A small mallard duck swims in circles, as if trapped in the shadow of the wooden footbridge printed on the calm waters of the Albuquerque Riverside Drain.
The bridge, just west of the Rio Grande Nature Center, leads to a ramp that takes you over the paved Paseo del Bosque bike route and down to the Aldo Leopold Trail through the river forest.
It is a portal to an any day, any time, easy-to-access outdoor adventure, just the kind best appreciated now when the weather – snagged between rugged winter and fickle spring – is too irresponsible to make more distant excursions a safe bet.
Prompted by an unexpectedly pleasant late-winter day, impulsive Albuquerque-area residents can get to this site in the middle of the city within an hour.
There are many ways to enjoy this place. Early last week, temperatures in the low 60s attracted joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers, horse riders and birdwatchers. Just sitting on a bench on such a day is exhilarating.
But this story points you to a 3.5-mile walk north along the Leopold Trail to just south of Montaño Road, east to the Duranes Lateral Ditch and south along the ditch back to your starting point.
It’s an easy hike of about two hours, more or less, that guides you through cottonwood stands, along willow thickets and sand flats, down to the Rio Grande and close to sandhill cranes, mallards and other assorted waterfowl.
It’s a walk back in time as well because of signs that tell of efforts to tame the once unruly Rio Grande and the story of pioneer conservationist Leopold, who lived and worked in New Mexico.
Get started by driving west on Candelaria from Rio Grande Boulevard and parking your car on a side street, such as Trellis south of Candelaria.
To get to the footbridge, walk through the yellow posts at the west end of Candelaria, opposite the Nature Center entrance, and turn right at the top of the path.
Once on the Aldo Leopold Trail, it’s a mile-plus walk to Montaño. Tramping beneath the cottonwood canopy you may be serenaded by breezes rattling pale brown leaves, stubborn survivors of autumn’s annual disrobing, or by the crooning of cranes soaring overhead.
You’ll encounter rusting crossed-steel beam structures known as jetty jacks, which were placed in the bosque in the 1950s to corral debris swept along by Rio Grande floods.
The turn east at Montaño will bring you back to Paseo del Bosque. Be careful on the steep descent to the bike trail, and be certain to watch for cyclists who emerge suddenly and swiftly from the Montaño underpass.
Once across the bike path and the Riverside Drain, walk a half mile or so along an irrigation ditch to its intersection with the Duranes Lateral Ditch, and turn right, or south.
Continue south on the Duranes Lateral past farm fields, homes, treehouses and a nature preserve to Candelaria and the end of a walk on a winter’s day.