Reluctant Traveler: Tubac Adventure

bec-closeup-twoBy Rebecca Borman

A few weeks ago I set out on my second birding adventure sponsored by the Desert Botanical Garden.  Once again, I headed southeast, toward and past Tucson, to Tubac, Arizona.  And, once again, I had a great time!

I’ve always enjoyed road trips, and I’m learning that I still enjoy them, even though I’m traveling alone.  I like that I can leave when I want, take my time, sing along with the radio, and stop where and when I want.  For instance, I knew I would arrive well before our 3 p.m. meeting time at the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa.  So, when I noticed a sign for the Saguaro National Park, I Saguaro National Parkthought “Why not?”  I exited, stopped long enough to make sure the SNP wasn’t too far from the exit, and then headed to the Park.  (PS:  one of the great things about getting old is the National Park Service Senior Pass!) I only had an hour, but it was enough time to take a short drive, eat a picnic lunch, and whet my appetite for a longer visit sometime.

It was only an hour from the Park to the resort, and it was a lovely drive surrounded by mountains.  And the resort was worth the drive!  It’s a beautiful setting in the valley; if I played golf, I would be quite distracted by TUbac golf resort 1the views.  In fact, our first birding was done right there at the resort.  We walked around for about an hour and I was astounded by how many birds we spotted.  (When I say we, I mean Carlos and Lynn, our guides.  Not so much bird-spotting by me.) It was a great start to our adventure.

The Tubac Golf Resort has a nice restaurant, the Stables, and that is where we were to  meet to have dinner together.  I went to my pleasant room and relaxed a bit.  Carlos had suggested that folks could meet up at the bar a bit before our 6:30 dinner if they wanted to enjoy drinks together.  So, I got there around 6:25 and discovered that I was way behind everyone else.  They were well into their adult beverages.  And, they had “kindly” saved me the genuine saddle seat.  Hmmm….I’m a bit too old for that!  A few minutes later, the last member of our group arrived, and sat on the only other seat…another saddle.  Side note:  the next evening, she and I were the first to arrive, and we claimed bar stools!

After a very enjoyable dinner, good food and great company, Carlos said he would see us all at breakfast at 6:00 AM.  Wait, what?  Was that in the brochure?  Yes.  I forgot that birders are early risers…you know, like the birds.

The following morning we traveled to several wonderful places for viewing birds of all kinds.  Since most of the migratory birds have already started to head for cooler climes, we saw mostly native Arizona birds.  One of our guides is not only an expert on birds; she also seems to know every plant in that part of the state.  As we walked, she pointed out many wild flowers, some of which had been artificially introduced and are problematic.  This was very interesting to me, as I’m trying to learn about both the flora and the fauna of the southwest.

And, speaking of learning, we also toured several missions on this trip, Mission San Jose de Tumacacori and Mission San Xavier del Bac.  Both are managed by the National Park Service, and the tour guide at Tumacacori was probably the best I’ve ever encountered.  She brought the history of the mission alive for us.

tumacacory window

Tumacacory arch

On our last morning, after another early start, we drove to Madera Canyon, a beautiful place to walk and observe nature.  As I was enjoying the morning, I realized why I like these birding trips so much.  I like to walk, but sometimes hiking frustrates me, because I have to pay so much attention to the trail that I can’t enjoy what’s around me.  And, hikers want to cover some ground.  On the other hand, birders stroll, because you’re never going to see birds if you don’t occasionally stop and just look around.  So, it’s not about how far you walk, but about how much you see.  I like that.  And, I’m finding that birders, both serious and not-so-serious, are simply fun to spend time with.  They’re generous, intelligent, nature-loving individuals.

As I drove back to my home in Chandler, I vowed that I would travel to the Tubac area again.  The golf resort is a great place to stay.  And since we didn’t have time to visit Tubac Village, which includes lots of local art galleries and other fun places to shop, I definitely want to see that sometime.  I would enjoy another walk on the trails of Madera Canyon.  And I know I need to spend more time in Saguaro National Park.

Southeast Arizona is, indeed, a beautiful place to visit.


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.