Into The Wild Mountains, Wetland Are Off The Beaten Track

Date May 16, 2009 at 10:00 PM

Publication The Santa Fe New Mexican

Categories Local News & Sports

Santa Fe summer visitors looking to explore the wonders of area flora and fauna shouldn't miss out on the up-close adventures at the Ortiz Mountains Educational Preserve and the Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve, both south of the city. Fran Cole, outreach director of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, which manages the preserves, says both offer visitors the chance to mingle with nature through usually free docent-guided tours along a series of interpretive walking trails. The Ortiz Preserve, on County Road 55 (also known as Gold Mine Road) between Cerrillos and Madrid, consists of about 1,300 acres. That includes Placer Peak, the highest point in the Ortiz range. The tour's center is about six miles east on Gold Mine Road, which Cole describes as ;the bumpiest road in New Mexico.; On days the road is really bad, shuttles are run from the preserve to N.M. 14. The preserve offers spectacular views of the area surrounding what is considered the oldest open pit gold mine in the Southwest. It is an imposing natural area, abundant with ponderosa, piñon and wildlife. ;In a quiet moment you might possibly even see a black bear,; Cole said. Coyotes, horned toads and mountain lions are also denizens of the preserve, in addition to more than 80 species of birds. The preserve is not open for general roaming around. The botanical organization schedules planned guided lecture and walking tours within the preserve from May through October. A treat, Cole said, are moonlight ;bat watches; conducted by bat expert Mike Roedel. To date two have been scheduled, 7:30 p.m. June 16 and 7 p.m. Sept. 5. Other guided tours include early morning bird-watching walks, a ;strenuous hike; to Placer Peak, other less arduous nature walks and a family day. For a more sedate brush with nature, visit the 35-acre wetland preserve abutting the Rancho de las Golondrinas living history museum off the Interstate 25 west frontage road about two miles south of the former Santa Fe Downs race track. The wetland preserve is open to the public on weekends from May through October. Saturdays from 9 a.m.-noon and Sundays 1-4 p.m. Docents lead small group tours around about a mile and half of looping trails, or visitors can venture out on their own on the side trails. ;It's not really a hiking place, but it is a beautiful place to observe nature,; said Linda Milbourn, executive director of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. Visitors are encouraged to bring their cameras, not only to capture such sights as the ducks on the pond or the bountiful birdlife but also to take pictures of each other hugging the giant cottonwood trees, which often take several people to encircle. In addition to the Ortiz and wetland preserves, the botanical organization is in the early stages of developing an 11-acre site on Museum Hill as an extensive three-component flower garden. Designs, by nationally acclaimed garden designer W. Gary Smith, are yet to be completed and funds must be raised before construction can begin, hopefully in 2010. Access to the gardens will be from the Museum of New Mexico's current overflow parking lot. Milbourn said the gardens will include ;an extremely vibrant courtyard; enclosed by walls.