The Spectacular Sevilleta

Two hikers almost disappear into the vast, rolling terrain of the refuge. The trail, however, is hiker-friendly and well-marked.

We had only walked about a half mile along the Mesa View Trail and already I found myself on my hands and knees trying to make out whether a series of small holes in the dry creek bed were the tracks of a kangaroo rat or nothing at all. And so the day went at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. As the vistas on the trail got bigger, our interests focused on things smaller and smaller — like a tiny lizard, just a flash as it scooted under a rocky ledge.

The Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR) is immense — 360 square miles. The part that is accessible through the trails at the Visitor Center is about two miles. Yet that is the part that comes to mind when we contemplate the Sevilleta. However, the refuge stretches all the way down to San Lorenzo Canyon and north almost to the base of the Sierra Ladrones. And that is just the west side of the SNWR.

The east side is even bigger, encompassing the Los Pinos range which is almost 20 miles to the east. Most of this gigantic holding is off limits to visitors unless you are on a guided tour. However, it is possible to drive to the wetlands along the west side of the river. Go under I-25 to the east and turn south on the ditch road. The road has a good gravel surface and will take you past ponds, lagoons and shady wetlands. They are beautiful, relaxing, and a nice slow excursion into the water-giving lifeline for migrating birds and other animals.

But there is one more area of the SNWR you must remember to visit: San Lorenzo Canyon. In the far southwest corner of the refuge, it’s spectacular for its caves, slot canyons, chimneys, towers, hoodoos and other geologic wonders that line both sides of a dry creek bed. The mouth of the canyon is guarded by a huge mesa-like formation that looks a lot like a large loaf of sliced bread. Called an “angular unconformity,” it features tilted beds of sandstone topped by a horizontal cap. A higher-clearance vehicle or four-wheel drive is recommended for the last couple of miles. Primitive camping is allowed. But bring your own water.

The Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge is located about 50 miles south of Albuquerque at I-25 exit 169. Directions to San Lorenzo Canyon are available on-line or at the Visitor Center.

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

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