Sevilleta encompasses distinctive ecologies – from desert to prairie
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, located 50 miles south of Albuquerque between Belen and Socorro, offers a unique opportunity to explore one of the least known and under-appreciated areas of New Mexico wildlands.
The largest wildlife refuge in New Mexico-at 230,000 acres-and the eighth largest in the continental U.S., Sevilleta sits at the intersection of four distinct regional ecologies, called biomes: Chihuahuan Desert, Colorado Plateau Shrub Steppe, Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands, and Great Plains Short Grass Prairie. The Rio Grande also flows through the middle, offering an additional ecological zone. It’s one of the few places in the country where such diversity is found.
And for visitors, there’s much to see and do in the winter, as well as during the rest of the year.
|If you go
For more information on Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, including maps and upcoming programs, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/Sevilleta.
The Amigos de la Sevilleta is a nonprofit fundraising group for the refuge, and offers information on volunteering and tours. More at amigosdelasevilleta.com.
Many visitors to Sevilleta stop on their way going to or coming back from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The two reserves are run differently and with different missions, and while there’s some overlap in what visitors are likely to see, they’re very different experiences. Closed to the public for many years after its founding in 1972, Sevilleta-a former cattle ranch-is now officially a “limited access” refuge. This means visitors can’t just show up and go wherever they’d like. Instead, the refuge offers a visitor’s orientation center, a series of hiking trails to explore some of the wildlife and habitat, and an annual program of expert-led educational tours and workshops.
The renovated visitor orientation center opened in October last year, replacing a few haphazardly placed animals and some signs with a more up-to-date experience tuned towards visitors of all ages.
Jeannine Kimbel, Sevilleta’s visitor services manager, says that the purpose of the new center is “to bring the outside in.”
It’s the best way to let visitors experience the refuge, she goes on to explain, since “our mission is to allow natural processes to run their course.” And that means keeping foot traffic to a minimum.
Made up of a series of exhibits, each focusing on one of Sevilleta’s four biomes, the visitor’s center has detailed information on each, as well as examples of some of the refuge’s 250 bird species, 80 mammals species, 15 species of amphibians, more than 1,200 species of plants, and just under 60 species of reptiles. And, since Sevilleta also is a participant in the Mexican grey wolf recovery program, an exhibit also explains to visitors how the program works. According to Kimbel, “if you read everything it’ll take 45 minutes to an hour to make it through the exhibits.”
There’s also an amazing collection of photos, taken by cameras mounted atop solar water wells throughout the refuge.
“You can see some pretty amazing things,” Kimbel notes. “One of my favorites is a picture of a coyote and pronghorn drinking together.”
A brief video and information on the archaeology of the refuge round out the indoor activities.
Once outside of the visitor center, it’s possible to pick one of three trails to get out in the wilderness. The longest trail – at a little less than 4 miles – takes visitors up the nearby mesa and is best for general sightseeing, particularly of the surrounding mountains and landscape. The two shorter trails – one at about a mile, and the other a quarter-mile in length – offer an opportunity for wildlife viewing and, in season, wildflowers.
Complementing the visitor center and the trails is a series of educational programs over the course of the year that focuses on different aspects of Sevilleta’s environment and ecology. These programs offer participants a chance to get, as Kimble says, “way out there” with an expert and see firsthand what the refuge is all about.
Previous programs have included geology, archaeology, wildlife identification, and upcoming programs include an introduction to native plants, a celebration of National Migratory Bird Day and an introduction to summer raptors. To better protect the habitat, Kimble notes that she tries to cap participation at 20 people for each program. Each fills up quickly, and the winter programs are already booked.
With the new visitor’s center and ongoing improvements elsewhere, Sevilleta offers a peek, as Kimble says, “at what conservation really means.” It also offers an opportunity to see a part of New Mexico that few have.