New Mexico Christmas – Dec 2018

Sandhill Crane

We decided this year to spend the Christmas holiday in New Mexico, to do some birding (sandhill cranes, rosy finches, etc.), see friends, and enjoy the cuisine (“red or green?” being the standard “which chile sauce do you like” question). We packed quite a lot into a one week trip!

En route to Socorro, where we stayed several nights, we stopped at Percheta Dam State Park and Elephant Butte. It was pretty darn cold *and* windy, which made it difficult to stay outside too long.

Snow geese, Bosque del Apache

Our stay in Socorro set us up for visiting Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, known for huge numbers of wintering Snow and Ross’ Geese and Sandhill Cranes. It certainly did not disappoint!

San Lorenzo Canyon

That same afternoon we visited San Lorenzo Canyon, a site jointly managed by the US Fish & Wildlife and the BLM; it’s a beautiful slot canyon that you get to via unmarked roads and 4wd up a sandy wash for several miles.

We also spent a day visiting Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, consisting of three sites with ruins of Spanish mission churches and their corresponding Puebloan native communities, near Mountainair. The churches all date to the mid-to-late 17th century; that at Quarai is the most complete.

Leaving Socorro, we took a very roundabout path towards Albuquerque, heading west so we could visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) Very Large Array (VLA). The array consists of 27 82-ft diameter antenna positioned in a Y. It can be adjusted into several different configurations (spaced close or farther apart) by moving the antennas on a rail system.

Moving on from the VLA, we visited as best possible El Malpais National Monument. “Best possible” because the government shutdown that had started the night before closed several portions of the monument, but there was still much to see just from the highway driving through the monument, and the La Ventana Natural Arch was luckily not closed off.

South of Albuquerque we stayed at the Isleta Resort and Casino, on the Isleta reservation. We figured if we were going to be traveling at Christmas, our best bet to ensure getting dinner would be to stay at a casino! And as with others casinos we have stayed at, the room was quite nice. We just avoid walking through the casino itself since the gambling (or the cigarette smoke) doesn’t interest us.

Our days in the Albuquerque area got us up to Sandia Crest, where we greatly enjoyed watching the intermittent mobs of rosy finches (black, brown-capped, gray-crowned) at the feeder at the Crest House (10,678 ft). We were joined there by friends Joe (whom we met in Panama years ago!) and Rebecca, and later had dinner with them at Cocina Azul in Albuquerque (highly recommended, btw).

Rosy finch mob scene

We spent Christmas Eve not getting into national monuments (grrr shutdown)…we could drive around the Valles Caldera, but it was closed, as was the Los Alamos National Historic Park (well, the visitors’ center), and Bandelier. But the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos was open, and we had a fun several hours there trying to absorb the history of the development of the atomic bomb, and learn about all the other research the Los Alamos National Lab undertakes. And from there we went through Santa Fe on the way back to Isleta, getting to see the crowded church about to start mass, and the festive lights in the plaza.

Our last full day was Christmas! and we spent part of it at Petroglyph National Monument. The main parts (the visitors’ center and Boca Negra canyon) were closed, but they’d have been closed anyway on Christmas Day. Another section, Piedras Marcadas, was open, so we enjoyed a walk through there admiring some of the petroglyphs.

Piedras Marcadas, Petroglyph NM

The storm we thought we’d see sooner or later finally arrived, as we were leaving the day after Christmas. The drive on the interstate in the snow was exciting for the first hour or so, but the rest of the drive was pretty nice. And going through Hatch on the way home, not only did we have lunch there again, but picked up some pretty ristras, chiles, and spices. Great prices – we’ll have to do that again!

More photos follow…click a gallery to open it, then click any photo to view a larger version and optionally start a slide show.

New Mexico 2018

Christmas week in New Mexico for winter birding, Dec 2018

New Mexico 2018-Birds

Birds (and one rodent) from our holiday New Mexico trip, Dec 2018.

New Mexico 2018-Buddy

Holiday traveling in New Mexico, December 2018.