In the midst of the lazy, winding waterway of the Rio Grande lies an ecological system that a lot of people have come to know as a place for a peaceful stroll or a quiet horseback ride. But the Rio Grande bosque holds much more importance than that.
The bosque — which takes its name from the Spanish word for forest — is defined as the area from the river’s edge to the ditchbanks.
At points, it can be a quarter-mile wide. In other sections, it is only a few hundred yards. The Rio Grande bosque is the largest such ecosystem in the world, stretching 200 miles from Cochiti Lake to Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge near Socorro.
Its treed area along the river is the largest continuous cottonwood forest in the world.
The bosque is a national and internationally-important ecological resource, because it is such a big migratory flyway. It is rare in its size for a riparian area. The habitat is very important for many species of wildlife, including the Rio Grande system’s most well-known endangered species – the silvery minnow and the willow flycatcher.
Although mostly sawgrass meadow, the wildlife area is attached to the bosque and its boundaries even extend to the river. Wildlife that needs wooded areas are often seen in the bosque, such as the Swainson’s hawk, which nests high in the cottonwoods.
The bosque provides an oasis for an otherwise arid region. The protection that it gives for wildlife makes it a natural habitat for hunting and fishing. The enjoyment of the bosque can be experienced by hiking, biking and horseback riding. Most of the trails are along the ditchbanks within the bosque.
No motorized vehicles, including four-wheelers and off-road vehicles, are allowed in the bosque; it is best suited for foot and horse traffic.
Socorro Nature Area
The Socorro Nature Area provides an easy and informative stroll along a developed half-mile path in the Rio Grande bosque. Adventurous hikers can trek east from the nature area via a metal footbridge across the low-flow conveyance channel to access the river while those wanting a more relaxing outing can plan for a pleasant picnic under one of the many cottonwood-shaded tables.
To get to the nature area, take the Lemitar Exit at Milepost 156 on I-25 and head east on State Road 408 for 1.1 miles to the railroad tracks. After the tracks, turn right at a “T” intersection and follow the signs directing you to a maintained dirt county road which will lead to the parking area.