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Wilderness Watch: Salt Creek Wilderness and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge


Photo: Birds swarm at Bitter Lake. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.Birds swarm at twilight.

This wilderness makes up the large northern unit of the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a great birdwatching destination along the Pecos River in southern New Mexico. Beginning in October, the Refuge just east of Roswell becomes one of the main destinations of migrating fowl like geese, cranes, ducks and other seasonal birds.

While the Wildlife Refuge itself has an auto tour loop, several trails of varying difficulty, and many overlooks and boardwalks, this wilderness managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service is largely undeveloped, with only a handful of access points to get inside. The wilderness encompasses its namesake Salt Creek, a seasonal saline tributary of the Pecos River fed by many underground cienegas nearby. While the main units of the Refuge become lush marshland at certain points of the year, the Salt Creek Wilderness has only the occasional trickle from storms and several ponds fed from the moisture below.

The prime season for visiting the Refuge is October through March, when migrating flocks seek food and water along this stretch of the Pecos. While it's not quite the season to visit just yet, this Refuge will be in the direct path of the 2023 Annular Eclipse. This eclipse will cross many significant public lands across the Western US, from Oregon's Crater Lake National Park, Nevada's Great Basin National Park and many areas of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef National Parks in Utah, and the Chaco Culture, Bandelier, Petroglyph, and Salinas Pueblo Missions Monuments and historic sites in New Mexico.

This eclipse is significant, as it will be the only solar eclipse visible in the Western US until 2045. Over the next few months, this newsletter will feature different public lands in the eclipse path, including many alternatives to popular National Parks and destinations.

Click here for more information at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge website.


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