Every year, like clockwork, nearly 20,000 Sandhill Cranes descend on Colorado’s scenic San Luis Valley for a six-week stopover to rest and refuel before continuing their northward migration. To celebrate the cranes’ return the town of Monte Vista hosts the Monte Vista Crane Festival. The 33rd festival was held March 11-13, 2016. The next Monte Vista Crane Festival will be the 2nd weekend in March, 2017.
The highlight of the festival is the opportunity for close-up views of thousands of cranes at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge as they prance and display for each other, lift off en masse in the mornings, and return to their roosting spots at sunset. In addition to the cranes, many Canada Geese and ducks visit the wetlands of this high-altitude desert framed by 14,000-foot snow-covered mountain peaks. Photographic possibilities are endless when these avian visitors fill the skies over the wildlife refuge.
Activities during the Monte Vista Crane Festival include interpreter-led bus tours to view the cranes as well as field trips to the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and the Bureau of Land Management’s Blanca Wetlands.
During the 2016 festival, Hawks Aloft led tours across the area to look for birds of prey. There were photography workshops, guest speakers, a birding movie, a birder’s breakfast, and a craft fair. The keynote speaker, Jim Pfitzer, portrayed conservationist and author Aldo Leopold in a lively one-man, one-act play.