Bosque del Apache & White Sands National Park 2021 Trip Report

By Melissa Scott and Eric Rock on Jan 13, 2022

The warm New Mexico winter light we experienced during our December Photo Safari is something very difficult to describe. If you are a fan of the magical pink and purple sunrises of the high New Mexico desert or if you love and appreciate a sunset sky filled with strands of ducks, geese and sandhill cranes, then Bosque del Apache does not disappoint. Add to this a chance to photograph the snow-white gypsum dunes of White Sands National Park with a jovial group of outdoor photographers eager to be photographing
under these same colorful skies, then our trip was everything we had hoped for.

After a quick meet up with our photo group at the Albuquerque Airport, we loaded into our two vans and headed south to start our photographic journey into the realm of winter waterfowl. Our goal was a full four days of photography focused on the annual gathering of snow geese and sandhill cranes that call Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge home each winter.

We were not on the road for much more than an hour when we took the opportunity to step out into one of New Mexico’s premier State Wildlife Areas and shake the dust out of our photo gear. It felt good to do a little photography with some several thousand snow geese feeding and flying between the stubbly fields of last year’s grain.

After a couple of productive “shooting” hours, we were back on the road to the town of Socorro, New Mexico to get settled in before heading out to dinner and preparing for the coming days at Bosque. From our Socorro base, we would spend our days exploring the refuge. Each day we departed early to photograph the morning “fly out” of geese and cranes. They spend their nights roosting in Bosque’s wetlands and launch near dawn to head out into the Lower Rio Grande Valley for a day of foraging. By evening, we would be in place to photograph the return “fly in,” capturing stunning silhouettes against the glowing desert sky. Each day, between “fly out” and “fly in,” we would settle into a field breakfast before driving the refuge roads looking for concentrations of waterfowl and feeding flocks of cranes to photograph.

On our daily drives, we would take many opportunities to photograph the plentiful red-tailed hawks, northern harriers and American kestrels that found good hunting along the wetland margins. The refuge hosts a great visitor center with very active bird feeders which attract many of the desert’s smaller songbirds. We made a few stops here for a chance to photograph Gambel’s quail, along with Woodhouse’s scrub jay, pyrrhuloxia, red-winged blackbirds and Brewer’s sparrows, to name a few. Each day we managed a late morning pause for an early lunch and a short recharge before the afternoon’s foray back to the refuge. So it would go, each day our schedule being set by the rise of the morning sun, and finishing after the last rays of the day set behind the rugged San Mateo Mountains to the west.

On day five after our morning return to the refuge, we packed up for the transfer to our landscape photography destination of White Sands National Park. The scenic drive through New Mexico’s more remote desert was a chance to relax and take in some of the area’s expansive horizons.

Once we arrived at our destination of Alamogordo, we made a quick hotel check-in and headed out to take advantage of the evening’s sunset among the snow-white gypsum sand dunes. A wonderful aspect of the white dunes is that they reflect the pinkish and blueish tones of the desert sky. We photographed until dark and then made the short drive back to town in time for a quick clean-up before heading off to dinner.

The next morning found us heading out to the dunes well before sunrise to catch every ounce of that beautiful light returning to the dunes and the diverse textures and patterns left behind by the previous winds on the malleable sands. After some late morning scouting to locate some photogenic yucca plants for our evening shoot, we headed back to town for some lunch and a short break. A second evening among the dunes found us exploring and photographing the surreal beauty of the dunes under the glowing New Mexico sky.

Our final morning, we reminisced about the week over a big group breakfast then drove to El Paso for our returning flights homeward. No matter the length of a photography tour, the good ones always go by way too quickly. We cannot wait to return to the bounty and beauty of these fantastic natural areas and the indescribable winter light New Mexico has to offer.