From Bosque del Apache, New Mexico to Santa Fe (warning: long post with lots of pix)

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jeffpix Regular Member • Posts: 461
From Bosque del Apache, New Mexico to Santa Fe (warning: long post with lots of pix)

Dear all,

New Mexico is my home state, and my wife and I have been going back once a year to visit our favorite places and to eat the food that we grew up with.

Last year, I also posted pictures of Bosque (pronounced “Boskay”) del Apache, a famous national wildlife reserve known especially for its thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes, as well as many other bird species (depending on the time of year). Here is a link to the posting

and here is a link to the web site:

Our typical itinerary has been to fly into Albuquerque and then to drive directly to Bosque, which is south of Albuquerque. It is not far from Socorro, where you can stay and also take a side trip to see the Very Large Array, a group of impressive and photo-worthy radio telescopes arranged in a Y-pattern on a large, flat plain. After an afternoon/evening visit to Bosque on the first day, and then a pre-dawn-to-early-afternoon return visit the next day, we drive north to Santa Fe in time for dinner.

This post is mostly about Bosque, but it also has a few pictures from the Santa Fe area.

Bosque del Apache

Every year, Bosque has looked different from the previous one. In 2017, there was snow in the nearby mountains and a lot of mud on the dirt roads at Bosque. This year it was dry. But there are always thousands of birds this time of year, and it is always very cold in the morning, so you need to be well prepared.

The birds commute every morning from the large, icy ponds, where they stay at night, to the outlying fields, where crops are grown just for them and food is plentiful. In the evening, they return to the ponds, and the wave upon wave of descending birds is miraculous to watch. Sometimes the birds are in the distance; often they fly right over your head in huge numbers; and now and then they walk right up to you.

For me, 2017 was the “year of great light” and the snow geese put on incredible shows, repeatedly taking off and landing in huge flocks. They even earned a 2nd place in a DPReview Challenge:

1. Snow geese at Bosque del Apache in 2017.

Although you might think that Bosque is all about telephoto lenses, be prepared for a range of different situations. All focal lengths can be relevant at a moment’s notice!

In 2017, I could sense that thousands of snow geese, whose leaders were just a few yards from me (and walking directly towards me for some reason), might be getting ready to take off. I quickly switched to my 12-40 f/2.8 just in time for this:

2. Snow geese at Bosque del Apache, 2017

If you arrive in the late afternoon, the light might be harsh, but it usually becomes gorgeous again around sunset. It is good to use the afternoon of the first day as an opportunity to get oriented and to drive both of the two ring roads (north loop and south loops) that go around the expansive reserve. These are one-way dirt roads, but the surfaces are pretty good, except if it is raining. There are also some hiking trails, which we like a lot.

There are usually quite a few photographers, carrying lots of expensive gear and the biggest lenses I have ever seen. I wonder what the birds make of all the camouflaged photo equipment. I ran into a friendly tour group from Canada, which included three people with m43 gear, and one offered to let me try his Oly 400 mm f/2.8, which he was using on a Panasonic. (Nice, but a bit heavy for me.)

Here is a photo from our first evening there, after an afternoon of birdwatching.

3. Sunset at Bosque del Apache, 2018

We arrived well before dawn on our second day. In spite of the sub-freezing temperatures, there were lots of serious photographers and expert birders from around the world, waiting to watch the morning takeoff of thousands of snow geese and other birds.

At dawn, I began with my 45 mm f/1.8. It seemed just right for the distances involved and the early light. Although most of the snow geese are sitting on the pond, large flocks arrive and depart, providing many opportunities for dramatic shots in the early morning light. As the sun rises, the sky changes very rapidly.

4. Relatives arriving at dawn.

5. Lots of traffic in the early morning before sunrise. But it is still not yet time for the big takeoff.

6. Sunrise

With more light I did a quick lens change to the 12-40 mm f/2.8. Standing at the edge of a partially frozen lake, you hear the birds squabbling. The noise gets louder and louder until suddenly the birds all decide to take off with a huge whoosh. It would be better to capture this scene on video! Just the noise alone is impressive.

7. Everybody up!

Once the birds get up and go, it is time to get in the car, drive around, and look for more. There are also viewing platforms in various places where you can take in the morning commute. Last year we came across some javalenas (see earlier post linked above), pig-like animals that look at bit scary but seemed more afraid of us than we were of them. Both years we saw roadrunners, fantastic birds that zoom across roads just when you put your camera down.

In the mid-day, the light can become harsh, but don’t give up. There are many opportunities for close-ups of sandhill cranes, either in the fields or flying overhead. If you put the sun behind you and the birds in front of you, the strong light can bring out colorful details and allow you to use fast shutter speeds to freeze motion. Here are some examples:

8. Sandhill cranes

9. Sandhill crane

10. Sandhill cranes

I made extensive use of both my 12-40 f/2.8 and my 40-150 f/2.8 with the 1.4X teleconverter. It is easy to get carried away taking essentially the same picture over and over again. On the other hand, very special alignments as in #8 above are rare, so it is worth trying many times. I like to go through a few different lenses to force myself to see things differently.

This year, we saw a few bald eagles for the first time. Here is one of them alighting on a branch in a cottonwood tree.

11. Bald eagle in a cottonwood tree.

This is a case where a longer FL lens would definitely have helped! I did get some closer pictures, but none that were super close up. We saw about six of them in three different locations, including one baby bald eagle.

In the evening, you can go to the nearby town of San Antonio, where the Buckhorn Tavern advertises itself as having the 7th best green chile (correct spelling for New Mexico) cheeseburger in the U.S. We did not question them on this. In any case, it was not bad, and you do feel that you are probably in the right place, or at least one of them. There is only one other restaurant in town.

Two last pieces of advice for Bosque. First, I suggest bringing twice the number of memory cards that you think you will need. This is no place to run out of storage. Second, ask the rangers for information on what the birds are doing and where they are when you arrive. This year, the visitor center was closed for lack of funds, including the restrooms, but there were still rangers at the entrance gate. The lack of support for places like this is very unfortunate.

Santa Fe

We left Bosque in the afternoon and drove to Santa Fe, where we stayed at La Fonda, a grand and historic hotel located at what used to be the end of the Santa Fe Trail, (1822) which went 900 miles to Independence, Missouri. After Christmas, many of the tourists were gone, and the rates were quite reasonable. It is not hard to find a good bar where you can enjoy your drink by the fire, warding off the freezing cold.

There was a brief snowfall, dusting the historic central plaza.

12. The Plaza in Santa Fe, January 2018

The hanging strands of red chile pods are called “ristras” and are a major cultural symbol of the state. The “New Mexico State Question” is “red or green?” referring to the type of chile you want in your food. (To get both, say, “I want it Christmas.”)

There is a lot of history in Santa Fe, even more than meets the eye. If you go to 109 East Palace Street you will find a courtyard that was the secret portal to the Manhattan project in Los Alamos. At the back of the courtyard, there is now a plaque put up by the University of California at the former location of an office where physicists were received by Dorothy McKibben. She was related to my wife’s family. Dorothy had been working in a bank in Santa Fe when she was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer, a UC Berkeley physicist and Director of the Manhattan project, to run this office. She arranged for the physicists to be taken up to Los Alamos, via what was then a tortuous winding road up the canyon walls to the large flat mesas just below the Jemez mountains, where the lab was built. The mailing address of the project was P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico, since Los Alamos did not officially exist. This P.O. box is where my brother was born (so says his birth certificate). But that’s another story. Here is a panorama ( that I took this year on the road up to Los Alamos:

13. Panorama toward the east from the road (visible on the far right) up to Los Alamos. The mountains in the distance are the Sangre de Cristo range. Made using PTGui.

In spite of its isolated location and efforts at secrecy, Los Alamos was penetrated during the war. The infamous spy, Klaus Fuchs, was a top-notch German-born theoretical physicist who came in with the British team working on the Manhattan Project. He was highly respected for his physics insights and contributions and was supposedly also quite charming. He gave very substantial secret information to Russia (see Wikipedia if you are curious). My mother told stories about how she used to sit on his lap at parties in Los Alamos during the war and described him as “a lot of fun.” She said that “no one had any idea that he was a spy!”

Next to the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe is the very pretty Loretto Chapel, with its “miraculous” and elegant spiral staircase. According to the legend, this stairway was built by an unknown carpenter, who disappeared without being paid.

14. "Miraculous staircase" to the choir loft in the Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe

I’ll conclude with a night-sky photograph that I made from Tesuque, where you can also get dinner, either at the Village Market or at El Nido. This latter restaurant was long ago the site of a bordello. It is now an upscale Italian restaurant, perhaps a bit out of place in this location. It was extremely cold when I took this starry night picture, which includes most of the Orion constellation with Sirius below it. As I was getting ready to leave, I made the very serious mistake of grabbing the metal legs of my Manfrotto tripod with one of my bare hands. The pain from the cold was really quite startling!

15. Night sky near Tesuque, New Mexico. The famous triplet of Orion's Belt is pointing downward to Sirius.

I hope you get a chance to visit and create your own interpretations of New Mexico!

Many thanks for looking!

Best regards,


 jeffpix's gear list:jeffpix's gear list
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus E-M1 II Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm 1:2 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ +5 more
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