I finally put that on my checklist.

      Glad you liked the red-tailed hawk photos. It was amazing that they stayed there so long, it was very cool.


  4. Great photos as usual. Thanks for posting your pix in Flickr; always appreciate picking the larger sizes of many ones I like. We were camped down by the Rio Grand right in Socorro about a month ago; lots of looky-loos drove by the trailer at all hours, and some were hinky looking.

    Peccaries are in the same order and suborder as pigs and used to be in the same family, so they are related in many ways. We always face the issue of lumpers and splitters who elevate or lower various taxa in what may seem arbitrary ways and sometimes actually are arbitrary. I stick to insects so I can’t comment on the decision to split peccaries into their own family but I suspect there are some who objected, lol.


    • Thanks Bob, glad you like the photos and the Flickr album.

      I got the info on javelinas from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum website along with a couple others. I didn’t find anything about them being from the same family as pigs or wild boar or them being split. Desert Museum says peccaries are new world mammals and wild boar/pigs are old world. Oh well I know they do change things every so often. When I was at Cave Creek last spring I was seeing Magnificent Hummingbirds and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t finding them in either my Merlin Bird ID app or the eBird app. They did show up in my field guides which I have had for a few years. Later I learned the name of the species had been changed to Rivoli’s Hummingbird! Keeps us non-science people on our toes I guess.


  5. Thank you Deb for your wonderful pictures and informative post. We had been thinking of doing an RV overnight in this area, but will change those plans. RV-ers need to stick together and share this kind of info. Thank you so much!


    • Your welcome! I’m sorry to discourage you from visiting the area. If you enjoy birding, then the Bosque is a great place to visit, especially when the cranes are there and during spring migration. I would not recommend staying at the river park where I was or at any of the river parks in Socorro. There is the small RV Park in San Antonio and there are also RV Parks in Socorro. The VLA is also very much worth the visit. If I were to return I would probably stay at an RV Park. You might give that consideration. Thanks for following my blog!

      Liked by 1 person

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