Magazine article Sunset

Celluloid Safari

Magazine article Sunset

Celluloid Safari

Article excerpt

Shooting big game and wild birds--with film--along New Mexico's backroads

Maybe the elk in New Mexico's vast, rugged northeastern corner won't stand and pose for you, but the antelope or mule deer down the road just might. Whether you tote your cameras to the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge in Maxwell, shoot some film in Sugarite Canyon State Park outside Raton, or set your tripod up along dusty roads near Cimarron, the wildlife photographer has plenty of opportunities.

In addition to large, healthy populations of elk, deer, and antelope, any given day in the area is likely to bring encounters with wild turkeys, bald and golden eagles, coyotes, cottontails, and jackrabbits. Bison live here, too, as well as usually shy bobcats and black bears.

Almost all of the country roads through the region pass through some thriving wildlife habitat, and every season brings its own natural wonders. The trick is knowing roughly where and when to look. A long weekend of backroad cruising armed with a pair of binoculars, a camera with a telephoto lens, and a dollop of patience just may yield a wildlife trophy fit for the living room wall.

Raton to Cimarron

The loop through Raton, Maxwell, and Cimarron offers lots of possibilities along 100 miles of paved roads. Either Cimarron or Raton provides a comfortable base for exploration; dividing your time between the two towns may allow for more local shooting at optimum lighting times.

Birders who start early should fare well at the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge (505/375-2331), 26 miles south of Raton off Interstate 25. This is the wintering ground of sandhill cranes, hawks, falcons, Canada geese, great blue herons, and abundant waterfowl, including mallards and canvasbacks. It's also a pit stop for some 300 other bird species that migrate along the Central Flyway. You may even spot bald eagles fishing on one of the refuge's lakes.

Other stretches of this loop are likely to turn up more fur than feathers. It's not unusual to see pronghorn antelope along the 40-mile length of U.S. 64 between Raton and Cimarron.

Beyond Cimarron

Detour southwest of Cimarron along State 21 at dawn or dusk--prime times to view deer at the Philmont Scout Ranch (376-2281). The ranch's abundant, protected mule deer population comes right up to the edge of the road to forage the stream-coursed meadowland.

Don't hurry out of Cimarron, though. At twilight on both the east and the west outskirts of the town, elk herds of 100 to 200 can stop traffic along U.s. 64 as they cross the two-lane road. They come down from the mountainous terrain and pinon forests surrounding town to graze the rolling meadows watered by the Cimarron River.

The region's most thrilling elk show is found at dusk on the Valle Vidal, a high mountain valley whose name means valley of abundant life. Although the rocky dirt road is currently closed for repairs, it is scheduled to reopen this summer. Fall through spring you can expect to start seeing elk about 10 miles up from the highway turnoff. You will enter the Valle Vidal proper after driving 21 miles through Ted Turner's Vermejo Ranch.

Access to the Valle Vidal is via Cerrososo Road off U.S. 64, 5 miles northeast of Cimarron. …

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