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 🙂
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.
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.
I was hoping to see bobcat and mountain lion but not this time.
This American Avocet makes me think of a ballerina.
Look at the stare this Northern Harrier was giving me, a little unnerving!
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!
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!
One of the most colorful birds we saw were Ring-necked Pheasants. The ones found at Bosque are a 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.
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.
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 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 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.
The next photo I took the morning I was leaving. Do you notice anything missing?
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.