Close to Home: Visiting Wildlife West Nature Park

When I was a kid, I loved going to the zoo in Albuquerque. My grandma would visit every summer and one of our standing play dates was at the zoo.

It wasn’t until I was a new mom that I noticed how traditional zoos can be extremely disturbing. What always sticks out the most to me are the animals, for example, polar bears, that are not from the desert. They always look so miserable.

My son loved the zoo for a long time,but had a field trip in elementary school that changed his mind. He suddenly saw every animal through very different eyes and was truly disturbed. He asked questions like, “Mom, is that really enough space for a lion?”

However, there are several things that I try to take into consideration when faced with places like zoos. The first thing is that not all zoos are the same. The second thing is that due to the environmental issues happening on a global scale, in some cases, zoos are now the only place that some species can be found.

Thirdly, zoos have done a lot to support biodiversity and there are lots of them that are involved with breeding and trying to preserve species, and even helping to get the numbers high enough to return animals to their natural habitats. Lastly, there are some zoos that focus solely on rehabilitating rescued animals.

Edgewood is lucky enough to have a zoo that focuses solely on the rehabilitation and rescue of native animals: Wildlife West Nature Park. They are also very focused on education, both in terms of the public in general and children specifically.

This week for our travel feature, we chose to stay as close to home as possible—so we chose Edgewood, and our first stop was Wildlife West Nature Park. It is one of the highlights in Edgewood, but it is also the only zoo that my son and I would want to visit. All of the animals there are both native to the Southwest and rescued.

We went in to pay our admission and were warned about the snow, ice and mud outside. We were expecting it, since we live off of South 14 and still have about a foot of snow on the ground, and we were dressed for the conditions. They also gave us a map so we could navigate the park.

I can never resist a good homeschool opportunity so I had Dustin read the map and lead the way. I have never let my son take the lead all the way with a large place like Wildlife West because I am bossy and set in my ways and because he is my only child and I feel fiercely protective. Today, I decided to let go of all of that and it was well worth it. He read the map and navigated all the trails with ease.

A fox in its enclosure. There were other foxes asleep on tree branches.
Photo by Dustin Barton.

Following a child around has benefits that I never noticed before: I got to experience the park from his perspective. I let his curiosity lead the way and it was really fun to follow him. He did things like looking for the snake sculptures in the kid’s play area, walked the bird walking trail (which had a few inches of snow on it) and then followed the signs to the animals he wanted to see and not necessarily in the way the park organizes it.

Because there was snow, ice and mud on the ground and because it is January we had the park to ourselves the entire time we were there. It was nice to get up close to the animals and stand there as long as we pleased without worrying if other people would like a turn.

We spent a long time interacting with a raven. She had been found in Cedar Crest and was imprinted by humans with no hope of ever returning to the wild. Her personality made that information obvious, before we read about her. She looked right at us and cawed lots.

Dustin looked at her and told her she was beautiful and asked if he could take her picture. Her response was to walk right up the wire and then she turned her head and posed, allowing him to photograph her. He was elated and thanked her.

We looked at every animal that was out. There were no reptiles out, likely because its winter. In a few enclosures we either couldn’t find the animals, or they weren’t in there and it was hard to tell which. Even so, it was really fun and we saw most of the animals.

For me, the park was a little cold at this time of year. The trails were treacherous in some spots because the snow had turned to ice over cement. Despite those two things the park was still very enjoyable.

I learned that foxes not only can climb trees but they sleep in trees. We found one on the ground, one on watch in a tree and two curled up like cats on branches in the tops of the trees. I have only seen two wild foxes in all the years I have lived in the East Mountains and both times they were on the ground.

The coyotes at the end of the trail will stick with me forever. We were on our way out, and their enclosure was the last one on Dustin’s list. I approached one who was standing on the wall right next to the fence. I told her I thought she was gorgeous. She put her face right next to mine and looked me right in the eyes. All I could see was this magnificent sentient being and we shared a beautiful moment.

We hit the gift shop on our way out. Dustin has an affinity for snakes, so when he noticed all the snake stuff for sale, he wanted a souvenir. He carefully chose a small snake stuffed animal and a hand-painted turtle whose head bobs.

He had already calculated what our admission cost; as students, we both paid $5 admission instead of $9. He also included lunch in our budget, so he determined he could spend about $10 in the gift shop. His two items came to $6 and I chose a little boggle head animal too so our grand total with admission was $18.

He then calculated how much we could spend on our lunch which I always insist includes a tip. We chose Chili Hills for lunch. Every time we get cold in winter we both crave chile, naturally, as we are both born and raised in New Mexico. Chili Hills is not just a name. They have a good New Mexican food section on their menu and the chile is the quality natives expect.

It was warm and welcoming when we got to the restaurant. We got a nice warm table and the hot coffee was on the table as fast as our coats came off. The food came out fast and the portions were huge. My coffee remained hot and full the entire time we were there. We easily stayed within our leftover budget of $32 including drinks and tips.

Do you have ideas for places close to home we can explore for this feature? Contact me at 505-286-1212 or news.ind.manager@gmail.com.