When the rising sun dares you not to stare in awe and wonder – reflection at Bosque del Apache, 2021

Article and photos by Stacey Moeller, who has served as both a resident volunteer and a seasonal refuge employee since 2019

Bosque del Apache is non-stop hard work but also good times, great friends, and countless magical moments!

I rolled off the prairies of Wyoming three years ago, newly retired from 36 years as a heavy equipment operator, to chase my dream of traveling full time in an Airstream. I was the absolute definition of a “newbie”. I had two weeks experience traveling and little knowledge of my RV or what it takes to maintain my new home. Without knowing a single person and never having traveled to New Mexico, I pulled into Bosque del Apache NWR.

I was met by the amazing refuge staff and backed into my new “home”. Although I was surrounded by people, I suddenly felt very alone. Having left my adult children, family and friends in Wyoming, I wondered if I had made a mistake, but I quickly abandoned that notion as I was settling in and was greeted by several of my new neighbors. Little did I know these strangers would become friends and a new and invaluable family.

I had the good luck and pleasure to have been surrounded by seasoned birders, whose knowledge of our fall migratory birds was only surpassed by their patience. I had never seen a crane in my life and I struggled to identify even the most obvious raptors. Fellow volunteers, Mary, Steve, Kathi and Bob were so helpful as I navigated these unfamiliar waters (but I WAS asked once if I needed glasses!) This was all in good fun, and given much grace and time in their company, I learned my first 8-10 birds.

In the following weeks Steve and I were tasked with touring our auto loop and stopped to watch a great blue heron fish along the shore of a canal. Our bird friend made a fast move towards the water and came up with about a 12 inch fish. This fish was fairly big! It would have given any angler a fight. The great blue took a few steps onto the bank and dropped their catch. With lightning speed they stabbed that fish three times. They proceeded to pick the fish up, walk it back to the waters edge and wash it! I was nearly shrieking by this point while Steve hushed me as we watched. With a practiced flip of his head, the heron had that fish in his mouth! I thought there was no possible way that big fish could fit through that thin throat. The job was accomplished within 15 minutes. I was running bird Heimlich maneuvers in my mind.

Our newly minted relationships turned into mentorships as we all found gifts of knowledge to share from our extremely varied backgrounds. From retired psychologists, teachers, military, artists and everything in between, we found common threads that bound us all together.

I learned my duties from my new group of friends. I had to become familiar with the tour loop, to assist and keep visitors safe. I spent time in the Visitor Center advising and learned quickly how to answer the question, “Where are the birds?” I pulled my share of kochia and carried away downed limbs – anything that improved visitor experience. Our guests are what it’s all about at BdA. I have had countless unforgettable interactions with visitors and most all were amazing.

But there are times we must steer folks or encourage them to follow the rules set to protect them and our wildlife. This past season I had rounded the corner onto the north loop and saw a dog standing about 25 feet behind a photographer facing away from his pet. This dog was unleashed and we all know that’s not good! I sped up a bit to alert the man to this rule violation and as I neared, discovered his “dog” was a coyote. As I closed in the coyote finally spooked and headed the opposite direction. I visited with the man who had no idea of his close encounter. Wildlife displaying playful curiosity or did he have a ham sandwich in his pocket?

From my volunteer experience, I learned much about our birds and wildlife, new card games, some hilariously off color jokes and what it means to truly belong. We shared sunrises, our past work life stories, potlucks and birthday parties. Betty O managed those potlucks with the skill of a professional event planner and right after dishes were done, she and John would take us to school at the card table.

My new family coached me through the cold weather and showed me the RV ropes. Amy and Bob helped me thaw frozen pipes and would call every night to make sure I’d done my cold weather chores. These amazing people carried me through that first winter and that camaraderie pulls me back, now for my 4th year. But my memories call me back to that first season. I had never been a part of something as special as the Festival of the Cranes. I watched the staff work tirelessly in preparation, setting up for this massive event. As volunteers, we too worked long days, beginning before dawn and lasting long after fly in. I did find time to visit the burrito truck that had been brought on site, for at least two meals a day. By the last day, I was on a first name basis with its staff. As I talked with my volunteer friend, Kristy, a voice came from the burrito truck. “Hey Stacey, do you need anything?” My reply was, “Sure, I will have my usual”. Kristy, looking perplexed, asked, “They know your name and what you order?” She was even more stunned when they asked if I wanted to put it on my tab. There was much to do but there was always time to smile.

What I have learned, and what has completely changed my life, is that we all bring our own brushes and favorite colors, but when talents and resources combine, we paint a beautiful mural. My story with BdA continues to thrill me. And even now, as our lives all change, the connection to this amazing place and the people who share it have gotten under my skin and will be forever in my heart. It’s home, it’s peace, it’s my Bosque del Apache paradise.

The volunteers plus refuge employee, Lori Rauls, 2019. The weekly potlucks were unbeatable!

Volunteer, Bob Swanson and myself on a field mission, 2021

Volunteers, Mary Blackledge and Stacey Hart – the tall and the short of it! 2020

Volunteer, Kristy during Festival of the Cranes, 2019

An egret stare down with a cormorant to referee! South of the flight deck, 2021

Proudly displaying new pins on my volunteer jacket, 2019

Saying goodbye to new friends Mary and Steve Blackledge, as they prepare to depart BdA and head to their next destination, 2019

My daughter, Kelci and me, in my Airstream during a visit, 2019

Volunteer, Amy Swanson keeping an eye on our Blue Goose mascot during Festival of the Cranes

The volunteer park became a winter wonderland, November 2019

Inspirational sunrise over Bosque del Apache


Dawn fly-out, 2019

There’s always kochia to haul.

A male and female vermillion flycatcher on Bosque Road, 2022

My children, Jackson and Kelci, along with my grandchildren – visiting from Wyoming, 2020

A little snow will not keep die-hard photographers away, 2019

Volunteers and birthday girls, Betty O and Kathi Hailey, 2020

Heavy traffic can sometimes be a problem on the refuge roads!


Mother and baby javelina, 2022


Always remember to drive carefully on the refuge – spring winds caused this rollover accident on the restroom highway, 2022

Spring brings bursts of color to Bosque del Apache’s Desert Arboretum trail, 2022

American Avocets lined up for a rest along the north seasonal road, 2022


Turkey vultures may have a face only a mother could love, but they are beautiful in flight!


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