From high-flying hot air balloons and scenic hikes to unique restaurants and charming small towns, New Mexico is filled with opportunities for adventure. Our beautiful scenery and rich cultural heritage is part of what makes us such an incredible destination for family travel, and if you’re looking for a fun activity to entertain kids and adults alike, New Mexico’s Wildlife West Nature Park is the ideal choice.
The Wildlife West Nature Park is conveniently located just 20 minutes east of Albuquerque’s city limits and offers close up viewing of 24 species of native wildlife, including birds of prey, cougars, elk, tree climbing grey foxes and more — but this isn't your average zoo. The animals here endured some sort of trauma that makes it impossible to live independently in the wild, be it a car accident or an inhumane housing situation. In the park, they are able to live out the rest of their lives peacefully and naturally.
The History of the Park
The park was created in 1992 by Roger Alink, who decided to combine his passions for wildlife and youth empowerment into a project that would give back to the community in a big way. He purchased a vacant plot of land and got to work pursuing his dream. Now, 26 years later, the nature park is an enormous success.
Alink works with kids from the Youth Conservation Corps, who stay on the project for six months at a time creating habitats for the animals. But Alink says that construction skills are not the only skills they are learning. "We train them in public relations, accessibility, first aid, communications and more, so they get all kinds of life skills in addition to the construction," he says. In fact, Wildlife West Nature Park is the only wildlife rescue or park built entirely by youth—an accomplishment that Alink is very proud of.
Visiting Wildlife West Nature Park
The cost of admission supports Alink’s incredible mission, and the park is open every day of the week year round (hours vary). While here, you’ll learn about New Mexico’s unique ecosystems, plants, and wildlife without harming ecological balances. Wander through the park and visit each animal in their unique, custom-built habitats.
Be sure to check out the wooden cat tree in the heart of the park. The structure provides shelter and entertainment for the park’s two resident mountain lions, True and Zia. They have plenty of room to roam and play but also a high perch from which they frequently people-watch.
Another favorite section is the Birds of Prey Trail, which features Bert and Ernie the great horned owls, Festus the turkey vulture, and more. And while it’s tempting to keep your eyes up in this magical exhibit, don’t forget to look down every now and then and you might catch a glimpse of a roadrunner dashing about the park.
Special Events and Education Opportunities
In addition to housing wildlife, Wildlife West Nature Park provides a broad range of educational opportunities. You’ll find informative plaques detailing the animal’s individual story and more about the species, but there are also volunteers who can answer any questions you have. Additionally, the park hosts free-flight raptor shows from June through August, so you can see the birds of prey doing what they do best! The demonstrations are hosted by world-renowned falconer Tom Smylie as part of the Chuckwagon Supper Program and the Harvest Festival. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Kids love playing on the Kid’s Imagination Trail, with a large selection of unique playground equipment. It’s free and open for them to skip, jump, and laugh to their heart’s content. Of course, they’ll also love the Annual Kite Festival, which takes place in early May, and the Junior Zoo Keeper Camp, which allows children ages 8-12 the rare opportunity to experience what zookeepers to on a day-to-day basis (and get to know the animals a little better, of course).
For adults that are still young at heart, keep an eye out for the numerous festivals, concerts, and events that take place throughout the year. The Chuckwagon Supper Shows, for instance, feature a traditional barbecue dinner, a wildlife presentation, and live bluegrass music. We also love the Music & Arts Festival (late July), the Dirty Dash Mud Run (August), and the Harvest & Fiber Festival (September), but regardless of when you decide to visit, you’re sure to find something to wow you! In fact, locals find themselves returning again and again to check on the animals they’ve grown to know and love.
Contribute to the Cause
The Wildlife West Nature Park is a special place, unlike anywhere else in the country. The park is always in need of donations or volunteers, and each donation or gift helps the staff protect and comfort the animals. You can even "adopt" an animal, which means that your donations will go directly to the care and wellbeing of your chosen park resident. Learn more about giving back here.
Written by Sarah Strohl for RootsRated in partnership with New Mexico.