On a quiet day in November you'll hear the haunting cry of sandhill cranes echoing across the marsh and grasslands of 57,191-acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Amazing to think that in 1939, when the refuge was established, the crane count averaged a sobering 17. That figure has since soared to 12,000. Add to that impressive tally 70,000 snow geese, 40,000-plus ducks (at least 14 species), Canada geese, Gambel's quail, roadrunners, and more than 300 other winged species and banner birding is a given.
However, Bosque del Apache isn't just for the birds. Other residents included mule deer, coyotes, javelina, and western diamondback rattlesnakes. The refuge, is split in two by the hushed flow of the Rio Grande.
The Bosque del Apache Wilderness, found within the National Wildlife Refuge, is split into three distinct units. They are the 5,429-acre Chupadera Unit, all refuge land west of Interstate 25; the 5,139-acre Indian Well Unit, just across the interstate from the Chupadera Unit; and the Little San Pascual Unit, which covers 19,859 acres just east of the Rio Grande.
The three Wilderness units hold in common a lack of water, but otherwise offer distinctive terrains. Arroyos divide the Chupadera's series of small ridges and mesas, while Indian Well has round mountains along its western side and arroyos and mesas on its gentler eastern side. The largest unit rolls gently across desert terrain, sharpening to a peak at Little San Pascual Mountain. Day hiking is allowed, however camping and camp fires are not permitted.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Bosque del Apache Wilderness.
Chupadera Peak, Indian Wells, and Little San Pascual Wilderness Areas are all located on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, approximately 16 miles south of Socorro, New Mexico. To get here, travel approximately 8 miles south of Socorro on I-25. Take Exit 139 and travel east on Hwy 380 to San Antonio. Turn south on Hwy 1 approximately 8 miles to the Refuge Visitor Center. There you can recieve information and directions on how to access the Wilderness Areas and Refuge Regulations.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Please plan your trip to make sure you are back by dark. Take precations, and remember you are in rattlesnake country. At any time of the year you should carry plenty of water with you. This is especially important in the summer months when the temperature can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Light colored clothing, a hat, sunscreen, and a good pair of hiking boots are also recommended.
Two of the Wilderness Areas have designated trails, Chupadera Peak and the Indian Wells Wilderness Areas. Chupadera Peak is a 9.5 mile round trip trail leading you up to the peak at an elevation of 6,195 ft. The trail also has a 3 mile round trip loop which takes you to a lower elevation overlook at 4,480 ft. Within the Indian Wells Wilderness Area is Canyon Trail. This interpretive trail is 2.2 miles long round trip and takes visitors through Solitude Canyon and up to a scenic overlook of the refuge and surrounding Wilderness Area.
Hiking, bird watching, wildlife observation, botanical exploration, environmental education and interpretation, hunting (mule deer, oryx, small game and quail) and just enjoying the view.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The climate of the region is semi-arid. Temperature extremes vary from 70 degrees to 104 degrees F., with the coldest month, January, averaging 22 degrees F., and the hottest, July, averaging 94 degrees F. The average growing season for the area is approximately 150-180 days, from April 15 to October 20. Strong winds, usually accompanied by dust, are common from January through June.
Average annual rainfall is 7.74 inches with August receiving the highest amount of precipitation. Because of the valley's high water table, several flooded areas are usually observed in the area. However, on the mesas and ridges very little water is pooled due to the sandy soil and high amount of runoff.
Safety and Current Conditions
You will be in rattlesnake and mountain lion country. Always be aware of your surroundings, but do enjoy your visit. Lions are most active in early morning and after dark. Plan your trip accordingly to ensure you are out of the wilderness prior to dark. Some areas of both trails have steep drop offs, please remain on designated trails.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.