A Pre-Spring Hike in the Whitfield Conversation Area: Belen, New Mexico

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Spring is just about to burst open in my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. But not quite yet. Tree buds are poking through and ready to express their full potential. It was in this March transition time between winter and spring that I took a drive south of Albuquerque about 45 miles to visit the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.

Valencia Country, New Mexico, hay the main crop

The drive itself was part of the adventure. I headed south from Albuquerque on Highway 47 through miles of small towns and old farming communities. The area is part of Valencia County in New Mexico. Many Hispanics live in the county and some have lived there for decades, long before New Mexico became the 47th state (1912), entering just before our neighbor the 48th state, Arizona, by a mere month.

Most of the farming along the Highway 47 corridor is centered on growing hay for cattle, horses, and some sheep. Acres of hay are raised, and hauled around on wobbly pick-up trucks or pulled along on open-air trailers. It reminds me of how it may have looked 50 years ago.

Whitfield Conservation Area visitors’ center, photo Denise Ames

After a leisurely drive, I reached Whitfield. I parked in the expansive parking lot and entered the brick visitors’ center/office that was open and inviting. I found out that in April 2003, the Valencia County Soil & Water Conservation District acquired a donation of a 97-acre tract of land in Belen, New Mexico that had been a dairy farm in its previous life.

The property butts up against the Rio Grande that flows almost 2,000 miles from its source in south-central Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. It winds its ways through the whole state of New Mexico.

Whitfield Conservation Area, Belen, New Mexico

In central New Mexico, the Rio Grande supports a cottonwood-willow riparian forest (Spanish name, bosque) and its associated wetlands are invaluable for sustaining wildlife and a supply of water for irrigation. In the past, many wetlands were converted to agriculture and, more recently, impacted by urbanization. In an effort to reverse the decline and degradation of the valuable Middle Rio Grande Bosque and wetlands, the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area’s (WWCA) goal is to restore and protect the area.

Perimeter trail, Whitfield Conservation Area, photo Denise Ames

After a brief chat with one of the conservationists, I decided to hike the 2-mile perimeter of Whitfield. Although the landscape had not shed its dreary, post-winter brown, I have found that this dreariness is often deceiving. Usually, upon closer observation, wildlife proliferates and I am constantly surprised and thrilled by what I find.

Bird on fence, Whitfield Conservation Area,
photo Denise Ames

It was a bright, warm day and a slight breeze rustled the grasslands. I followed the trail to chirping birds perched on a fence, either they were intensely communicating with each other or trying to divert my attention away from one of their hidden nests. I tried my unsteady hand at capturing a few shots of the flighty birds with my camera, with mixed results.

I tried to hike to the river, but the path was fenced off for restoration. Since I have been lucky enough to hike extensively along the bosque in Albuquerque, I was not disappointed I couldn’t see the bosque.

Cottonwood tree, ready to bud,
photo Denise Ames

As I made my way around the perimeter, one old cottonwood tree that had weathered many years of abuse, stood barren against the dry grasslands, looking forlorn. But looking more closely I could see that it was ready at any moment to leaf out again.

The conservation area had a small pond with some wild fowl. The area seemed new, while its goal of providing a sanctuary for flora and fauna seemed somewhere in the future.

Whitefield Conservation area, photo Denise Ames

As I finished my hike, I had a happy feeling about the conservation area. I was thrilled to see a worthwhile effort put in motion amidst all the bureaucratic obstacles to protect wildlife and preserve the Rio Grande bosque. Through private and public cooperation, even small projects, such as the one I just visited, are making a valuable impact on preserving wildlife and land, as well as shifting our mindsets to appreciation and reverence for what nature has to offer us.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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