Sonoran Desert, AZ
Sonoran Desert National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
Parker Canyon, Tonto National Forest
Monday, April 18th, 2005: Flight to
The thought of open desert and solitude filled my mind as I tried to concentrate on work. This would be the first “real” vacation of the year long over due or at least it felt that way.
In the afternoon, we headed down to the airport getting there two hours early like the dutiful passenger should. Unfortunately, the airplane wasn’t as dutiful. A couple of half hour delays later, the announcer said our flight was canceled due to a hydraulic pump leak. But they put all of us on another flight that took off three hours later than our original flight. My only hope was that this flight wouldn’t be delayed any further so we could arrive in
We arrived just before midnight. The positive of arriving at night is avoiding the turbulence created by thermals during the day. It was a smooth flight and I was just happy to finally arrive in
We pulled out of the parking lot got our bearings as to where we were going and headed down to the Sonoran Desert National Monument just southwest of Phoenix. We first had to find a place for supplies which might be a challenge at midnight. We found a dreaded Walmart off the freeway and turned into it. There were actually people still shopping in it during this time of night. After loading up on supplies, food and water, we headed out to our destination. We had trouble finding the dirt road that lead out into the monument, but after doubling back we located an entry way and made our way to a campground at the trailhead in the North Maricopa Mountains. The trunk bumped a long the dirt road a pair the Black-tailed Jackrabbits scurried out of the way and a confused kangaroo rat hopped across the road. We found the campground empty and without much thought pulled into to a spot and set up in the back of the truck.
It neared 3AM as we finally pulled the sleeping bag around us. We drifted off quickly to sleep as a cool desert breeze passed over us. The moon began to tuck in behind the mountains, leaving behind a million stars twinkling above us.
Tuesday, April 19th, 2005: First full day
I awoke shortly before 6AM to the familiar calls of the Gambel’s Quail, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cactus Wren, Gila Woodpecker, and Mourning Dove. Sure we only got 3 hours of sleep, but with the surrounding desert there was much to explore and see. The campground was nestled between two foothills to the east and west. The land was dotted tall saguaros, creosote, and mesquite grew along side the washes. I walked around the campsite there were three camping spots and a good trailhead that lead off into the
Walking up the wash, we also saw a small flock of Canyon Towhees that were gleaning from the under brush. I also flushed out a family of Gambel’s Quail. The young quail tried to keep pace with their parents as they ran before us.
Even though the day quickly heated up, the Verdin didn’t seemed fazed. I watched Verdin parents feed young fledgling, who had bright orange bills a feature not mentioned in Sibley or Peterson or National Geo. A Mourning Dove sat in her nest trying to blend in as we walked by. The lizards warmed in the sun and zipped before us as we walked.
By midmorning, we decided to pack up and head down to our next destination at
On our way down we passed through Ajo, a small town with not a lot going for it now. Like most small towns out there, it was once mining towns. Now it’s just a town strung along the highway scattered with many run down hotels and abandoned gas stations.
We stopped in Why to refuel our beast of a car, which as best got 15 miles per gallon. Already we didn’t like the truck it was way to big for no real purpose other than to perhaps make you feel bigger. Then again that’s what all SUV, big trucks and Hummers are meant to do compensate for the smallest member of the family…And the truck drove horribly over dirt roads even if it was a “smooth” dirt road, the shocks couldn’t take it and the ride would be incredibly uncomfortably bumpy.
From Why we turned down highway 85 toward the Mexican border. We came across our first spotting of the border patrol. They had set up a “checkpoint” running north away from the border. I suppose they would slow people down and check for illegal immigrants.
We enjoyed lunch under a ramada made of mesquite trunks and ocotillo branches. Several cardinals came by to pick up the crumbs and even a pair of Gila Woodpeckers dropped in. Some Cactus Wrens were right at home in the parking lot, even drinking from the water fountain.
We drove back to the primitive campground and turned onto the dirt road that lead 3 (bumpy) miles out to the base of the
I awoke an hour later to some birds that had found the birdseed we had scattered around the campsite. It was a fledgling begging for food from a parent. The Canyon Towhee would pick up food from the ground and shove it into the begging mouth. It was amusing to watch from only a couple of feet away.
As evening drew near, we packed up to take the trail into
The trail continued on and down to the creek below. We were pleased to find there was still good amounts of water in the creek. The Mourning Doves and House Finches relished this as well. The trail went up to the old corral. A Hooded Oriole flew out and showed it’s bright orange off. As the sun began to set the birds flew in for one last drink before nightfall.
We turned back to camp as the wind began to blow and chill the evening air. And we turned in for the night.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005: Visit the Alamo, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
A crunching sound woke us in the early morning hours. The moon was just touching the horizon when a kangaroo rat felt it was safe enough to venture out from under the rocks. It happily munched on food. We fell back asleep as our visitor continued its meal.
A couple of hours later we awoke to the lighting of dawn. The chorus of birds started up once again. A couple of Curve-Billed Thrashers joined the Canyon Towhees on feasting upon the seeds we left out.
We set out to hike to
Two military jets scream over us as we hike. It was extremely loud and I wonder if they were just messing around. Or perhaps they were using our truck as target practice… pretend style at least.
A well-worn animal trail took us into the canyon for the last stretch. We didn’t find any water, but there was still an abundant amount of bird and plant life in the wash. Black-headed Grosbeaks chowed down on the fruiting plants; a couple of Lazuli Bunting flitted about in the trees, and Costa’s Hummingbirds seemed to endlessly chase each other. A Greater Roadrunner called from somewhere above the canyon.
After looking around a bit and admiring a lizard with a fluorescent blue chin and side stripes, we head back to camp before the heat got to stifling. Luckily there was a slight breeze in the wind to keep us refreshed.
We stop by an enormous boulder with an overhang to take a snack and enjoy the view. There’s a craving on the stone; we make out that it was done in the 1940s perhaps a miner? Back at the car, we pack up and head down to the auto tour of the
We stopped off at the visitor center again to visit the man-made pond in the back to see the bird activity. The pond was built to hold pupfish. There was recent concern that the natural ponds down by the border that held the pupfish would be poisoned. So they cut off access to the ponds and are trying to establish the pupfish behind the visitor center. A few Cardinals, House Finches, and one lone male Lesser Goldfinch flew around the pond, but we didn’t stay much longer to see what else would show up.
We headed back to camp and packed up dinner to take into the canyon and see if toads would show up. When we arrived at the water, we flushed a flock of Mourning Doves all trying to get a last drink before the sun went down. We sat on the rocks as a cool breeze flowed through the canyon.
The toads slowly appeared; we heard them first. The males called up a storm, trying to impress the waiting females. We sat there in the fading light eating our dinner. In the distant Common Poorwill called their name and a Western Screech Owl gave its bouncing call. A Great Horned Owl hooted in the distance. The call of the birds mixed with the call of the Red Spotted Toads truly a chorus to remember in the moonlit night. We watched the male toads struggle with each other trying to dominate the prime spot in the stream - wrestling and calling loudly. We made our way back to the camp listening to the toads down below in the canyon.
At our campsite a pocket mouse was happily gorging itself on the sunflower seeds. Stuff its cheeks full and caching its finds under rocks, not even worried about the illuminating moon above.
Thursday, April 21st, 2005: Black Hawk Up
We arose again at the crack of dawn. We headed down
As we sat eating our breakfast, the Costa’s Hummingbirds were busy trying to bath in the water only to be chased off by another Costa’s. They constantly bickered and chased each other, circling each other in the air and calling loudly. I explored the mesquite more, looking for whatever other bird might be hiding in the brush. I found a beautiful fresh plumage MacGillivary’s Warbler, a Wilson’s Warbler, a Warbling Vireo, and a male Northern Cardinal.
We headed back to the car and packed up to our next destination: Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. From what I read about the refuge, it seemed like an interesting place at least a different environment from the “typical”
We originally planned to stay two nights there, but found Organ Pipe too impressive to pass up the second night. And boy, I’m glad we stayed at Organ Pipe for two nights
On the road to
On our way into the refuge, we saw the border patrol doing… well… border patrol. There were a couple of ATVs and a large bus for sending caught migrants back over the border. This is definitely not the place to be speeding.
The environment had dramatically changed. The saguaros disappeared, giving way to more mesquite and grasslands. We pulled into the visitor center driveway and saw several birds along the way. Several Horned Larks looked right at home along the tall grass. An Eastern Meadowlark and a Cassin’s Kingbird flitted around the small scrubby brush.
At the small visitor center, we looked around and had lunch. Behind the visitor center, towhees, sparrows, quails, orioles, tanagers and warblers gathered among the “orchard” of mesquite. I found a hummingbird nest (with mom) in a tree not far above the picnic tables.
We began to talk about where to stay in the refuge for the night. Apparently the refuge has an enormous problem with migrants crossing and people in the
We packed up and decided to go on the Pronghorn auto loop drive. We didn’t see any pronghorn, but we did see another Roadrunner and many Kestrels. We also found out that we were probably driving the car in low 4-wheel drive the entire time we had it… really not good for the car. But it’s a rental! And it’s a crappy car. A “service 4WD” sign appeared on the dashboard and we had to figure out how to get it into 2WD at least for the remainder of the trip. Once we got it into the right gear, we were hoping the ride would be at least a little better, but there wasn’t much of any improvement. It was still a crappy car bad shocks and all. So we drove through the grassland area it was baking and hot and open, but scenic.
We returned to the visitor center to pick up a map since the maps we had didn’t exactly give us the details we needed nor point out where the designated camping spots were. After we picked up the map we decided to check out
We crossed the main road that went to Arivaca and continued northward on to another dirt road to our campsite. It was sort of a bad sign that the gate on the road in had been knocked over and could no longer close
Near the entrance, we saw a Collared Lizard basking in the setting sun on a yucca flower shoot. The dirt road in was pretty well worn and smooth (though didn’t feel that way with the truck). We turned off the road onto a rockier road that dead-ended at two holding ponds. We bounced along and it looked okay no high-speed chase potential at least. The road led us up along the ridge of a hill, we continued along though Ocotillo, beaver tail cactus, cholla and creosote. The ocotillo here looked like it got a lot more water their bright red flowers burst forth and small green leaves covering the stocks. We arrived to our chosen campsite #44. It had a nice view over the valley below - mountains backdropped in the distant west and hills lay to the east.
We hoped for the best here and parked the car in the campsite. We took a short hike down the road that ended at the ponds, which were surrounded by thickets of mesquite. We hiked up the hillside, trying to get a better look at the ponds. Instead, we found javelins tracks and poop. Looked like a well-worn trail created by the pig relatives and perhaps migrants contributed to it. We noticed a couple of migrant dens created under mesquite bushes good for a resting point. One was even lined with grass pulled out from a distance away. At this point a rationale person probably would have left, but us?
We also saw a flock of Pyrrhuloxia. They flew about the ocotillo, calling and foraging.
When we didn't find water in the ponds, we returned to the road and headed back to camp. We tucked in for the night and hoped for the best. In the distance, Common Poorwill called again and a trilling roll came from a Lesser Nighthawk.
At midnight, I was suddenly awoken by a loud noise passing directly over the truck. Thinking another military jet was flying overhead, I pulled the sleeping bag over my head. When my brain begans to registar the noise better, I realized the noise circle back and hover directly over us. I looked up and saw a black helicopter not more than a couple hundred feet hovering over the truck. We quickly waved at it hoping they would understand we’re not illegal immigrants nor picking up immigrants. With the wave, it sped off into the distance, leaving us in silence. I was a little shaken by it; we were somewhat worried they would have sent some border patrol out to check on us. But that never happened. It was definitely something I’ll remember. But we’ll never camp in the refuge again. Now we can reflect upon it and laugh. It’s not every camping trip that you get woken by a government helicopter hovering over you.
Friday, April 22, 2005: Parker Canyon revisited
The next morning we woke up thankful the border patrol has been dispatched to our site. We pack up and head to the Arivaca Creek trail, which has tall mesquite and cottonwoods. As we pull in we are not disappointed. A Gray Fox runs across the entryway as we are still in the car. It stops to look before running into the mesquite to take cover. Along the dried up creek, there are many Vermillion Flycatcher bright red and not afraid to flash those colors. Lucy’s Warblers are also numerous. Two adult Gray Hawks perch atop a snag; we are lucky enough to witness them copulating. The female calls (and perhaps whines) afterward. Northern Cardinals sing loudly in the canopy and Gila Woodpeckers chase each other about. The Mourning and White-winged Doves coo loudly in the tree tops and a couple of Bewick’s Wren chatters about the tree trunks. Beyond the grove of mesquite, the ruins of a ranch home stood in a clearing. It smelled strongly of skunk, so I didn’t really feel like poking around too much. A male Hepatic Tanager flew into the trees and I could see its dazzling red color and gray bill and gray washed back.
We head back to the car, a little uncertain of where we’ll end up tonight. I’m more worried about the border patrol stopping us. As we leave the refuge, we spot two Antelope Jackrabbits apparently confused as to which way to run. A Swainson’s Hawk perches in a low bush and a small flock of Chihuahuan Ravens fly over the open scrub. A Crested Caracara joins the Turkey Vultures in dining on the latest road kill.
The border patrol has stopped a truck as the big bus comes pulling in… I slow down enough, but don’t stare. There’s no border patrol stop as we head further north.
We stop at the
After getting our bearings as to where the canyon is located (and getting a little stuck on a bad washy road 4WD yeah right), we pull in to the camping spot. Just as I remembered it, except I can hear rushing water. I strain my bino on the canyon down below and find the stream rushing with water. They got a lot more water than 2 years ago. The plants were a telltale sign as well. The flowers are still blooming. Down by the border, it looked like the wildflowers had just finished and the saguaro were just starting, but up here the wildflowers were still in full force and the ocotillo was just starting.
We pack up lunch and hike down to the canyon. We know there’s no use in trying to keep our feet try, so we zip off our pants leggings and start sloshing up the canyon. The water is a lot higher; the fish seem to have gotten washed down the stream.
We clamber of rocks and through small rushing waterfalls. And we finally get to where we ended the first time. The bird that nested there two years ago is still nesting on the same rock in almost the same spot. There are four whitish eggs in the cup mud nest.
Along the sand banks we see mountain lion tracks headed out of the canyon and later on bobcat prints also headed out. Along the canyon walls there are small caves and crevices. I spot a couple large openings with honeycombs hanging down. Bees fly around the hive a great inaccessible spot. When climbing along a rock wall, a frog hops and gives away its presence. The frog is well camouflaged against the rock wall. It is a Canyon Tree Frog the frog that was calling the last time we came to the canyon, but then we didn’t know what was making the noise.
A pair of Canyon Wrens calls along the canyon walls. The echo off the wall enhances their calls - truly the habitat in which their calls were meant to be heard. We continue up the canyon more; the gray overcast sky illuminates the canyon well.
The cool water gets deeper is some places, almost up to my hips. A little hard to get used to, but with the warm air and interesting environment made it easy to quickly forget. Small seeps feed into the stream, dripping down the moss covered walls. The walls of the canyons become narrower at one point and it almost looks like stalactites high up on the walls cave-like structures.
At a bend in the canyon a truly beautiful sight, a large seep pouring down a mossy rock, which hangs under the over hanging canyon wall. The water drips down the rock directly into the stream. A large trunk is wedged into the canyon’s bend and maiden ferns grow from the seeping rocks.
We pass through the deep water and under the seep, wondering what awaits us around the next corner. Once we get through, there’s a narrower canyon wall and a waterfall cascading down. We’d have to wade in deeper water and climb up the side of the rock wall in order to pass… but we had to leave more for next time. It was getting late and we didn’t want to get caught when night fell.
We headed back out the canyon. As we leave the mouth of the canyon, the tree frogs began to give their reverberating call. As we got to the truck another call sounded, probably a bullfrog. They serenaded us as we watched the sunset, and the clouds turn a brilliant pink before they faded in the darkness.
As we were preparing dinner, we hear human voices. They turned out to be a group of lost spelunkers who had perhaps gone to far down the canyon and couldn’t figure out where they were in order to get back. We tried to help them on their way. In the process, we learned there was a spring that fed into the canyon and caves as well (obviously). We turned in for the night as more poorwills called in the distance. Another full day in
Saturday, April 23rd, 2005: Out of the Ashes
Before we packed up and headed back to
Later while we were enjoying out breakfast overlooking the canyon below, a hawk flew into a low bush across the canyon. As it perched there, I was trying to determine if it was a Black Hawk or a Zone-tailed Hawk. Eventually it flew to another bush picked off a branch and flew to its nest in a tall cottonwood growing the in canyon. It turned out to be a Zone-tailed Hawk it was probably the one I saw flying like a vulture earlier. It called softly as the hawk positioned its twig on the nest and flew back to the other side of the canyon. Quite a good last minute sighting before leaving.
We walked back down the road to look at the blooming larkspur, poppies, lupin and scrubs. I stopped by a low scrub along the road and was startled with a bird flew suddenly. There was a nest with tiny babies in the middle of the bush. I think they were Black-throated Sparrows. Another wonderful last minute find as well.
We packed up the car and said our goodbyes to the
When we got closer to
We arrived at the airport on time and of course the plane didn’t. I’m detecting a pattern in the airport business.
But we were only 30 minutes late this time. The flight in the beginning was rough. Turbulence is one thing, but dropping a 10-20 feet in air in a huge piece of metal is another. Once we got above the clouds it was a lot better.
We got back to rainy
Other Critter List
Sonoran Desert National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
Tonto National Forest