Every year in November, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate from Canada and the northern United States to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Our visit to New Mexico coincided perfectly with that migration. It was an excellent low-energy trip, allowing Anna to see lots of wildlife without walking and worsening her symptoms. We spent portions of three days at the refuge.
Before the trip we purchased a better zoom camera. The long telephoto lens made it much easier to photograph birds without spooking them. Copious wildlife activity meant we got plenty of practice with the new camera’s controls and features.
Bosque del Apache is situated next to the Rio Grande, along the migration path of many bird species. With many natural sources of food, water, and protected habitat disappearing over time, Bosque del Apache plays a key role in the success and survival of the birds that pass through each year. Refuge staff carefully manage water flows and crop fields to provide the right food at the right time for each species when it arrives.
This short video conveys the sheer quantity of birds that visit Bosque del Apache. It was so cool to watch:
We love Glacier National Park, but had never visited its Canadian side, known as Waterton Lakes National Park. We arrived at Waterton to find it had gotten snow too, just not as much as Banff and Jasper. Our first stop in the park was the Prince of Wales hotel. It resembles a massive Swiss chalet, built on a hill overlooking Upper Waterton Lake. Thick clouds added to the hilltop panorama.
Next we headed to the visitor center, where we asked a ranger about the best wildlife viewing spots. They said someone had spotted elk by Hay Barn Road that morning. We headed down that dirt road. The elk had moved on, but we did find this grouse munching on bright red berries.
Looking out into a grassy meadow, we spotted a coyote! Awesome! We watched until it trotted off.
We headed towards Red Rock Canyon next. On the way, we noticed a car with binoculars pointed up towards the hillside. We stopped and asked what they saw. A black bear! The bear ate constantly as it plodded along the snowy hillside. Mid-September in Waterton meant winter was closing in. The bear must have been filling its tummy before hibernating.
After a chilly night in camp, we headed into the town of Jasper seeking a hot breakfast. The forecast showed heavy cloud cover all day so we opted for a relaxed day in town. We rented a room in somebody’s house (Canadians call this a Home Stay). It worked out great. Internet and showers were a real perk. From the Home Stay we could easily stroll into the heart of Jasper. The town is cute and walkable with many unique shops. We did some grocery shopping to get food for tomorrow’s three day backpacking trip to Berg Lake. And we had two food firsts: we ate Tim Hortons donuts and a vegetarian version of poutine. Both were yum.
We had heard that star gazing at Maligne Lake was incredible, so we set out in the evening despite the continued clouds over head. You never know what will happen.
Our first surprise was seeing this herd of bighorn sheep walking down the road!
Then we saw a fascinating waterbody. It was a wide shallow lake with a brilliant turquoise river branching through it. It was really beautiful.
We learned that this lake was named Medicine Lake by aboriginal people because of its seemingly magical powers. The lake behaves unusually due to its unique drainage system — the water exits through sinkholes in the bottom, rather than a visible outlet. In the warm summer months, glaciers melt more quickly, increasing the flow of the Maligne River. The river fills the lake faster than water can leave the sinkholes. This gives Medicine Lake the appearance of a traditional alpine lake. In the colder months, incoming melt water slows and the lake begins to disappear through the sinkholes. The lake then becomes a mudflat with scattered pools. We were happy to witness Medicine Lake’s in-between stage.
We continued driving and reached an almost completely deserted Maligne Lake. Though the clouds remained and no stars could be seen, it was a lovely spot. We walked around the lake’s edge until it started raining harder.