Arizona Trip – Day 5

Our last day in the Cave Creek area we wanted to hit some of those places we had missed earlier and look for a couple of species that we really wanted to see: Juniper Titmice, Scaled and Montezuma Quail and Zone-tailed Hawks. We also wanted to make a trip up to the Chiricahua National Monument to see the amazing rock formations there.

So, we started the morning the same way we had started them every morning, with a quick breakfast while watching the multitude of birds coming to the feeder outside our back door: orioles, grosbeaks and hummingbirds at the nectar and jelly feeders, quail, towhees and cardinals at the platform feeders and on the ground, and doves, pigeons and jays calling out in the trees.

We then set out for the trails past the Southwestern Research Station, including the Herb Martyr campground area. The book¹ told us about the views we’d see in addition to the birds, such as Winn Falls. Alas, with the drought, the falls were barely existent but the campground area did provide some excellent habitat and a little bit of real hiking (which we’d done sadly little of this far).

Cassin's Vireo

The beginning of the walk led us through some woods where we were quickly met by a group of small songbirds, including several ‘western’ flycatchers, kinglets, a Western Wood-Pewee* and a Cassin’s Vireo*. Then we headed down toward the creek and the dam that the book described. The dam wasn’t particularly impressive, but there was some beautiful terrain behind it. Shari decided to hang out by some pools down from the dam, while I went to explore a little bit past it. The terrain reminded me a lot of the times I spent around the White Clay Creek where I grew up even though the plants were completely different and I had to keep my eyes out for rattlesnakes here. I wandered about a half-mile up the creek, coming upon numerous lizards and a few butterflies that I never got a look at. I did, however, get to see an ‘Arizona’ Juvenal’s Skipper*, although precarious footing made my pictures less than satisfying.

Further up along the running stream (surprising in and of itself) were a small mixed flock of songbirds: Audubon’s warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, Western Kingbirds and a bunch of other flycatchers. It was so peaceful sitting there in the fork of the stream that it was tough to get up to meet up with Shari. When I did, I was treated to a host of lizards: Gila Spotted Whiptail*, Striped Plateau Lizard* and Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard* all put on good shows for us.

A Pose Only Godzilla Could Love Beauty from Danger No, NOT in a terrarium

The Windy Mounts

We decided to then head back up the mountain roads to the Rustler and Barfoot parks to see if we could get second looks at some of the species we missed the previous trip. But what we found was mostly WIND. There was a front coming through and that meant huge winds in all the mountain parks. At Rustler, a planned picnic ended up being in the car because there was too much grit in the air. At Barfoot, the trees were moving so much that even if there had been birds, they would have been nearly impossible to ID. The one highlight was when I was walking in a small wooded area and startled a large raptor which flew away with a rabbit sized meal in its claws. Could it have been a Golden Eagle? Maybe, but I only saw a flash of the huge brown bird and the talons holding its lunch.

The Onion Saddle/Pinery Road

From there, we started our trek to the Chiricahua National Monument using the back roads so we could look for some specialties which were known to be there, including the elusive (for me) Zone-tailed Hawk. Shari saw a couple of them, but I was always looking the other way and they would cross the ridges before I could get an ID. Overall, with the wind, the skies and rocks were fairly quiet, but were did have the thrill of seeing a Grey Fox cross the road in front of us.

Eventually, a series of less than stellar roads led us to the National Monument, and it was at the entrance that I FINALLY saw my lifer Zone-tailed Hawk*. So similar to a turkey vulture, once you have seen that trademark tail and how they fly, they aren’t to hard to tell apart. It wasn’t a great look but for 1 minute I just admired it soaring around us.

Zone-tailed Hawk at 12:00 High

Chiricahua National Monument


I knew that I wanted to check the Chiricahua National Monument (pronounced “Cheer-ee-cow-hwa”) out early in the trip planning. There were some cool birds to be had there (potentially), but more so I was looking forward to taking some landscape pictures – something that I really don’t get to do here on the east coast. The park is part of the Coronado National Forest, but encapsulates a huge number of rock formations that have been formed by wind and water erosion over the centuries. From the beginning, it reminded me a lot of Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO, but at a much larger scale. Where Garden of the Gods was a large group of red rocks with a few formations throughout the park, Chiricahua National Monument was a vast landscape of other-worldly rock formations: pillars, spires, chimneys, balanced rocks and more. The sheer magnitude of the the formations was amazing, and we were only able to do about 1/3 of the park because of the conditions. Located at about 8,000′, the winds were gale-force at times, pushing us around and knocking Shari off of her feet at one point. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting.

Organ Pipes

We started up the road toward our first destination of Massai Point, which is at the very end of the long and winding drive. Our first stop along the road was to see the Organ Pipe Formation, a large collection of pillars rising up like the namesake. As an introduction to the park, they were a good one. From there we kept driving and stopping as a number of roadside formations caught our attention (Sea Captain, China Boy). Eventually, we made it to the far parking lot, where we hiked the Massai Nature Trail and the Ed Riggs Trail, seeing a cornucopia of examples of how Mother Nature does sand(stone) sculptures. The stone structures both near and far were just incredible. We were walking among stone formations that appeared to have been sculpted by alien hands to serve uses common and uncommon. At one of the main vistas, we were greeted not only by the sun, giant rock monoliths and a spectacular view of hundreds of other stoneworks, but of a pair of zone-tailed hawks, soaring level with our line of site – not a view I expect many people get of these cool raptors.

The Sea Captain Pillars and Spires and Balanced Rocks Triple Spire

After hiking around there, we made a stop at Echo Point but the winds were getting even stronger and the blowing sand and dirt was making it less pleasant to be out of the car. We took in a few more vistas and then decided to head back down to ‘home’ for the evening. The monument was somewhat anti-climatic because of conditions, but I’m glad that we went. Some good sites for information on this monument:

Our Last Night at Cave Creek Ranch

After the monument, we went home to unwind and start packing for our move to our next destination. Originally, we wanted to drive down Portal Road to get the sunset in the mountains, but because of the weather the light was pretty flat, so we decided to just go into Portal to have a last dinner instead. As usual, the food was good in the quaint little lodge and we talked about our day and what we could expect for the next leg of the trip. But we had a bonus when we got to talk to the owner of the Portal Lodge, Billy (we never got his last name). We’d seen him walking around the area every time we’d been there, mostly out in his shop in the back. Billy is the town fix-it man (although, arguably, everyone has some skills at repair in a place like this) and his repair shop seems to do everything from cars to power tools to carpentry to general maintenance. Billy himself looked like he was 50’s power car aficionado with an affection for Elvis – the type of guy that when you see him you try to figure out if it’s a facade or a style. I can tell you, it’s a style and the style befits the man – an Arizona homesteader with grit in his teeth and a heart of gold for his neighbors. Johnny Cash could write a song about this guy and make you relate to every word – and it would all be true.

The Lodge was getting close to closing when we met up with him at the counter, and decided to hit him up with some questions we had about the area: how many people lived around here, real estate, cost of drilling wells, etc.² He was happy to answer any and all questions, and that led to an hour-long conversation about a wide expanse of topics from immigration to being on the volunteer fire company that covers 500 square miles of territory – much of it on less-than-developed roads, where your only marker is the guy at the turn with a flashlight waving you in – to street racing down the empty roads to the school districts. He was an incredibly interesting guy, and I think that talking to him was one of the highlights of the first half of our trip. I could easily see sitting down with him on a log and drinking a beer and shooting the shit. Not that everyone we met wasn’t extremely nice, but Billy was an interesting soul, too.

But eventually, they wanted to close up so we packed it in and headed back to the Cave Creek Ranch. After showering, we prepped our stuff so that we could get out of the area quickly and make our way to the Santa Ritas, where we would spend the second half of the trip. We then went to bed to get some much needed sleep. Except that I couldn’t sleep right away – I kept hearing some noise out the window that sounded like a bunch of chewing. I thought it might be the deer, but I couldn’t see well enough through the screen to be sure. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and I grabbed Shari’s video light to go out and find out what all of the racket was about. Coming around the corner, I ended up getting quite a surprise as I found myself in front of a small pack (herd?) of javelina enjoying the leavings of corn and seed on the ground. They looked up at me and kept the young ones in the middle, but I didn’t make any fast moves and they figured I was harmless and went back to eating. Not wanting to disturb them further, I turned around and walked back to bed.

⊃¹ A Birder’s Guide to Southeastern Arizona — Rick Taylor
⊃² To be honest, after spending time at the Cave Creek Ranch, Shari and I half-joked about how it would be very cool to open our own birding lodge in a place like the Portal area. I think it would be AWESOME, although I don’t have any illusions about how tough it must be to maintain a business like that in an area as remote as it is.


Cave Creek Ranch

  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird
  • Canyon Towhee
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Gambel’s Quail
  • Northern Cardinal
  • White-winged Dove
  • Mexican Jay
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Mammals:Rock Squirrel, Cliff Chipmunk, Javelina*
Herb Martyr Campground

  • Dusky Flycatcher
  • Audubon’s Warbler
  • Cassin’s Vireo*
  • Western Wood-Pewee*
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Empidonax Flycatcher (Western)
  • Butterflies: ‘Arizona’ Juvenal’s Duskywing
  • Reptiles: Striped Plateau Lizard*, Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard*, Gila Spotted Whiptail*
Chiricahua National Monument

  • Zone-tailed Hawk*
  • Western Kingbird
  • Roadrunner
  • Common Raven
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Mexican Jay
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Black-throated Gray Warbler
  • Mammals: Gray Fox

Trip Stats (Species/New): Day: 20 / 2 | Trip: 98 / 55


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