The jewel of the City of Belen is nestled behind a Taco Bell.
It’s the Belen Marsh, an accidentally made salty wetland where nearly 100 species of birds come to entertain bored photojournalists.
Legend has it the Belen Marsh was created when road crews dug out a large amount of earth to build a freeway bypass. They ended up hitting the water table and brackish water filled the hole in the ground, forming an ideal place for shorebirds to hang out.
Many amazing birds can be found in the marsh: Snowy Egrets, Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets, Kill Deer and a bizarre duck called Ruddy which has a turquoise bill. There are also muskrats in a nearby irrigation canal and a clutch of burrow owls is roosting in a nearby field. It’s a great place to take children who will find the large shorebirds reminiscent of dinosaurs.
The marsh has, unfortunately, been used as a dumping ground, but a local environmental organization has gone out and cleaned up some of the wreckage. It sits on private property so it is probably wise to stay on the street, unless, of course, you are daring.
It has been a source of contention, as one group wants to see the marsh drained and filled to make way for a parking lot. Another wants it left alone as it is a unique miniature ecosystem.
To get to the marsh, take I-25 south to the first Belen exit. Head east. Once you see the Taco Bell, take a right. It is to your left. It’s buggy down there so bring mosquito repellent. A camera wouldn’t hurt either, and it’s a good place to practice taking action shots. Those birds move.
Enjoy. And hurry before some oil company comes along and starts drilling and there are no more birds to enjoy. It could happen.