One day during my time in New Mexico, I drove north to find the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex. After exiting I-25, I took a wrong turn and missed the entrance to the Waterfowl Complex. But I saw a sign for Salinas Pueblo Missions and kept on driving east about 30 miles.
The Salinas Pueblo Missions were built as part of the Spanish influence of the 16th and 17th centuries. I visited these missions on my first trip to Bosque in 2005. There are three sets of ruins, along with a visitors center in the town of Mountainair. The area is part of the Salinas Valley, named for salt flats (Las Salinas) a few miles to the east of Mountainair. The salt was a valuable commodity for trade.
The first site I came to is is Abó.
Click any image to enlarge.
Another ten miles east is the town of Mountainair, where I visited the Visitors Center for the National Monument, and ate lunch at a small hotel nearby. Then I drove north to Quarai, another site of the National Monument.
On this trip, I did not visit the third site, Gran Quivira, which was about 25 miles south of Mountainair. But I did visit that site in 2005. Here are scans of a couple of photos I took on film on that visit.
On the way back from Salinas Pueblo Missions, I did find the correct road that took me to the Ladd S. Gordon Waterflow Complex. See my earlier post for photos from the refuge.
This reminds me that I never wrote about a trip I made to Pecos National Historical Park in 2021, so let me briefly write about it here.
Pecos National Historical Park is east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, along the historic Santa Fe Trail, a vital trade route between Missouri and New Mexico. The park encompasses historic pueblo ruins as well as a US Civil War battlefield. Pecos Pueblo was inhabited from the 14th to 19th centuries.
A few miles west of the pueblo is Glorieta Pass, the site of the westernmost battle of the US Civil War. It was fought mostly between Union infantry and cavalry from New Mexico and Colorado Territories and Confederate troops from Texas.
The battlefield itself is not particularly photogenic, though the mountainous area is beautiful. There’s a 2+ mile loop around the site with signage to help you imagine how the battle unfolded.
Bosque del Apache is a National Wildlife Refuge along the Middle Rio Grande Basin in central New Mexico. This area of the Rio Grande is a wintering ground for many birds, including tens of thousands of Snow and Ross’ Geese, and thousands of Sandhill Cranes.
I first visited the refuge in 2005 with a Nikon F100 film camera and shot six rolls of 36-exposure slide film. I went back each of the next four years with a digital camera, and shot thousands and thousands more photos at the refuge. I kind of got burned out visiting the place, and only went again in 2012, 2019, and this year, 2023. To see photos from some of these earlier trips, visit my posts tagged with Bosque del Apache NWR.
Once upon a time–the mid-1990’s to 2000’s–Bosque del Apache was an amazing hotspot for bird photography. The refuge was managed to have lots of food and marshes for the birds, and photographers had their choice of creative ways to spend sunrise, mid-day, and sunset. Many of the best wildlife photographers ran workshops there. Unfortunately, over the last dozen years or so, the refuge is intentionally being managed to reduce the number of birds that visit and encourage them to winter elsewhere. I suppose there must be reasonable science that justifies that, but it also means that the photographic opportunities are a shadow of what they used to be.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There are still good bird photos to be made. New Mexico sunrises and sunsets are still amazing. Many birds still winter here.
I visited the last week of November. The temperatures ranged from the upper 20’s (Fahrenheit) to mid 50’s. We had a consistently north wind and dry days. Some days were mostly cloudy. Some were mostly clear, with high clouds.
I woke up early on Sunday and drove about ten hours to the refuge. I managed to make it in time to drive around the refuge once. I was disappointed to see that it’s still not set up well for photography. Only a few areas are set up to attract birds, they are often set well back from the roads, and the grasses at the edge of the road are often six to ten feet high–obscuring the sightlines.
Anyway, I watched sunset from the last remaining crane pool that’s by the highway to watch Sandhill Cranes fly in for the night.
Click any of the images in this post to view them larger.
As is usual, I spend the first 24 hours or so figuring out what the birds are doing at different times of day. It all depends on where the water is, where the food is, where the wind is coming from, how cold it is, and other factors. The birds don’t always follow a fixed plan, but they are fairly consistent from day to day.
On Monday morning about an hour before dawn, I drove around the north half of the refuge again and–unsure of the best place to start–ended up near the Flight Deck area inside the refuge. There weren’t a ton of birds there, but there were dozens of photographers getting set up. I set up, too, and waited to see what would happen. Soon there was a flock of snow geese blasting off from the back (east side) of the refuge and they worked their way over to us and landed in the water near the Flight Deck. I made a mental note to try to find their overnight location so I could see them before they flew off. Each of the next two mornings, I set up on the east side–with almost no one else around. Well, it was me and several thousand birds.
As you can see from the photos above, it was warm enough (mid 20’s) that the snow geese took off before sunrise. If it is ten degrees or so colder, the geese often wait until after the sun is up to take off, giving more color from the sun and sky.
During the day on Monday, not much was happening with birds in Bosque, so I drove about 45 miles north to the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex, another one of the refuges along the middle Rio Grande. It’s run by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. I am glad I visited–a thousand or more Sandhill Cranes were there. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of a small version of how Bosque used to be–corn close to the roads and clear views to where the birds are.
I’d end each afternoon back at the one crane pool along the highway to watch for geese and cranes to fly in. On Monday, the high clouds in the sky had me hoping for a beautiful sunset. But, it looked like it would consist of only a small patch of amber sky. I made the best of it–I’d wait for cranes to pass in front of the amber color to land.
But soon enough, the sky lit up red, the way New Mexico sunsets sometimes do. I grabbed my other camera with a wide-angle lens so I could capture it. It was a beautiful end to a good day.
Despite my disappointment that the refuge isn’t as good for photography as it once was, I’m still glad I visited for a few days. Below are a few more photos. (Click to enlarge.)
An old friend of mine, Joe Des Rosier, runs the Blue Lagoon Lodge, down in Rockport, Texas. He invited me down to visit with thoughts of putting together wildlife photography tours, to add to his already popular fly-fishing tours. I had 24 hours to scout out a few possibilities. We ran into some challenges and learned a lot, but overall, it was a great trip.
The Texas coast is well known as a birding destination, and is home to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was set aside in 1937 to protect the marshlands favored by migratory birds and other wildlife. In 1938, there was only one migratory flock of whooping cranes with fifteen birds. Today, there are over 500 whooping cranes that winter in the Aransas Bay area.
While whooping cranes were high on my priority list, I was eager to see other large birds, and any other wildlife that presented itself. After settling in at the lodge, we hopped on the boat and set out. The very first photo I took was of this Great Blue Heron, only a few hundred yards from the lodge.
Click on any image to enlarge.
We saw heron in several other locations, as well.
We also saw a few sandhill cranes, with which I am familiar from my many trips to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I’m pretty sure the bird below is a juvenile Sandhill Crane. Any bird experts want to confirm or correct? Do so in the comments below.
I was in southern California recently, and had an afternoon to drive over to Joshua Tree National Park. I first visited there in 2007, when I was in Palm Springs for a NANPA photography summit.
I planned my trip to arrive for sunset light. There weren’t many clouds in the sky, but I still managed to get a little sunset color. I just had a great time quietly hanging out among the Joshua Trees and watching the sun set.
Afterwards, I drove down to the town of Joshua Tree and had dinner before driving back west towards the city. It was an incredibly short visit, but I loved every moment.
Are you using technology in green or environmental engineering? I’m in search of a conservation photography project. I’ll help document and publicize your project. How can I help you? Email [email protected].
In honor of Earth Week, I’m letting you in on my crazy idea. As many of you know, I have a day job working in software, and I’m honored to work for a company that has “improve everyday life” in its mission statement. I think most of us go through life just wanting to know that we’re making a difference somehow. I try to make a difference at work. I try to make a difference in the lives of my friends and family.
One of my goals for this year is to take on at least one conservation photography project. I want to tell a story in photos and words that show the beauty of something you are trying to save. A conservation photography project is more than just photos. It’s the story around it. It’s what we’re trying to save, and why and how we’re trying to save it. It’s about the threats, and why those threats exist. And as Cristina Mittermeier reminds us in her article, What is Conservation Photography? , it’s about what you do with the story afterwards. I want to work on a conservation photography project that will make a difference.
The ideal project would be one that uses National Instruments products somehow, but I’m open to anything. No, I don’t know how all of this is going to work out–that’s the crazy part, and through Twitter (twitter.com/brianhpowell), Facebook, and this blog, I plan to take you along for the ride.
Please spread the word–retweet this, post a link, email your friends who might have some ideas. And email [email protected] with your thoughts. Thanks!