Just two miles from our bed and breakfast in the heart of Albuquerque you will find a place of natural beauty so perfect that even the migrating birds stop here for a rest while they head south for their winter home. The Rio Grande Nature Center is one of Albuquerque’s hidden gems.
If you are a bird watcher it is a spectacular must-see, and if you aren’t you will still be awed by the unnatural quiet respite we have smack in the center of the New Mexico’s largest metropolitan area. You can stand in the middle of the Rio Grande Nature Center and pretend the city is far, far away.
The views of Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains, which are part of the Rocky Mountain Range, are very picturesque from anywhere in the city, but are especially so from the Nature Center. With the birds, mountains, river and New Mexico’s spectacular sky and cloud formations there are unlimited Kodak moments. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon, and that is the color the mountains turn into at sunset.
At this time of year the Albuquerque Open Space area called Candelaria Farm that sits on the north side of the Nature Center’s parking lot are frequented by many migratory species including the Sandhill Cranes. The Rio Grande Flyway runs right through the heart of New Mexico and Albuquerque. Most all these birds are on their way to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Preserve, south of Albuquerque near the town of Socorro.
Here are my favorite things to do at the Rio Grande Nature Center, so grab you binoculars and follow me. First I park and walk over to the blind in the north end of the parking lot to gawk at whatever may be there in the farm fields and wetlands on that particular day. Depending on what is there, I may linger a few minutes or a half hour. It also depends on who is there with me, because if all is quite and I am alone I can really get lost in the view of the field and mountains.
Next I will stroll over to the Rio Grande Nature Center’s Visitor Building. Following the path west from the parking lot and just past where the path splits, to the right you will see a nearly round tunnel into the man made hill. That is the entrance. Since I am an old timer here I skip the exhibits and discovery room, (unless I am with a newbie or a youngster), and head over past the tall columns of water to the observation room that overlooks one of the Nature Center’s three ponds. (This is the only pond an occasional visitor can visit. There is a hidden pond behind it that is meant to be a respite for wildlife and another pond to the south is used for teaching. Both are only accessible with a guide.) In this room there is a fantastic view of the whole pond and what you will see it depends on what time of year it is. There is a large feeder fairly close and it is microphoned so you can hear the goings on outside. Qwacks, honks, whistles and peeps – very cool! If you forgot your binoculars, take your driver’s license over to the front desk and borrow some. Below the window that is the outside wall you will see turtles basking in the sun on logs in the late spring through early fall, and to the far right during the same time of year is an excellent view of hummingbirds. This post has great hummingbird photos taken by one of our guests when he visited the Nature Center this August.
Next, I usually take a trek down to the Rio Grande. It is a short and easy hike, just a little more than a mile there and back through the riparian habitat that is the Rio Grande Bosque. At one time, the bosque was a great cottonwood forest, but because of flood control with dams to the north the bosque no longer has the flood conditions needed for the cottonwood trees to germinate. There has been talk in the past of creating a controlled flood, but that has never happened, so the bosque is evolving into a different kind of habitat, still beautiful, but different. When I get to the river I always have to touch it. It is part of my ritual. Maybe it is because I’m from a place where there was no shortage of water. I am not content just to look – I have to feel the river. Then I will stroll back to the car and come home.
Coming up next – The Festival of the Cranes.
Postscript – for some absolutely incredible photos of the Rio Grande Nature Center, see the web site of its architect – Antoine Predock.
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Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!