Just a short drive outside of Santa Fe, snug between the Santa Fe River and Upper Canyon Road as the two wend their way into the national forest, 135 acres of stunning scenery unfolds.
Here, at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, some 190 bird species can be discovered, particularly now as they are on the move with the days finally growing shorter and the nights a bit crisper. Every Saturday morning, local experts lead birding excursions throughout the sanctuary.
A variety of trails offer give visitors access to this former estate, donated to the National Audubon Society in 1983 by the heirs of eminent artist Randall Davey and is the city’s only nature center. Easy hikes allow different habitats to emerge, from riparian wetlands, through open meadows and into forested canopies presided over by Ponderosa pines, said Carl Beal, center manager.
It is a perfect opportunity to learn about the world of history and nature, and our role and responsibility in that world, he said. Strolling through the gardens of native plant life unveils local flora and fauna and what helps them flourish in the arid high steppe and alpine climate zones.
Santa Fe Master Gardeners, through the support of the New Mexico State University Extension Service Program, built the gardens in order to display the use of native and xeric plants as a means of attracting and providing food and shelter for birds, bees, butterflies and insects, Beal said.
Beebalm (Monardo fistulosa), desert four o’clock (Mirbilis multiflora) and wild hyssop (Agastache cana) are among the native plants on site, while shrubs include fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) and golden currant (Ribes aureum).
Not only is this educational in nature, it provides much-needed habitat for wildlife, while enhancing the experience of those who come to enjoy the gardens.
Yet, despite its proximity to Santa Fe, the center is relatively untrammeled, receiving about 10,000 visitors annually.
The house and art studio also offer a valuable educational opportunity.
“The site was first used as a sawmill built in 1847 by the U.S. Army to cut timbers for nearby Fort Marcy,” Beal said. It was later converted into a gristmill and used as such for a number of years, although by the time Davey bought the property in 1920 for use as his home and studio, its functional use had ceased. The home and studio is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Davey, who died in 1964 in an auto accident, made his name painting still lifes, horse racing and polo scenes, nudes and landscapes. A major player in the early Santa Fe Art Colony, Davey also was a noted printmaker and sculptor.
The house and studio have been preserved in the original style of the mid-1900s and can be seen through a docent-led tour every Friday at 2 p.m. Davey’s artwork is sprinkled throughout the building, even the conference room that was once his stables, Beal said.
In addition to the period pieces, look for the mural paintings and a hidden, prohibition-era bar.
Several years ago, a Nature Discovery Area, including a 2,320-square-foot multipurpose pavilion, was built on the site as an outdoor play space with an eye to encouraging families to get outside and explore nature together. It includes a tree house, shaded picnic area, seed library and a sand area.
“The tree house is pretty special, pretty wonderful,” Beal said. “And there is an area that has some cottonwoods logs and a lot of sticks, so kids of all sizes and ages can build sculptures and forts or whatever they can come up.”