I left Taos at nine, piňon pine woodsmoke scenting the air. I didn’t know the temperature. That’s good, because an hour later I’d dropped 1400 feet in elevation and it was only seventeen degrees in full sun.
I got to the Bosque del Apache by two and spent three hours roaming. I pad the five dollar entry fee even though my senior pass would have granted me free entrance. Five dollars is a bargain, and I like to support this place.
Ducks, cranes, snow geese, hawks.
I don’t know if this year’s numbers are typical, but in the last week of December 2012, there were over 57,000 ducks and more than 32,000 snow geese. There were also about 3100 cranes and over 400 Canadian geese. Only four eagles had been spotted on the count day, which is probably why I didn’t see any. The hawk count either wasn’t taken or wasn’t posted.
I didn’t witness the evening mass ascension or landing I’d hoped for, but I knew I’d catch an ascension in the morning. I returned to Socorro for the night, catching the very end of happy hour at Socorro Springs, a brewery/pizza place. Good beer, good pizza, worth the stop.
Pre-dawn. I dragged myself out of my warm bed, my warm room. I pulled on thick tights, socks, two layers of long sleeves. Fuzzy lined used boots I’d picked up used in Taos. Thick gloves and a warm hat. Then, into the iciness of the almost day. Twenty minutes later I joined about thirty others, all lined up at water’s edge awaiting the snow goose liftoff.
We had to wait almost half an hour. I danced about to keep my feet warm and tucked my almost numb hands into my pants to thaw against my belly.
The geese spoke to one another in low voices, but when eight hundred or so are speaking at the same time, it’s anything but quiet. A few geese and cranes lifted off.
Then, suddenly, they silenced. A few minutes later it began. Wave after wave after wave of geese rose into gray sky, screaming and honking with wings a-whooshing.
Magical. Simply magical. There is just nothing like it.
I was back in my car by 7:15, but rather than leave like almost everyone else did, I again drove one of the two loops through the preserve. Slowly, slowly down dirt roads, catching both cranes and geese swooping into fields chock full of hearty bird breakfast.
Snow geese eat small weeds as well as almost any field grain: wheat, sorghum, corn. Their field friends the cranes prefer corn (fresh is best) but will eat other grains, tubers, and even berries and small rodents and birds. The fields in the Bosque support both birds, and I wondered if the ground is specially planted for them or if it is serendipity.
I didn’t get out of the Bosque until close to nine, just as the light breeze picked up and made it miserable to be outside in the still-freezing morning. I made a quick stop at the visitor’s center and then headed back to San Antonio’s only restaurant, a small Mexican café – the San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant – where I gobbled up a bean and green chile burrito. The name of the restaurant, by the way, is almost larger than the place itself.
There are also two bars in San Antonio, the Buckhorn Tavern and the Owl Bar and Cafe. The Owl has simply the best green chile burgers on the planet, bar none. The bar/café claims to be world famous, and I believe it. There’s also a wonderful B&B – Casa Blanca – that’s well worth the money.
But my bean burrito smothered in green chiles at the San Antonio Crane Mexican Restaurant? Perfect ending to a spectacular morning!