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SW trip part 3


We left the Desert Museum and drove to Kartchner Caverns State Park, SE of Tucson. The caverns are still alive and and wet, growing new features that take 1000’s or millions of years to change. The state park gives very closely guided tours to the two different areas of the underground landmark but forbids visitors from taking anything into the caverns for fear of damage to the surface. If a visitor should accidentally touch something, it is marked with flagging and later someone comes along and cleans the surface with water from the cave. So no pictures are allowed. If you want to see what they look like and what we saw you will have to visit the place yourself or else see the website. It was quite lovely and I very much admire the original founders of the caverns for being such good stewards and protecting the place for future generations to see and learn from.

After that we went in search of wintering Sandhill Cranes. I’d been told that the Wilcox area was good for cranes and it was on our way to the next planned destination. However when Judy, the expert navigator was studying her smart phone to figure out where to go, she read about Whitewater Draw. The information said it was the best place to see cranes so off we went. To get to Whitewater Draw we drove in the opposite direction – south, nearly to Mexico through some fairly dreary-looking tiny towns and agricultural areas. At last we were on the final stretch and I think the descriptive words that were going through our minds were ‘out in the middle of nowhere’. We were arriving the night before to see the cranes at sunrise and we had no idea where we would stay. Luckily when we finally got to the parking lot near sunset we found eight or ten other rv’s of various shapes and sizes in a rough circle and Jennifer, our excellent driver ably assisted by Judy on the walkie talkie, was able to parallel park the coach in between an old converted bus and a tear drop trailer attached to a SUV.


Outside, the cranes’ calls were all around us. It was getting to be dusk and we walked over to the wetland and sure enough, there they were – many thousands or even tens of thousands birds I would guess. All night they serenaded us with their continuous musical calls. It was magical. I made this cell phone video more for the audio than for pictures.


After dinner I went outside and made a images in the dark. It was quite lovely with the star-filled sky and a glow on the horizon from the closest small town. Even the glow of the surrounding RV’s was a little surreal. Early in the morning, I rolled out of bed and pulled on my big pack full of gear and went out to the dike that overlooked the wetlands. It was cold. Really cold. I had no idea I could be that close to Mexico with the temperature hovering around twenty degrees! Whitewater Draw is a former cattle ranch in the Chihuahuan Desert now owned by Arizona Game and Fish. From the information I could gather it is managed for wintering cranes and waterfowl and other wildlife. Not only were there many cranes but also lots and lots of waterfowl – Northern Pintails, Mallards, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teals, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers and more. I saw one American Avocet and showed it to a birder from Alaska who was delighted to add it to his list. Jennifer brought me a cup of coffee to warm me up a bit and she pointed out a Great Egret. As I walked along the dike I saw a Loggerhead Shrike. There were lots of Wilson’s Snipes, Western Meadowlarks, White-crowned Sparrows and other common birds too. It was a delightful find in the desert of SE Arizona.


  1. Jackpot!!! Love the sounds of the cranes. Have you ever tried to describe the sound to a non-birder? HA!

    • Oh it’s nearly impossible. Ken can do something of a facsimile of their calls.

  2. Amazing place! This will have to go on my list to visit someday. The song of several thousand Sandhill Cranes might be noise to some, but it is a wonder to hear. I hope you got to stay for awhile.

    • We were there for one night and one morning. Indeed, it is music to my ears.

  3. Wonderful photos from this trip! You should do a book or shoot for NatGeo!

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