Reluctant Traveler: Cranes, Wine, and Archaeology

By Beckie Borman

bec-closeup-twoI’ve been living in Arizona full time for a little over two years, and it’s time I start getting to know my state a little better.  I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and I visited Sedona years ago.  I’ve blown through Flagstaff, Winslow, and Payson on my way to or from Chandler.  But, this is a big and beautiful state, and I want to get to know it better.

So, I spent last weekend in Willcox, Arizona.  I had never heard of Willcox and had no idea even whether it was south or north of Phoenix.  When I mapped it, I discovered that it is a bit east of Tucson, and quite close to the Mexican border.  I also learned that one of things that takes folks to Willcox is the thousands of sandhill cranes that migrate there every winter.  Hence, the trip.

When I first got to Phoenix several years ago, I became a member of the Desert Botanical Garden because of an offer on Groupon.  It was a wise and fortuitous decision, because the DBG is beautiful and offers lots to see and do.  Last winter, it hosted an exhibit of some of the Chihuly glass…stunning!  But, I digress.

Recently, the Garden advertised a trip to Willcox, primarily to see the cranes and to take part in other birding experiences.  Cranes, Wine, and Archaeology sounded interesting to me, especially since I had wanted to see the cranes for a long time.  So, I signed up for the trip and wondered how I would like it.

It was a fabulous weekend!  The high point for all of us, and the focal point of the trip, was seeing the cranes, of course.  We saw a few (maybe a hundred) on a brief birding trip not far from our hotel one afternoon.  We saw other birds, as well, and that little adventure whetted our appetites for the next day’s activities.

There’s no reason people can’t see the cranes on their own.  Any local hotel will tell travelers to go to Whitewater Draw to view them.  What they probably wouldn’t know to tell visitors is that the cranes sleep at the Draw, but they leave there very early in the morning and go elsewhere to feed.  So, if you’re there around 7:30 a.m, you might see them all take flight, which would be amazing.  But, it would also mean leaving your hotel around 6 a.m. to make sure you’re there on time.  Once the cranes finish feeding on leftover grain in nearby fields, they return to Whitewater Draw, around 10:45-11 a.m.  This is when we went to view them.

And view them we did.  Neither words nor pictures can describe what it’s like to see swarm after swarm of these large (and noisy) birds landing in marshes or fields a hundred yards away.  We watched them for three hours.  Several times there was a “scare off,” meaning something startled them into taking off and then circling to land again.  It was spectacular; our leader estimated we saw more than 10,000 birds.  And I didn’t have to get up at 5 to see them.

crane photo

In addition to seeing the cranes, we also visited one of the local wineries, for which the area is well known.  We went to Coronado Vineyards where we ate tapas and sampled their wines.  They were tasty and reasonably priced…we all walked out with a few (or more than a few) bottles.  I particularly liked their Malbec and dry Riesling.

On Sunday morning we had one more adventure, a trip to the Amerind Museum and Art Gallery.  It’s a small but excellent museum dedicated to Native American archaeology, art, history, and culture.  Our docent was outstanding, and I, for one, am fired up to learn a great deal more about the cultures of the peoples who inhabited this area long before I came along.

I enjoyed the weekend very much, and I learned more than I could have imagined.  I got advice on how to choose a good camera for wildlife photography.  I discovered some good Arizona-produced wine.  I saw a natural wonder of the world.  And, I know that I will take many more trips to that area, because there’s a lot more there to discover.