Thursday, January 28, 2010

1/22 and 1/23 in Arizona - Portal Area

Our accommodation in Portal was Quailway Cottage . The cottage is located in a great wildlife area and the desert garden and feeders seem to attract many of the local critters including coyote, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Pyrrhuloxia. Our review on Tripadvisor is here.

Our first night, a huge storm came through with high winds and lots of rain. Between that and being in a new place, we didn't get much sleep. When we finally did get up, the rain was still coming down so we spent the morning on the back patio of the cottage watching all the birds that didn't seem impacted by the wind and rain. We saw some additional lifers for us like the white-winged dove, ladder-back woodpecker, and gambel's quail.

Around mid-morning the wind subsided and we decided to brave the rain and drive up into Cave Creek Canyon. However, only 5 minutes up the road, the rain turned to snow and we decided to head back. Amazing what a few hundred feet gain in elevation will do weather wise. After lunch, the rain stopped and provided us with an afternoon to enjoy the canyon. Despite the clouds still lingering in the area, we could tell the canyon was spectacular. We decided to hike the south fork trail since it is known to have wildlife but we got only about 1/2 mile into it before a gushing waterfall and rainwater filled creek blocked the trail. We decided not to get wet crossing and turned back. We definitely have some unfinished business in this area and vowed to come back again soon.

On the way out, we stopped at Cave Creek Ranch which my research had turned up as a good place to see wildlife. They are located at the entrance to the canyon and they put out feeders for the birds. Much to our delight, more than birds were enjoying the feeders. There were coati and white-tailed deer as well.

We spent the remainder of the day watching the birds, cottontails, and jackrabbits that had taken over the yard. We had heard about a bobcat and javelinas that liked to stop by in the late afternoon, but they didn't come today.

The next morning, we said goodbye to the coyotes, quail, rabbits and other critters that were around as we left and headed off to Tucson to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The drive was really pretty since all of the mountains had new snow on them. We even drove through a mini-blizzard on the way but the weather cleared before we reached Tucson.

The "museum" is really a well done zoo. Their exhibits are very natural looking and most of the animals had lots of room to roam compared with other "zoos". In addition, since it was primarily outdoors and in the middle of Saguaro National Park, wild animals visit as well. The museum gave us a chance to see all the Arizona native wildlife and plants that we missed seeing during our trip.

We eventually figured out where to return the rental car (no thanks to Alamo for warning us about how confusing this can be at Phoenix). Tip for newbies returning cars to Phoenix, you don't go to the airport. The rental return is a few exits away on a separate freeway. Needless to say, we weren't sorry to say goodbye to zippy even though we put 1,800 miles on it.

Despite being inconvenienced a little by the wind, rain and snow, this was a great trip. We saw areas of the country that we hadn't seen before, had an amazing encounter with a bobcat, saw some new birds and mammals, and made some new friends. Its hard for nature lovers to have a better vacation than that. We left Arizona and New Mexico with serious intentions to return as soon as we can.

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