Ladd S. Gordon Complex is a Paradise for Waterfowl

This refuge is less than an hour from downtown Albuquerque and is an easy half-day excursion.

We were delighted when Jim and Lloryn Swan asked us to accompany them to the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex. But I have to admit that, although I had seen a sign for it on I-25 somewhere north of Socorro, I knew nothing about it. The sign had never pulled me off the road.

The Bernardo Unit is one of four units in this Complex. It is close to Albuquerque — only 17 miles south of Belen at Exit 175 (Bernardo). Getting there means going under the freeway and then back north on Route 116 about a mile. The site has a three-mile loop road with elevated viewing platforms and camouflaged stands. The stands and one of the platforms are ADA compliant.

Some 25,000 snow geese and more than 12,000 sandhill cranes winter in the middle Rio Grande valley. Bosque del Apache, about 50 miles further south, serves a lot of them. But the Bernardo waterfowl area has about 450 acres under cultivation as well, supplying migrating and wintering birds with corn, milo, winter wheat and alfalfa. During our trip, we saw hundreds of snow geese and seemingly thousands of sandhill cranes.

The loop road winds its way between fields and marshes. Small groups of cranes were constantly flying overhead. Once, hundreds of snow geese took to the skies and made wide circles above us before returning to their original feeding ground. But the birds weren’t the only story.

As we ate lunch, the tall grasses glowed amber in the afternoon sun against the dark trunks and silver leaves of the Russian olives. The graceful branches of bare cottonwoods framed each moment. In the distance, orange-stemmed tamarisks lined the hedgerows.

Ladd S. Gordon, namesake of the Complex, headed the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for over a decade. He is credited with many of the animal habitat preservation projects in the state. In 1974, he began a magazine article this way: “During the early part of the 12th century, the Persian poet Omar Khayyam wrote the following lines:

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,

A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness —

And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”

Yes, a winter wilderness — and “paradise enough” for this New Mexico wanderer.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at

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