Wildlife Refuge provides special treat

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By Lee Einer

The Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge is a year-around treasure for those who enjoy birdwatching or just getting out into nature. But on Sundays in November, tourists and area residents have a special treat, as an additional wildlife drive is opened, affording visitors the chance to get close-up sightings of numerous waterfowl, cranes and even bald eagles.

The refuge sits at the juncture of three ecosystems: Great Plains prairie grasslands to the east; the Rocky Mountains to the west; and the Chihuahuan desert to the south. As a result, this refuge of 8,700 acres provides habitat for a large and unique variety of flora and fauna.

The drive begins at the refuge headquarters off the main loop road and meanders through wetlands and prairie.

The drive, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Sunday in November, is normally closed in order to leave an area of the refuge undisturbed for the benefit of wildlife.

Visitors can also take Highway 281 and County Road 22 C, the main access roads for the Refuge. Together, they form an eight-mile horseshoe loop through the heart of the refuge, and allow sightseeers to enjoy excellent scenic views not only of the wildlife but of a range of habitats including ponds, lakes, marshes, grasslands and thickets.

The refuge is home to upwards of 270 species of birds, including owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, and osprey. In addition to the birds, a variety of other wildlife. can be seen. There is something for every nature-lover at the Las Vegas NWR, from indigenous flora to butterflies, rodents, reptiles, amphibians and more.

Antelope, badgers, weasels, coyotes and mule deer are among other wildlife seen at the refuge.

At a recent visit, I was startled by the sight of a hawk, flying straight up out of the nearby grass, with a snake writhing it its beak. It was a magical moment, the kind of thing one is lucky to see once in a lifetime.

In addition to the wonderful drive, the Refuge’s Visitors Center is presenting special interpretive programs each Sunday in November at noon and 1:30 p.m.

On Nov.11, Field Biologist Steve Cox will present on rosy finches of New Mexico. On Nov. 18, Sarah Wood will speak on plant-animal interactions in New Mexico grasslands, and on Nov. 25, there will be a presentation featuring live raptors, courtesy of the Santa Fe Raptor Center.

On weekdays, visitors can can explore the Gallinas Canyon Nature Trail walk. Bring binoculars and a camera, if you can, for this half-mile round trip hike, which will take you down into the canyon, among old ruins and surrounded by 200 food sandstone bluffs towering overhead.

Stay on the trail and use caution; Snakes and old ruins can pose a hazard. Children (and adults) should avoid placing their hands in places into which they cannot see.

You must pick up a permit at the refuge office between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. before beginning the hike.

FIrearms, fireworks, intoxicants and alcohol consumption are all prohibited at the Refuge.

To reach the refuge from Las Vegas, Take University Rd. overpass over I-25 (which becomes Highway 104,) drive a mile and a half east, then turn right onto Highway 281. Go another four miles to the entrance.

For more info, call the refuge office at 425-3581.