6 a.m., in a
pre-dawn chill that
numbed her fingers
and toes, Allison
Frost, a 27-year-old
from Long Island,
NY, was waiting in
anticipation beside a
Bosque del Apache
As thousands have
done over the past
the New Mexico
refuges Festival of
the Cranes, Frost
was waiting for the
stars of the show
thousands of Rocky
cranes and tens of thousands of snow
geeseto fly out from their nighttime
roosting spot for another day of foraging
in the Rio Grande Valley.
Just to see that many cranes flying
overhead was awesome, Frost said
afterward. Its not something you can
find in your backyard. Its something
totally unique and cool.
Its a magical moment, says Bosque del
Apache Refuge deputy manager Aaron
Mize. Its like when people visit the
Grand Canyon. You can photograph the
Grand Canyon all you want, and theyll
bring you back pictures, and they say,
But it doesnt really do it justice. You
have to see it.
The morning flyouts are just one part of
the Festival of the Cranes, which turns
25 this year and will be held Nov. 13-18.
The festival began as a one-day affair in
1988as a way for then-refuge manager
Phil Norton to raise the refuges profile
in nearby Socorro. When we first
started, we had what is known as GP
medium military tents that held maybe
20 people, says refuge work leader
Dennis Vicente, who has attended all 24
festivals. You could smell the green oil
they put on it. Now we have big art tents.
We have electricity running to them.
And the five-day festival is Socorros
biggest event of the year.
Welcome, birders signs adorn
businesses all over town, a testament
to the revenue the festival brings to
city coffers. It attracts an estimated
6,000 visitors from around the world to
celebrate the refuge, conservation and
It celebrates 57,331-acre Bosque del
Apache Refuge, a sliver of which is the
140 wetland units intensively managed
along the Rio Grande for cranes, geese
and other migratory birds.
Its mimicking a natural process
what the river has done for thousands
of years. And those birds have been
programmed since the beginning of their
time to seek out that habitat. People who
worked here before me, who were far
smarter than I am, figured out how to
make a system function again and make
it look as close to a natural process as
Mother Nature did, says Mize. The
birds are programmed to look for that
habitat, and, when they see it, they just
know this is where theyre supposed to
be for the winter.
The festival celebrates conservation at
about 100 eventsworkshops, seminars,
speeches, art sales, hikes and guided
tourssprinkled at venues in Socorro
and at the refuge.
And, of course, it celebrates greater
sandhill cranes, grayish-white birds that
pair for life and can fly 365 miles nonstop,
averaging 38 mph. For millennia, they
have wintered in New Mexico and
Chihuahua, Mexico, and nested in the
Today, this refuge represents one of
the few wild havens along a muchaltered
Rio Grande, says a display near
the festivals peaked white art tent.
As we face the challenge of meeting
both human needs and wildlife needs
in a finite world, we might look to our
elders for guidancethe cranes. They
have millions of years of experience in
The festival is put on by Friends of
the Bosque for three reasons, 2011
coordinator Robyn Harrison says: to
educate people about the refuge and the
birds; to get people outside (We offer a
large number of hikes, and Im happy to
say most of those fill); and to have fun.
Still, its mostlybut not entirelyabout the cranes.
Theyre so graceful. When you see
them flying overhead and you hear
them, they are the indicators of the
change of the season to me, and I
always forget how much I miss them
until they start showing up in October,
says Harrison. I love the cranes, but I
have to tell you, you cant beat [snow]
geese for a flyout.
And what does Vicente, the man who
has been to all 24 festivals, say about
the cranes: In my culture, being
Native American, the sacred bird is